Indus Valley is the cradle of Indian Civilization and the river Ganga is ingrained in the ethos of this country through its association with various events spanning over the past 5000 years. Its 2500 km journey from Gaumukh to the Bay of Bengal provided sustenance to millions of people living on its banks. The seven kilometer human chain program stretching from Assi to Adikeshava Ghat on March 22 by school kids, college students and socially active citizens was organized by Sankat Morcha Foundation to create wide awareness about the continued neglect of this ancient river in spite of crores of rupees spent on its restoration by GOI. The occasion was the 'observance' of World Water Day by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), initiated in 1992 at Rio de Jeneiro to focus on the critical problems the world is facing vis-a-vis water.
As a nation ever ready to indulge in such public demonstration for any worth while cause, India has very little to show when it comes to implementation. It is true we have an exclusive Ministry for Program Implementation at Delhi but what it does is any body's guess! Other wise how one can explain the total failure of the 1984 Ganga Action Plan put in place by GOI with much fan fare with the honest intention of freeing this sacred water body from destruction through massive man-made pollution, investing more than Rs 15 billion. It is a tragedy of monumental proportion when it is realized that Ganga water has been declared unfit for drinking along its entire stretch from Haridwar down, as declared by no less an authority than Central Pollution Control Board of GOI. In some cases it is considered not even fit for bathing. Coli form bacteria in Ganga water, for which there are strict restrictions under the India Law, exceeds the safe limit in many places with great potential for many diseases.
It is estimated that River Ganga receives upwards of 1 billion liters of untreated sewage every day from the human settlement on its banks. In Patna alone 190 million liters of raw sewage flows through 29 drains. Under the Ganges Action Plan of 1984, 33 big sewage treatment plants were installed ostensibly to reduce the biological load of sewage flowing into the river. It is a tragedy that all these plants are lying idle, obviously because of apathy and callousness by the authorities concerned. How can we, as a responsible nation condone such colossal waste of national resources on life saving projects like this with no benefits accruing to its citizens. It is all the more pathetic to see public demonstrations like the 7- km human chain show to highlight the same problem even after 25 years of the Plan and realize that the water quality to day is worse that what it was in 1984!
More alarming are the findings by a group of scientists from University of Michigan that human beings are not the only ones affected by this pollution and even fish population undergo changes for the worse. Zooplanktons in River Ganga are so seriously affected by the pollution that they tend to develop tumors which find their way to human food chain through small fish first and then the larger varieties putting in jeopardy the safety of the food chain. Samples collected at Haridwar, Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna and Kolkata confirmed the presence of such plankton in the water. Whether drinking of this water in the form of sacred 'Theerth' in small quantities poses any danger is not known but this has not detered a state government in the South to ferry water from Ganga during the recent shivrathri festival for distribution to devotees in some major temples. While packing Ganga water in copper containers for preservation is widely practiced because of the oligodynamic properties of copper which is known to inhibit bacterial growth, whether copper can kill the tumor affected plankton needs to be verified.
The UNCED theme this year during the World Water Day is 'Transboundary Water', obviously to highlight the need for cooperation amongst nations in harnessing river bodies, forgetting the artificial barriers in the form of national boundaries, considered sacrosanct and inviolable by many. One wonders whether this is not an utopian dream in a world where there are countless and mindless water disputes, not only between sovereign nations but also between towns and cities, districts, areas, states and regions within a country, depriving the citizens of even the minimum needs of water for a decent quality of life.