Why is the Ganga still not clean?

DESPITE the crores of rupees spent on the Ganga Action Plan , the river is still not clean. This, says D S Bhargava of Roorkee University, is because the authorities have overlooked the river's self-purifying ability, besides using faulty effluent standards and ignoring dumping of untreated sewage into the river. Though thousands of Hindu devotees take holy dips in the Ganga everyday in the hope it would wash away their sins, most of them do not realise the extent of the river's pollution. Along its 2,525 km-long course, 27 major towns dump into the river as much as 902 million litres of sewage and industrial effluents daily. Significantly, Patna is the only city on its banks that treats almost all its sewage before discharging it into the river. Alarmed by the pollution of the Ganga, the Union government had established the Central Ganga Authority 10 year ago to administer the cleaning of the river and restore it to its pristine state. An amount of Rs 350 crore was allocated for this purpose. But a decade later, the Ganga is still dirty, says Bhargava. Bhargava asserts enormous public money was wasted in repetitive surveys of the well-known quality status of the Ganga, "carried out aimlessly by personnel with very little technological background or knowledge of such surveys." Instead, he says, it would have been worthwhile to have utilised the money and effort in organised collection, diversion, treatment and disposal of urban domestic waste. The regulating agencies often adopted effluent standards recommended by the Bureau of Indian Standards, which Bhargava says "are wholly arbitrary" and fail to account for the extent of pollution in the river. "A rational approach would be to fix standards for river-use at specific locations. Then, based on the river's self-cleansing capacity at that point as well as the volume of water, the amount of sewage to be dumped can be calculated." The effluent standards, therefore, would obviously be different not only in varying situations but also for different polluters, says Bhargava. The pollution expert blames the authorities for "lack of priority or wisdom in the diversion of urban domestic drains." Less than 50 per cent of the urban population living along the Ganga have been provided sewers, he says. As a result, enormous amounts of sewage empty into the river "through numerous unspecified and commonly unnoticed natural or human-made drains." Bhargava suspects numerous industries in the Ganga basin may also be discharging untreated effluents into the river through hidden drains, "which cannot be noticed without a comprehensive investigation". Any water-pollution control strategy can be economical if full use is made of a river's self-purifying capacity (See box). Let alone scientific exploitation, claims Bhargava, none of the regulating agencies "even cared to assess such capacities of the Ganga, despite having sophisticated apparatus and sufficient labour." This kind of assessment, believes Bhargava, should have been the top priority of the authorities concerned, instead of the expensive routine monitoring. "Thus, instead of the wastewater, public money went down the drains," he says. Bhargava blames the apathy of Indians for the continuous deterioration of the Ganga. "As a result," he remarks, "no public opinion or pressure builds up. This, in turn, allows the authorities to become lax and irresponsible in their cleaning efforts."

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