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Politics pollutes Ganga more

Politics pollutes Ganga more
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Politics pollutes Ganga more, The tragedy of India and the Indians is that the river Ganga, perhaps the most worshipped of rivers anywhere, is also...

The tragedy of India and the Indians is that the river Ganga, perhaps the most worshipped of rivers anywhere, is also among the most polluted. The bigger tragedy, however, is that it is also the most politicised.

For centuries, it has been worshipped as the mother river. And for long it has been, along with the Jamuna, the cradle of India’s composite Hindu-Muslim culture, called the Ganga-Jamunitehzib.

The politicisation began during the Rajiv Gandhi era. Although the Jamuna was more polluted and needed urgent attention, it was the Ganga that was chosen for cleaning. Millions went, literally, down the drain. No offence meant to those who revere the Ganga, but yes, at places, it has turned into a vast flowing drain.

Both Ganga where money was sunk, and the Jamuna that got somewhat step-motherly treatment, are dirtier than ever before. This should hold true, in degrees less or more, of any river alongside an urban centre. If anyone sees with detached mind and eyes what all goes into this river, be it at Kanpur, Varanasi, Allahabad or Patna, will not bathe or drink its water. But, people do – call it faith, reverence, tradition, anything.

We do not see the need to keep the place we worship clean. By and large, we lack a sense of public hygiene. Not just rivers, the places of worship and our own homes are its living examples. Do we not sweep our homes and push the dirt at our neigbhbours’ doorsteps?

Neither the cultural heritage of which we are so proud, nor the sonorous voice of the late Bhupen Hazarika’s “Ganga Aaama rMaa” has really taught us how to revere the river. The pollution level is not in doubt. The Narendra Modi government has itself told the Supreme Court, no less, of the grim conditions at the Ganga, prompting the apex court to lament whether the river would be cleaned in “our life time.”

Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar admitted to the court that the water quality of the Ganga at Allahabad and Varanasi, two holy places where millions take a dip, is most unfit for bathing purposes.

Water becomes unfit for bathing if the biochemical oxygen demand (BoD) level exceeds 3 mg per litre. In fact, in the entire stretch of the river from origin point Gaumukh till it meets the sea, Allahabad is the most polluted point and most unfit for bathing with BoD level at 6.4 mg/litre.

Kumar told the Bench of Justices T S Thakur and R Banumathi that he found it difficult to take a bath at Allahabad. The BoD level at Allahabad was 6.4, it was 3.4 at Varanasi, 4.5 at Kanpur and 3.9 at Kannauj, making the Ganga unfit for bathing, what to talk about drinking. Kumar attributed this to untreated sewage from townships entering the river daily. As per the Central Government's affidavit, in 1985, an estimated 1,340 million litres per day of sewage was discharged into the river from 25 townships located along the river in UP, Bihar and West Bengal. By 1993, the volume of sewage entering the river had increased to 2,538 million litres, or a ninety per cent increase.

The SG said the government was committed to ridding the river of pollution and would not flinch from closing down polluting industries if they didn't meet the effluent discharge and ambient air norms. But the court rejected Kumar’s plans as “too bureaucratic and ambiguous.” It asked for a phase-wise time-frame for cleaning up Ganga. He has time till the end of this month.

If Rajiv Gandhi was supposed to have preferred the Ganga over the Jamuna, advised as such for its sentimental value (religious, of course), long before he opted for “soft Hindutva” and prayed at Ayodhya, that task is being resumed, a quarter of a century hence, by those who have espoused ‘Hindutva’ in all its ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ forms.

Leading the resumed Clean Ganga campaign is Water Resources Minister Uma Bharati, who needs no introduction after her role in the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. Her case, along with those of many top Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bigwigs, remains unresolved before the Allahabad High Court.

The point here is not whether she should resume the Clean Ganga campaign, but how she should be doing it. There the rub lies. The controversies have already begun.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, a former Minister for Environment, has accused her of injecting ‘Hindutva” into the project. "We must involve society. But don't make it sadhu and sants’ programme. Ganga is a national river. Ganga defines Indian culture," he said. To this, the minister said that she and her government did not ‘fake’ secularism.

It is difficult to ignore this mutual diatribe even as the Ganga gets dirtier by the day. She has organised ‘Ganga Manthan’ where, no doubt, there are representatives of other faiths – including Muslims, Sikhs and Jains – a bit of tokenism, no more. But the whole discourse is guided by Hindu priests and conducted by Acharya Balakrishna, the controversial aide of yoga guru Swami Ramdev.

She assures that while talking of Ganga, her government wants to clean all rivers. Fine. The rivers do not just need cleaning, but they must also be made navigable and utilised for providing drinking water and for power generation.

Her ministerial colleague Nitin Gadkari tells you that waterways can boost the nation’s GDP by at least two per cent. Fine, too. He has announced deployment of smaller boats on the Ganga. The government hopes to get a World Bank loan of Rs 4,000 crore. Bharati has talked of “new technologies” to build dams. “Without destroying any river, we have to work on betterment of any river, starting with the Ganga."

But are those involved in “Ganga Manthan” agreeable? The ‘sants’’ want the Ganga to retain its “pristine glory” – no navigation, no dams, no power generation. The NGOs involved also do not want the rivers to be harnessed for anything productive, where construction and the use of cement and concrete are involved. It remains to be seen if the “Ganga Manthan”, like the “Amrit Manthan” will produce any nectar of development or only the poison of discord, leaving the rivers polluted.

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