The Ganga is Moving Away from the Ghats. Can Modi Save It?


Saraswati Nandini Majumdar in Open the Magazine (Photo: Majority World/UIG/Getty Images) [h/t: Tunku Varadarajan]:

Any plan for the revitalisation of the Ganga and the ghats would ideally have to demonstrate a holistic understanding of the heritage that they together constitute and all the interwoven layers of living, evolving culture that they have given birth to and continue to nourish—rather than focusing on any one aspect of development over another, such as economic or environmental. In order to be truly meaningful and impactful, such a plan should work closely with the needs and desires, fears and dreams of the hundreds of individuals whose lives are inseparable from the river. That is, revitalisation and conservation should happen for the people of Benares themselves and for Ganga itself, which have always been interdependent.

The two main governmental efforts at revitalising the Ganga and the ghatshave been the Ganga Action Plan and the National Ganga River Basin project. The Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was conceived during Rajiv Gandhi’s term and consisted of three portions of funds allocated to UP, Bihar and West Bengal, aiming to put into place drains, sewers, sewage treatment plants, and electric crematoria, and also to beautify the ghats. For a number of reasons, despite the massive funds allocated and plans drawn up, the GAP was never successfully implemented or seen through to satisfactory results by the state and municipal governments.

The second major effort, the $1.5 billion National Ganga River Basin project, has been undertaken by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, supported by the World Bank since 2011. But, similar to the Ganga Action Plan, the National Ganga River Basin project has also failed to deliver, perhaps in large part because, as Vijay Jagannathan notes, the work has been channelled through the same state engineering agencies that were engaged in the GAP.

Today, the Ganga continues to suffer from the pollution of untreated sewage that flows directly into the river at a number of point sources. Water becomes dangerous for drinking or bathing when the Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BoD) level exceeds 3 mg/L. The BoD level at Benares is 3.4 mg/L, lower than that at Allahabad or Kanpur, but still exceedingly dangerous for humans, as well as for aquatic life such as the Ganges River Dolphin, now endangered.

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