A cleaner, freer Ganga

| Updated on June 28, 2019 Published on June 28, 2019

Funds are being pumped into the Namami Gange programme, but will the Ganga in Varanasi ever be restored to its old glory?

Varanasi is synonymous with the River Ganga. Pilgrims, tourists and locals bathe in its waters. They flock to the ghats, some of which double as cremation grounds. A closer look, however, reveals a different reality: A debilitating water pollution crisis.

In 2014, the Narendra Modi government introduced Namami Gange or National Mission for Clean Ganga, a ₹20,000-crore flagship programme to clean up the river. The government announced in Parliament last week that another ₹28,000 crore had been sanctioned, to be distributed among 298 projects under the Namami Gange programme.

Pollution levels have increased since 2014, according to Varanasi-based non-profit Sankat Mochan Foundation. There has been a rise in the presence of coliform bacteria and biochemical oxygen particles in the river. A part of the problem lies in the use of the ghats as a cremation site. It is estimated that 32,000 bodies are cremated each year at the Manikarnika and Harishchandra ghats. Some 300 million litres of untreated domestic sewage are dumped into the river each day, it says.

BD Tripathi, the head of Banaras Hindu University’s Ganga Research Centre, explained that the reduced flow in the river weakens its ability to dilute pollution. Even with pollutant inflow remaining constant, the pollution index remains high with a reduced flow.

The 2,525-km long river which flows through many parts of India is a dumping site for waste from 750 industrial units in the Varanasi region. Tanneries remain a prime source of pollution. The most visible symptoms of this pollution are water-borne diseases and skin infections. Hospitals report an escalation in diarrhoea cases and skin and eye allergies during summer and monsoon.

It remains to be seen how the newly constituted government will remedy the situation and restore the waters of the river that supports a quarter of the country’s population.

Paromita Chatterjee is a Delhi-based freelance photographer


Published on June 28, 2019