Ganga must become a political issue like Ram Mandir – Nivedita Khandekar

Sadhu at Kumbh Mela

Nivedita KhandekarA Central Pollution Control Board report found that all Ganga river locations where monitoring was carried out from Uttarakhand to West Bengal were “moderately” to “heavily polluted”. … Environmental and social activists and a group of sanyasis have been at pains to draw the attention of the government to their demands for a cleaner Ganga. – Nivedita Khandekar

Even as the Kumbh Mela kickstarts at Allahabad—now renamed Prayagraj—on Tuesday, January 15, with all the government paraphernalia advertising a cleaner Ganga for the devotees, activists and Opposition party leaders have come down heavily on the government’s failure on exactly the same.

Dams in the higher reaches of the Ganga, illegal sand mining, dumping of debris following massive road construction under the Char Dham Yatra project and, of course, the intermittent sewage—treated and untreated both—flowing directly into the Ganga in the plains—the list of all that is wrong goes on and on.

Environmental and social activists, not to mention a group of sanyasis, and a few leaders from Opposition parties have been at pains to draw the attention of the government to their demands.

In fact, Samajwadi Party leader and member of Parliament, Revati Raman Singh, has announced launching a jan andolan (people’s protest) at the Kumbh itself.

Carping on the Modi government’s attempt to turn the Ardh Kumbh almost into Maha Kumbh in an election year (Kumbh Mela is held every four years at four different places across India, with each of those places getting to host it once in 12 years in rotation; Ardh Kumbh is once every six years at Allahabad/Prayagraj, midway between the two Kumbhs), Singh said, “Our demand is very simple. What we need is Ganga’s aviral dhara (continuous flow). The government is talking only about treated-untreated sewage from smaller tributaries and nullahs flowing into the Ganga. Where is the Ganga jal then?”

Singh had first announced the jan andolan and court arrest (jail bharo andolan) too at a multi-lateral stakeholder meeting in December 2018.

“Today and tomorrow, there would be hundreds and thousands of people at the Kumbh venue for the Shahi Snan on the occasion of Makar Sankranti. Once that is over, I will definitely launch the protest there. People need to reach the Kumbh area to protest,” he told me over the phone on Tuesday.

The largest congregation of humanity

Advertised as the largest congregation of humanity, a great number of sadhu and sanyasis, Indians from across the country and abroad—and nowadays, several foreigners—reach the Kumbh venue, the Triveni Sangam, the meeting point of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. Kumbh tourism has been on the rise as scores of non-believers, both Indian and foreign, also throng the venue, especially for witnessing and photographing the Shahi Snan by the myriad sadhus and sanyasis of various akhadas (schools of sanyasis).

According to government data, this year, the Prayagraj Kumbh is spread over 3,200 hectares land—about 700 hectares more compared to 2013’s Maha Kumbh. The area has been divided into 20 sectors. Eight km-long bathing ghats have been developed at the Sangam for the holy dip and similarly, several other ghats have also been developed along the banks of river Ganga in different sectors of the mela. About 12 crore pilgrims and tourists are expected during the Kumbh. Massive security arrangements are in place for the smooth passing of the first bathing festival and the Shahi Snan.

Every Kumbh witnesses a large number of visitors, devotees, tourists with the majority reaching there only for their faith—the faith in the Ganga, India’s national river.

In all their devotion, they take a dip in the Ganga waters, oblivious to the actual condition of the water quality, or choosing to neglect it for the time being, even if they do worry about it.

The people and their Ganga

How good is it to play with people’s aastha (faith)?

That is the question on the lips of the common visitor as activists harp on the fact that the Ganga can clean itself provided the government lets it flow continuously. Aviral (continuous) flow will ensure nirmal (cleaner) Ganga, the activists point out time and again. Only 80 kms of the Ganga witness this natural flow.

The meeting of the stakeholders in December at Delhi, where Revati Raman Singh had made the initial announcement to launch his protest during the Kumbh, was organised by Ganga Aahvaan, an organisation striving for a free-flowing, cleaner Ganga.

It was attended by activists and political leaders. Apart from Jairam Ramesh, Congress leader and former Environment Minister, and another Congress leader, Pradeep Tamta, the event was attended and addressed by Somnath Bharati of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Govindacharya, a former RSS ideologue.

Clearly unhappy with the Modi government’s October 2018 draft bill for protection of the Ganga, aiming to regulate minimum environmental flow in the river, the attendees discussed the People’s Ganga Bill 2018—which was initiated during the times of late Professor G.D. Agrawal, who laid down his life after fasting for more than 100 days for the Ganga in October 2018.

The cornerstones of the draft act are identifying the unique status and special features of the National River Ganga; identifying and recognising the self-purifying and bacterial properties that lend gangatva to the river; acknowledging the adverse role that developmental projects have had on the river and management and implementation of conservation plans through an autonomous body.

Environmental activists Mallica Bhanot, Ravi Chopra and Rajendra Singh dwelled on the draft act which proposes a primary core zone, a secondary zone and a buffer zone for the river. The primary core zone will comprise areas from the Himalayas, the secondary zone will be the Ganga floodplains and the length of the river from Dev Prayag till Gangasagar while the buffer zone will be the entire Ganga basin.

Ganga’s condition today

The government’s draft Bill does not talk about hydropower projects on Ganga.

There are 100-odd existing hydropower projects across the Ganga basin in the state of Uttarakhand alone, with more than 100 either planned or under construction, together targeted at more than 25,000MW (majorly from projects on the Alaknanda river).

The Modi government has been harping on its success of how it will clean the Ganga up to 80% by March 2019—but it does not talk about stopping the work on hydropower projects. “We are not going to build any new projects,” is all that the Ministry of Water Resources maintains.

At a time when solar power is increasingly becoming cheaper, why the need to harness so much from hydropower on the Ganga alone is beyond anyone’s understanding.

Underlining that there are only 5 per cent high-end power users, Govindacharya asked if indeed we need that much power production that leads to the devastation of rivers and suggested, “Congress aur BJP ko apna mann banana padega (It is for the Congress and BJP both to take it on themselves)!”

Out in 2019, none of the parties actively said anything about hydropower projects, even when there has been a lot of noise about the clean/nirmal Ganga initiative, from both sides. The centre duly tries to showcase pockets where very little or superficial action is taking place.

But on the ground, the scores of STPs are yet to be constructed, pipelines taking sewers away from the Ganga are to be laid and even the cosmetic ghat cleaning is yet to happen at all places.

In fact, a Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report “Biological Water Quality Assessment of the River Ganga (2017-18)” found that almost all locations where monitoring was carried out in pre-and post-monsoon season from Uttarakhand to West Bengal were “moderately” to “heavily polluted”. Daily-O, 16 January 2019

» Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental, developmental and social issues.


 

5 Responses

  1. We have heard this story before, Mr Gadkari. Fact is we have heard a lot of stories from your NDA government which are just stories with no follow-up action.

    Let’s see some action, Mr Gadkari, then, maybe, we will start believing the stories, too.

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  2. Ganga Will Be “100 Per Cent Clean” By March Next Year: Nitin Gadkari – NDTV – PTI – Nagpur – January 20, 2019

    The Ganga will be “100 per cent clean” by March 2020, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari on Saturday said, and linked it to “good governance”. Read full article at https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/ganga-will-be-100-per-cent-clean-by-march-next-year-nitin-gadkari-1980293

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  3. Thanks for the article on bacteriophage. When I was little I was told that my grandmother went to Kasi and returned with a bottle of pure Ganga water. It never decayed and was used at the time of her death to sprinkle a little on her.

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  4. Farakka Barrage

    Ganga, Bacteriophage and Dams

    The problem with building dams across the Ganga is that it kills off the bacteriophage present in the river’s water and mud banks. Bacteriophage is a virus that destroys the pathogens present in the water, making it clean enough to drink.

    However an overload of pollutants like the acid effluent from Kanpur tanneries can kill off the bacteriophage completely.

    When the British built the first barrage across the Ganga, the pandits of Kashi asked them to not block the river completely but leave an opening for the water to flow freely, as this would assist in maintaining the purity of the river.

    The British obliged. But post-independence engineers have ignored this issue and close up the numerous dams they build completely, thus killing off the bacteriophage that requires free-flowing water to thrive.

    Bacteriophage is unique to the Ganga. There was at one time a lesser amount present in the Yamuna but it has been completely destroyed by the extreme pollution in that river.

    See Ganga in Peril: Building more barrages will finish it off – South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People

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  5. President Ram Nath Kovind at Kumbh Mela 2019

    No Ram Temple means no vote for BJP, warn sadhus – Nelanshu Shukla – India Today – Lucknow  – January 18, 2019
     
    > We voted for BJP because of Ram Mandir, the sadhus told India Today TV
    > The sadhus accused the BJP of playing with their sentiments
    > They warned that they will not vote for BJP if it did not fulfill its promise

    Ahead of the dharm sansad in Prayagraj from January 31 to February 1, sadhus have criticised the Narendra Modi government for failing to build the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. They have threatened that they would not vote for the BJP in the upcoming general elections if the temple is not built.

    Speaking to India Today TV, Mahant Prem Giri from Juna Akhada said, “We voted for the BJP because of the Ram Mandir issue, but this government has done nothing yet. The party leaders took vote from us on the name of Lord Ram, but now they are saying that the Supreme Court will settle the matter. We will look for an alternate option if no step is taken by the BJP to fulfill the promises they had made.”

    Ram Chandra Das from the Digambar Akhada said, “BJP government has played with the sentiments of sadhus. It’s clear that the BJP in only interested in playing politics on the Ram Mandir issue only to get votes. The seers will not vote for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. We will only vote for the party that will respect our sentiments.”

    Meanwhile, President Ram Nath Kovind and his wife, First Lady Savita Kovind, on Thursday visited Prayagraj and performed Ganga pujan in the Sangam area during the ongoing Kumbh Mela, officials said. They were welcomed by Uttar Pradesh governor Ram Naik, chief minister Yogi Adityanath and cabinet ministers. The Kovinds, Naik, Adityanath, his deputy Keshva Prasad Maurya, health minister Sidharth Nath Singh along with others performed Ganga pujan at Sangam. The President later met some sadhus was scheduled to return to Delhi by the special IAF plane. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also expected to visit the Kumbh on January 24. More than two crore devotees, including foreigners, attended the Kumbh so far.

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