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Mainstream, VOL L, No 1, December 24, 2011 (Annual 2011)

Impact of Unabated Anthropogenic Activities on the Ganga-Yamuna system

Tuesday 27 December 2011, by Sudhanshu Bhandari



It was at the 1981 session of the Indian Science Congress in Varanasi that scientists expressed concern at the growing chemical and biological pollution in the river Ganga in presence of the then Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi. As a result of her initiative, the Planning Commission asked the Central Board for Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, New Delhi to conduct studies on the state of the river Ganga. In collaboration with the State Pollution Control Boards of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal studies were conducted on the sources of pollution, including all human activities, land-use pattern and water quality of the river, at selected sites during 1981-82 and a report entitled “Basin, Sub-Basin Inventory of Water Pollution in the Ganga-Basin” was published in 1984.

According to this report, the sewage of 27 Class-I cities and towns, and effluents from 137 major industries were identified as the main sources of pollution of the river. Based upon its report, the Ganga Action Plan, Phase- I was launched in 1986 with fanfare by Rajiv Gandhi with the objective of pollution abatement to improve the water quality in the river. The programme included 261 schemes spread over 25 Class-I towns of UP, Bihar and West Bengal. The main focus of the plan was on interception/diversion and treatment of the sewage generated from these identified towns. Around 34 Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) with a treatment capacity of 869 MLD (million litres a day) were set up under it between 1985 to March 2000 at a cost of Rs 452 crores.

At the very start of the GAP, Phase-I, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had, through an extensive survey of the basin area, found out that the total municipal sewage generated in the identified 25 towns in 1985 was of the order of 1340 million litres per day (MLD). Apart from this sewage, 260 MLD of industrial wastewater, runoff from six million tonnes of fertilisers and 9000 tonnes of pesticides used in agriculture within the basin, large quantities of solid waste, including thousands of animal carcasses and human corpses, were being released into the river every day.

Out of this, GAP I was designed to have a planned capacity corresponding to 869 MLD only (65 per cent), to be taken up under the first phase of the GAP. The remaining sewage was to be taken up under GAP II which was initiated from 1993. Now, if the planners of this scheme were earnest in bringing the purity of Ganga to the designated best-use level of Class-A, their target should have been set at the existing pollution-load faced by this river in the year 1985. The Central and State governments, by pegging the planned-target at a mere 65 per cent of the total load in the year 1985, were trying to play it safe by showing to the nation that the proverbial mismatch between the targets set and those achieved would not arise.

Out of 8250 MLD of wastewater generated in the Ganga basin, the treatment facilities are available only for 3500 MLD of wastewater. Out of 3500 MLD treatment capacity, 880 MLD is created under the Ganga Action Plan, Phase-I, 743 MLD is created under the Yamuna Action Plan I in 12 towns of Haryana, eight towns of UP and about 2254 MLD treatment capacity is created by the Government of Delhi for resto-ration of water quality in the Yamuna river. Yet, out of the total sewage treatment capacity created by the Government of Delhi, the actual sewage wastewater passed through the STPs is a mere 1598.28 MLD.

Thus, even assuming that the STPs of Haryana and west Uttar Pradesh are working to their full capacity, the total sewage treated of the river Yamuna is a mere 2341 million litre per day. To this if you add 880 MLD under GAP I, and another 600 MLD being created under GAP II, the total wastewater discharge actually treated along the Ganga basin would be the cumulative figure of 3821 MLD, whereas from the following table, the total wastewater discharge is of the order of 8248 MLD, leaving a huge gap of 4427.8 MLD per day. (Ibid., Table 1)
Thus, the utter myopic attitude of those who initiated this scheme is evident from the data manipulation of no private agency or inter-national vested interests but their own apex agency designated to monitor and control the pollution of river and other water-bodies, namely, the Central Pollution Control Board. The above data itself shows that the GAP was destined to fail and fail miserably. It was not conceived in a scientific, rational manner from the start. If the planners and implementers were interested in restoring it to even a per cent of its former pristine glory, they would have conceived the entire Gangetic basin as a single planning unit since not only the Ganga but all its tributaries constitute a part of a single hydrological system though having varied fluvial geomorphology. By concentrating their entire resources at mitigation of pollution along the main stem only and having simply forgotten its vast tributary network made the task impossible even at the theoretical level.

It is very shocking that this deep malaise inbuilt in the planning model was overlooked by all the distinguished members of the Central Ganga Authority, when in 1986, another government agency, the Central Water Commission, brought out a publication, A Perspective Plan-1986, which showed in unambiguous terms that the Ganga main stem only constituted 84.98 million cubic metres out of the 525 million cubic metres mean annual discharge of the entire basin implying that a stupendous contribution of nearly 80 per cent to the total mean annual flow was made by the tributaries themselves.(Status Paper on River Ganga, August 2009, Annexure 1) Thus, unless the pollution levels in the big tributaries of the Ganga were tackled, the plan would be a non-starter from the start.

GAP I was extended as GAP II from 1993 onwards covering four major tributaries of the Ganga, namely, Yamuna, Gomati, Damodar and Maha-nanda. The programme was further broadbased in 1995 with the inclusion of other rivers and renamed as the National River Conservation Plan (NRCP). Thus, though not one small stretch of the river Ganga could be cleaned, 34 other rivers have been taken up for cleaning under the same failed model of the GAP.

The situation has come to such a pass that the Ganga water is at present unfit not just for drinking and bathing but has become unusable even for agricultural purposes. As per the CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) study, while the level of coliform bacteria present in water should be below 50 for drinking purposes, less than 500 for bathing and below 5000 for agricultural use—the present level of coliform in Ganga at Haridwar has reached 5500. Nearly 89 million litres of sewage is daily disposed into Ganga from the 12 municipal towns that fall along its route till Haridwar. The amount of sewage disposed into the river increases during the ‘Char Dham’ Yatra season when nearly 15 lakh pilgrims visit the Uttarakhand State between May and October each year.

Contamination by synthetic organic pollutants is a more recent phenomenon which is even more difficult to demonstrate for lack of appropriate monitoring. In addition to other pollutants, the DDT content of the river Yamuna is one of the highest in the world and many other pollutants also affect its water quality. This river is already a dead river by the time it enters Delhi at Wazirabad, but as it meanders across twentytwo kilometres of the National Territory region, the effluents from 1500 small and medium-sized industrial units, and the domestic sewage emanating from a population of 16 to 17 million people, converts it into a noxious drain which till Agra has lost all capacity to regenerate itself.

It is one continuous black, stinking water-mass and seeing this river our present generation finds it hard to imagine how Shah Jahan could have constructed his eternal monument of love along its banks. Yet, sadly this river has now turned into a poisonous river in which periodically deadly toxins are created, and which, by entering at the bottom of the food-chain, creates havoc on the predators at the upper end of the food-chain. In a shocking incident, which shows the alarming levels of riverine pollution reached, the death of ghariyals in the Chambal Sanctuary had occurred a few years back, but this hardly attracted the headlines of most newspapers. In this incident, Chambal had lost over 100 ghariyals over a period of 72 days to a mysterious toxin released along the river Yamuna. Initially, deaths of alligators were reported from a 35 km stretch of the National Chambal Sanctuary where the Chambal and Yamuna rivers meet, but later on ghariyal deaths were reported from upstream also.

The reality is that thousands of unregulated sewage-drains from tens of thousands of villages and dozens of Class-II and Class-III towns across Haryana, NCT, UP, Bihar and Bengal transform the waters of the river into an unwholesome, noxious morass which is full of floating human bodies and animal carcasses. Our teeming masses of illiterate millions, believing in the purifying powers of this river, discard the bodies of their beloved ones into the river under the belief that they shall reach straight to Vaikunth-lok. However, another sad aspect of this is the grim fact that most of such bodies are also dumped because their families are so poor that they cannot afford to buy the wood to cremate their relatives and pay for the other costs associated with costly death rituals. Similarly, our annual calendar is studded with innumerable festivals and ‘Melas’ which are held along the river-fronts.

The Magh, Ardh-kumbh and Kumbh Melas, which are the largest religious congregation of human beings on earth, and held in the pilgrim-towns of Haridwar and Allahabad, add an additional load of organic and inorganic waste directly into the river. A population anywhere from fifty lakhs to a crore bathe and encamp on its bed at Prayag or Allahabad, residing in tents and defecating out in the open along the river or in crudely-built toilets which are nothing more than pits. Thousands of tonnes of waste materials, polythene bags, incense, flowers, miniature statues and all kinds of religious memorabilia find their resting-place in the waters of ‘Ganga-Mayiyaa’. The famed ‘Durga-Puja’ festival of Bengal is another big threat to its pollution. On its closing day, tens of thousands of big and small idols of the divine Goddess are submerged with great fanfare into the waters of the Hooghly at Calcutta alone, what to say of the hundreds of villages along its bank upstream and downstream of this huge metropolis. These idols are coated with numerous paints and polishing which contain toxic zinc, mercury, copper, arsenic and other metallic contaminants. As the Ganga enters the Varanasi city, Hinduism´s sacred river contains 60,000 faecal coliform bacteria per 100 millilitres, 120 times more than is considered safe for bathing. Four miles downstream, with inputs from 24 gushing sewers and 60,000 pilgrim-bathers, the concentration is 3000 times over the safety limit. In places, the Ganges becomes black and septic. Corpses, of semi-cremated adults or enshrouded babies, drift slowly by. (Nitish Priyadarshini, ‘Ganga River Pollution: A Brief Report’ July 2009, American Chronicler)

During the course of its journey, municipal sewages from 29 Class-I cities (cities with population over 1,00,000), 23 Class-II cities (cities with population between 50,000 and 1,00,000) and about 48 towns, effluents from industries and polluting wastes from several other non-point sources are discharged into the river Ganga resulting in its pollution. Many towns on the banks of the Ganga are teeming with unregulated pollution-generating industries. Most of the industries have inadequate effluent-treatment facilities and dump their wastes directly into the river.

A high concentration of tanneries in Kanpur has further aggravated the situation. Besides other chemical and textile industries, Kanpur has around 400 tanneries located in a cluster at Jajmau the wastewater discharge of which at the start of GAP I was calculated at nine MLD but which has leaped to fifteen million MLD of highly toxic effluent. Out of 151 tanneries in Jajmau, 62 tanneries exclusively use the chrome tanning process, 50 tanneries use vegetable tanning processes, and 38 tanneries use both chrome and vegetable tanning. The Indian Government under the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) has implemented several schemes for the abatement of pollution of the Ganga by tanneries. However, there are violations of the pollution control measures, and tannery effluents are still dumped into the river with impunity.

The Sankat Mochan Foundation found that the schemes for Varanasi under the GAP Phase-I suffered from several shortcomings. Some major ones are:

1. The sewage pump at Konia terminal, when run to its capacity, causes heavy surcharging of the old trunk sewer. It causes erosion of the sewer linings and also spillage of sewage from manholes in low-lying areas of the city.

2. Over 115 MLD sewage, which could be easily handled by the Konia Terminal, is actually being diverted to the Dinapur Sewage Treatment Plant. The Dinapur STP can handle only 80 MLD, resulting in by-passing of 35 MLD untreated sewage into the Varuna and eventually into the Ganga. This is also very expensive in terms of energy consumption.

3. Power breakdowns, which are common in Varanasi, cause a sudden back-pressure in the system and massive spillage of sewage onto the roads and streets of the city.

4. The plant at Dinapur has to be shut down completely during monsoons. Thus for three to four months in a year all the sewage goes untreated.

5. The biogas generator in the Dinapur STP does not function, hence the plant is ineffective due to shortage of power. Tens of millions of rupees have been wasted on its construction, while the villages around the Dinapur STP suffer from polluted water, water borne diseases and mosquitoes.

Some measured-values of Total Coliform Count probably for the year 1982 at
some sites along the Ganga River in the Pre-Ganga Action Plan Phase

THE data in Table 2 seem to have some dubious statistical value. The total coliform bacteria and total faecal coliform at the upstream points of Rishikesh and Haridwar appear to be entirely bogus for the Central Pollution Control Board gives a value of zero to them at the latter place. Then the values of the same at Allahabad
and Varanasi are again so out of tune with ground realities! How could the waters of the Ganga, which at a point down-stream of the Jajmau pumping station at Kanpur had an astonishing degree of faecal-coliform contami-nation that the government data itself shows to be 10,123,000MPN/100ml suddenly at Allahabad diminish to a range of 1861-3453MPN/100ml when in the intervening stretch of 200 kilometres there is no sewage treatment plant whereas domestic sewage runoff from hundreds of villages in the intervening stretch would have been dumped directly to the river through thousands of unregulated sewer-drains?

Even in Allahabad, the pathetic story of the GAP is that though under it the number of sewage-drains increased from thirteen to fifty, the only STP was located at Naini on the banks of the Yamuna. The same is the case of Varanasi where tests conducted by the reputed Sankat Mochan Hanuman Foundation found that at the downstream of the confluence of river Assi with Ganga, the faecal coliform were of a very high order of 70,000-10,00,000 or 120-2000 magnitude of order higher than that permissible for water defined as of bathing quality. (as per the CPCB criteria).

Further, a team of scientists from the reputed Indian Toxicological Institute, Lucknow made an extensive survey of the bacteriological status of the river water during the winter, autumn, summer and monsoon seasons right from the Gangotri snout at Gaumukh. They divided the study-area into three parts in which the upper stretch constituted five sampling sites, middle stretch had eight sampling sites, and the lower stretch upto Haridwar had again eight sampling sites. Their test-results showed that a high count of faecal streptococci, that is, 500, 500 and 900 MPN per 100 ml in winter, summer and monsoon, respectively was found in the river water at the Gaumukh area. Slightly downstream at the Tehri, Devprayag upper stretch and Haridwar always depicted the high count of faecal streptococci, that is, 900 MPN/100 ml. The bacteriological analysis revealed that all the samples collected from 21 different sites of the glacier runoff were contaminated with coliform-bacteria, faecal-coliform and faecal streptococci. (Baghel V.S, et al., 2005)

Problems Associated With Tackling Riverine Pollution

(1) The first problem is of how to monitor, regulate and treat the vast amount of sewage generated by millions of domestic homes across the dozens of Class-I and Class-II cities and hundreds of small towns. The Ganga river basin is one of the most densely populated river basins in the world, supporting 29 Class-I cities, 23 Class-II cities, 48 towns, and thousands of villages having an estimated population of more than 500 million people which is more than that of the USA and Brazil combined.

It is to be noted that under Gap I, only 25 Class-I towns were covered in the three most populated States of India, namely, UP, Bihar and West Bengal. Of these 25 towns, six were located in Uttar Pradesh, four in Bihar, and West Bengal had as high a number as 15 Class-I towns. Out of the total number of 261 schemes that were planned, eightyeight related to the laying of sewage networks for the interception and diversion of the generated urban-wastes; and thirtyfour sewage-treatment plants with an installed capacity of 882 million litres per day were to be erected, yet, in reality by 2000 when GAP I was closed, a capacity installation only 869 million litres of wastewater treatment was possible.

Now, the problem is that the government planners completely left out of the loop the hundreds of small towns and the tens of thousands of villages which have the worst or no infrastructure to deal with the interception of the generated domestic and industrial waste. These contribute a large part of the organic waste pollution load of the rivers and directly dumped their waste through thousands of unregulated drains about which no data whatsoever is available. Here it has to be realised that as of 1995, all the Class-I cities of India generated a domestic waste of 16,662 million litres per annum of which only 4037 million litres or less than twenty per cent was treated. If this is the condition of the towns having the best infrastructure what could be conceived of our Class-II and Class-III towns.

(2) As I have said that the villages are a significant source of pollution and, yet, our Central, State and local governments, our pollution experts are all sadly sleeping over this frightful lack of foresight. The villages not only generate a huge amount of organic domestic waste but also generate a very large amount of inorganic waste due to the primitive agronomic practices in place. Despite a per low hectare use as compared to the developed and other emerging economies, the Indian peasant basically sprinkles the fertiliser by hand over the plants. This wasteful technique not only precludes a large part of the sprinkled fertiliser from reaching the crop-roots but leaves a considerable portion on the top-soil which after precipitation or other surface-runoff finally flows to the big rivers such as the Ganges or her other numerous tributaries. Similarly, huge quantities of deadly, non-bio-degradable pesticides such as BHC, DDT and others have been found in various parts of the river and its tributaries. The latter has been banned in the West for the last four decades, but in India, it still finds its way in the hands of our farmers, who find it an effective and cheap way of getting rid of a wide variety of tropical pests. Since, river water is still the primary source where our buffaloes and cows are bathed and led to drink water, this most harmful of chemicals finds its way to the cattle population, and through its milk enters the human body.

(3) The pollution of the waters of the Ganga river-basin is high not only in terms of the organic matter as reflected in the high BOD content but also in the form of the enormous faecal-content which is, I believe, the highest in the world compared to other major rivers of its size and run-off rate. Table 3 shows how at Kanpur the faecal coliform reach the amazing figures of seven-and-a-half million MPN/100 ml and Total Coliform Count at more than ten million/100ml. Thus, every litre of the water contains from seventy to eighty million of the faecal coliform bacteria in this most sacred of river which is considered to have amazing medicinal properties. At this level of spoliation of this largest fresh-water source within our country, it is not amazing if in our country such a large number of infants and children die of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, gastro-enteritis, typhoid and other deadly intestinal ailments. Thus, our most sacred river is not much better than a sewage drain because we have dumped it with 1.3 billion litres per day of human-waste and 260 million litres of industrial-waste. (Markandya and Murthy, 2000) The reason for this lies firstly due to our endemic poverty and secondly due to our social ethics. Because of severe poverty, private flush-latrines in our villages are to be found only amongst the village elites. The rest of the population can be seen attending nature’s call by squatting along the river-banks, and, thus, it is no surprise why it has become a repository of floating muck.

(4) There is the problem of huge quantities of toxic heavy metals such as chromium, zinc, cadmium, mercury which have been found in the main stem of the Ganga and its tributaries. Amongst the latter, the river Damodar is the most polluted by industrial effluents. A large number of tanneries, sugar-distilleries, jute-mills, fertiliser plants dot the river landscape. The major city of Kanpur alone has more than 300 leather tanneries which use highly outdated chromium-based extraction processes. Then at Phulpur near Allahabad, and at Barauni near Patna, there are two large fertiliser plants which discharge a large quantity of industrial effluent.

(5) One reason why the pollutant load could not be kept under check even within the major cities along the Ganges was the fact that compared to the number of urban-centres, the GAP even in its Phase-II was covering only 59 cities and towns and the total number of Effluent Treatment plants were 34 under GAP I plus 18 under GAP II or a figure of fifty ETPs for fiftynine cities meaning that not even every city and town covered under the Action Plan would have one sewage treatment plant at its disposal.

A variety of treatment technologies have been adopted under the GAP. At places where adequate land was available, Waste-stabilisation and Activated Sludge Process (ASP), which is a tried and tested technology, or the Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket (UASB), which is a new technology, were adopted. The problem in the former case was that the frequent power-cuts across the three States which is a daily phenomenon and spanning several hours at a time led to a serious under-performance of the units. In Bihar, the Sewage Treatment Plant at Chapra is such that sewage water does not reach it and empties directly into the Ganga. Out of the four STP’s in Patna, three do not operate a considerable part of the day due to power shortages, and one is still under construction. The same is the story at Kanpur where the Chromium Recovery Plant, constructed at a large capital cost, is never in operation.

Though ASP is an energy intensive technology, the UASB is less energy intensive but its effluent needs to be polished to meet the prescribed standards before it can be discharged into the river. The system design for the schemes of interception, diversion and treatment of sewage catered to the hydraulic and organic load at the time of designing, with provision for increased load in future. However, treatment facilities at many places were soon found to be inadequate and so a large volume of wastewater in excess of treatment capacity of the STPs had to be discharged into the river without treatment. The arbitrary power–cuts often led to a backward pressure in the feeder-system and this culminated in the waste-sludge flowing out of the collection-ponds and into the streets.

(6) The fact was that the installed capacity was less than the planned capacity and the planned capacity itself fell way short of the rising population and industrial growth. Thus, both the number and the design parameters of the plants were not effected keeping in view the future growth into consideration. There was a glaring failure to foresee the local conditions and the technological and power limitations.

(7) The apathy and indifference by our politicians at the highest corridors of power is shameful, to say the least. The NRCA or National River Conservation Authority had been mandated to meet just once a year under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister. Yet, in a period of twentytwo years, it has been convened just eleven times. Thus, what can one say of our top leaders who cannot find even a few hours during the entire year to address an issue affecting half-a-billion people’s lives. The NRCA meetings are more of a ritualistic nature. The PM is informed about the physical and financial progress of the plan, is shown some complicated data-tables claiming improvement in the water quality, interception and diversion of sewage in MLDs, creation of additional treatment capacity in terms of MLD. No critical decisions on important issues which would have far-reaching implications are ever taken, and even the decisions taken are seldom implemented at the ground level.

(8) The intensity of irrigation in the Ganga basin is very high. About 43 per cent of the total irrigated area in the country is located in the Ganga basin. Practically the entire dry weather flow is diverted to the Upper Ganga Canal and the Eastern Ganga Canal at Haridwar and whatever flow is regenerated between Haridwar and Aligarh is again diverted to the Lower Ganga Canal near Narora. These three canals withdraw water from the river Ganga to the tune of 297+157+237=691 m3/second. (Status Paper on Ganga, 2009, Annexure 2A) As a result of this, there is very little dry-weather runoff in the Ganga in the stretch from Kannauj till its confluence point at Allahabad with the Yamuna where the latter has a run-off rate several orders of magnitude higher than its parent river. There is a strange contradiction that the river’s water supply gets replenished only downstream of Allahabad because it receives over 60 per cent of its water from Yamuna, Ghagra, Kosi and Gandak, all joining the main river at or points below Allahabad. Yet, the most heavily polluting industries are located in the Kannauj-Kanpur belt where the river had been made virtually dry because of the two huge canals named above.

Remedial Steps to Minimise this Ecological Degradation

• The local bodies should be empowered with punitive powers so that preventive steps could be taken rather than reactive measures which are anyway very costly and capital-intensive. Municipal-bodies, Town-Area Committees be strict in monitoring that the public do not defecate anywhere within the flood-plain zone of the river, nor any garbage (organic or inorganic), or waste-water be dumped by any non-point pollution-source. Since this cannot be achieved unless the public is provided with user-friendly, affordable toilets on a massive scale, reputed NGOs like Sulabh-India and Sulabh International be asked to design such toilets as are eco-friendly, easy and cheap to maintain, and in tune with the cultural proclivities of the public in a given region.

• A system of reward and fiscal-incentive should be provided to the industries. The industries which have established the required EFTPs and act in compliance with strict environment-friendly norms be given tax-cuts; newly created ‘green industries’ be given tax-holidays. In contrast, the defaulters should be heavily penalised and the quantum of fine proportioned to the amount of industrial-sewage being emitted and its nature.

• All units which are engaged in tanning, manufacturing of plastics, lead-batteries, and electro-plating be ordered to close down if they do not install chromium, lead and other heavy-metal recovery extraction plants.

• The sludge of such aforesaid dangerously polluting industries, and from the large and medium-sized Sewage Treatment Plants have to be disposed off in a very methodical and scientific way. The reality however appears to be very different, In Kanpur, it is shocking to see the Kanpur Municipal Corporation trucks carrying the extremely toxic-sludge from the chrome recovery plant erected under the GAP and disposing them out into the open agricultural fields at the city outskirts.

• It has been seen that a major reason why many STPs were functioning at less than 50 per cent of their designed capacity or not at all because their Centrifugal Machines had all got badly corroded. The reason was that numerous chemical industries, tanneries etc, as have not installed appropriate ETP’s, release effluents heavily-laden with hydrogen sulphide. When millions of litres per day of such effluent flows through the STPs, it gets converted to sulphuric-acid in presence of oxygen, and the abrasive properties of this powerful acid is known to everyone. Therefore, a system of onsite real-time monitoring of the sulphide-load in such effluents be erected, and as and when such waste exceeds a critical limit, it be not allowed to enter the city drainage system.

• No more infiltration of the flood-plain zone for urbanisation and industrialisation.

• The time has come when means shall have to be devised to educate the masses against the mass-organised bathing of millions of people on countless of occasions throughout the year. Particularly, at Allahabad, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Varanasi and Patna, the pollution load arising out of the various Melas and on account of the ‘Chatth’ festival is just too much which a dying-river shall not be able to bear for much longer. The people shall have to be informed that the waters of this river at many of these places is of the D or C category and not at all fit for their own good or for the good of the river. Yet being a religious issue, and our being a liberal democracy, and the kind of blind adherence to customary rituals being so universal amongst the Hindus, this measure of public-awareness is more of an eye-wash.


IT is indeed Man’s greed and not his needs which have led to such a deplorable state of our pristine fresh-water sources without which the human race would itself perish. The problem is that our ecological perspective is even now human-centric, self-serving, and the little altruism which we bestow on nature and her underprivileged creations is ultimately for our benefit in the long run. Or else, the environment movements tend to become a kind of fashion-parade such as exhibited by PETA or an ideologically-driven propaganda war exhibited by the crusaders of Greenpeace Foundation and its like-minded organisations.

What all the nations, institutions, and the common man have exhibited can be termed as ‘Shallow Ecology’. Shallow Ecology is human-centric and considers humans as above and outside of nature, applying the concept of user-value to every aspect of nature. To bring back Mother Earth to her pristine glory requires a radical transformation in our worldview which can be brought about only through Deep Ecology.

This term was used in the first half of the twentieth century by the Norwegian philosopher, Arne Neiss, and he liked to call it as Ecosophy or Eco-Philosophy. Deep Ecology tries to look at the world not as an amalgamation of isolated objects but as a network of processes which are fundamentally connected to each other, and in which man is just one strand in the complex web and woof of life. Arne Neiss believed that if Man has to live in harmony with nature, he shall have to internalise the following principles and make them a part of his day-to-day living. These principles are:

(A) Self-realisation for all living beings.

(B) A respect for the diversity and complexity of life.

(C) Symbiosis between biotic elements of nature.

(D) To regard every Biotic and Abiotic element of nature as having an intrinsic value in nature and which value has to be segregated from the user value which humanity has come to impute upon them.

(E) The Diversity of Life has to be regarded as ‘Value-In-Itself’ (intrinsic value) and that humans have no right to reduce their diversity of life except to meet their basic-needs.

(F) The ideological shift in our thinking pattern must be towards an appreciation of the quality of life than standard of living.

The people of South Asia as a whole have to realise the importance of rivers, lakes and other fresh-water sources for their own well-being irrespective of our nationalities and mutual differences, at a time when the Himalayan mountains, whose ice-caps and glaciers are a source to the eight largest rivers of Asia, are undergoing increasing rates of pollution. Since this region is also home to some of the poorest communities on earth, the task of minimising the impact of human activities upon fragile ecosystems and heavily polluted water-bodies has to be a very delicate task involving a tight rope-walk between livelihood options and sustainable development. It is an established fact that the tides of time cannot be reversed, and so one cannot expect human-society to live with the same simple demands upon nature as our forefathers did or many tribal communities still do. A way shall have to be found by which a golden mean between two seemingly irre-concilable paths of industrial development and eco-system preservation can be effected.


V.S. Baghel, K. Gopal et al, ‘Bacterial Indication of Faecal Resources Right at the Source of the River Ganga, Ecological Indicators, Vol. 5, Issue 1, 2005.
Central Pollution Control Board, 2004, “Status of Sewage Treatment Plants in the Ganga Basin”, New Delhi.
“Status Paper on River Ganga: State of Environment and Water Quality”, National River Conservation Directorate, August 2009, prepared by Alternate Hydro-Energy Centre, IIT, Roorkee.
Nitish Priyadarshini, July 2009, ‘Ganga River Pollution: A Brief Report’, American Chronicler, online edition.
Sudheer Kumar Shukla, ‘Indian River Systems and Pollution, Encyclopaedia of Earth, Washington D.C, August 19, 2009
Lacy Shaw, 2006, ‘Modelling the Efficacy of the Ganga Action Plan’s Restoration of the Ganga River, India’, Thesis In Partial Fulfilment of Master of Science, University of Michigan, USA

Sudhanshu Bhandari a Ph.D from the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, completed his studies in Journalism (Print Media) from the ACJ, Chennai and is presently in New Delhi. He can be contacted at: or sud_charu1357@

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