Ganga’s problems drowned in political rhetoric

AM Jigeesh Varanasi | Updated on March 12, 2018

Troubled waters Fishing boats on the Ganga in Mirzapur (file photo) PTI

Will the new government address the concerns of farmers and fishermen?

“Mother Ganga summoned me to Varanasi,” Narendra Modi said before filing his nomination papers from Varanasi. When the Election Commission did not give him permission to hold a rally in the city, Modi said his plan to do Ganga aarti was obstructed by the poll panel. “My profound apologies to Ganga Maa for not being able to perform aarti,” he tweeted.

The Congress and the AAP alleged that Modi is trying to politicise the emotions that are connected with Ganga. “Permission is needed for political events, not for prayers,” Arvind Kejriwal tweeted in reply.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said Modi has “no respect towards Ganga as he is yet to worship the river despite being in the city.”

But for the people connected to the river on a daily basis — farmers, fishermen, boatmen and agriculture workers — such debates have little value.

Their concerns rise above the token religiosity and philosophy currently on display from all political corners. Among the numerous issues that they would like the political parties to address are pollution, droughts and floods.

Business Line spoke to a number of people in various constituencies along the Ganga including Varanasi, Machhlishahar, Mirzapur, Chandauli and Sultanpur.

The common refrain was token obeisance to the river and its religious significance is all fine. But what they would really like to hear from Modi are his plans for the development of the river and the surrounding area.

Pollution issues

Pollution is the biggest worry. “Of course, we are the reason for it. But now it cannot be controlled at an individual level. What we need is a master plan,” said Subhash Yadav, a marginal farmer along the river.

Manoj, a boatman in the famous Assi Ghat in Varanasi, is also pained at the level of pollution.

“What we demand from the administration is a system that regulates the pollution. Now, everything is thrown into the river — from plastic bottles to garlands to dead bodies. This has to end,” he said.

A group of farmers in Mirzapur is completely dejected with the lack of Government intervention in agriculture.

“Whoever becomes Prime Minister, our life is not going to change. Last year, we faced floods at least on four occasions. Crops worth crores of rupees were damaged. But none of us got anything from the Government,” said Shivanand, farmer

Risky proposition

Srijay Nishad, who plants watermelon, muskmelon and tomatoes along the river during summer, feels agriculture along the Ganga is risky. “I invested ₹1 lakh in muskmelon last year and got back just ₹5,000. I had to work as a labourer in a nearby city to repay my loans. But tomatoes gave me good profit,” he pointed out. Vivek Shukla, a pesticides merchant, said farmers are working as agriculture labourers to make ends meet. “This is a very fertile land. Still, farming is becoming unviable. Marginal farmers are now forced to work as agriculture labourers in nearby fields to meet the input cost,” Shukla said.

Amit Kumar Singh, a management professional-turned-farmer, said he finds innovation lacking in the area. “The Government should help us to adopt new technology in irrigation, seeds and pest management. Here, people are hard working but there is zero intervention or guidance from the Government,” said Singh, who also runs a farmers’ group on innovative horticulture.

Published on May 11, 2014

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