Ganga, the largest river in India, the lifeline of thousands of people living on its banks, has a great spiritual and religious value attached to it. It is considered as a goddess, a deity that has been fulfilling the needs of countless people in India. But ironically, the 'holiest' water of Ganga is so polluted now that it's almost impossible to go near its banks at some places. Domestic sewage, industrial waste, runoff from chemical fertilizers and all forms of solid waste are dumped in the river every day. The amount of toxins in the river water is now about 3000 times over the limit suggested by WHO as 'safe'. This clearly doesn't support any idea of purity and holiness.
Ganga Action Plan was first introduced by the then Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi in 1986 with the basic aim of improving the water quality by reducing the amount of pollutants entering the river. While launching the plan he said, "The Ganga Action Plan (GAP) is not just a Government plan. It has not been prepared for the PWD or Government officials alone. It is a plan for all the people of India; one in which they can come forward and participate." But unfortunately, the plan lacks any kind of public participation and efforts. It is very much evident that GAP has been a failure owing to mismanagement of officials, lack of public involvement, corruption at every level of authority and absence of an effective control system. GAP lacks initiative, implementation and corrective measures on the part of government.
There is a need of comprehensive implementation of the plan at all levels of the authority as well as among the people of India. The plan should be reassessed and renamed containing a new and better set of objectives having greater scope of mass participation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Namani Gange' is a welcome step in this regard. Celebrities and sportspersons should be made a part of this project to ensure a wide appeal through advertisements, campaigns and social movements.
Thousands of animal carcases and human corpses are dumped in the river water every year. Awareness programmes should be held in villages and towns near the banks of the river to educate people regarding the serious impact of such practices on the quality of river water. Strict legislations must be formed and implemented preventing industries from dumping polluted effluents into the river directly. Industries should be shifted to some other area having better pollution treatment facilities.
The one major source of the river pollution is the municipal sewage dumped directly into the water by households. For this a better sewage system should be installed in towns near the river banks. One such system is 'Green Infrastructure' in which pollutants are filtered naturally before entering into the river. People living in squatter colonies should be shifted to new places with proper sewage system. For instance, to clean the Thames River in London, they began to treat and export sewage for further processing. Such a step can be initiated by Government of India also. In 1957, the Thames River was declared biologically dead and now it is home for more than 125 species of fishes. If Thames can be revamped, so does the Ganga. Just sincere and honest efforts are required.
Also, the Government should identify the non-core issues that lead to the pollution of river Ganga such as open defecation, runoff from medical waste and agricultural fields etc. The issue of agricultural runoff by which chemical fertilizers and pesticides enter the river water, has never been addressed by the officials. A minimum discharge should also be maintained in the river which will be achieved through research and development projects and evolution of scientific methods in this context. The government should ensure the involvement of NGOs, local bodies and communities in this plan. The chief ministers of various concerned states should also be involved in the drive for quick and effective implementation. Planting of marsh grass and bushes along the banks of the river is also a desirable step.
Ganga is an indispensable part of our Indian heritage. We all must work towards regaining its godliness in real sense. More than the government policies and measures, it is the role that people and communities play, that is more significant in deciding the success of a plan. Grassroot movements are key drivers of any kind of change. A renowned environmentalist Dr. Vandana Shivaji quotes it right, "If Ganga lives, India lives. If Ganga dies, India dies". I, hereby declare that this essay is an original writing by me and has not been copied from anywhere.