Upstream municipalities in Uttarakhand polluting Ganga

Dehra Dun: The mood is upbeat in the holy townships of Haridwar and Rishikesh following announcement of the central government that all efforts will be made to ensure a clean Ganga. But there are apprehensions on the modus operandii that will be put in place for the overall cleanliness of the water flowing in the river.

Though there is optimism on the proposal of the centre to have strict norms for preventing the people from dirtying the river and make it a punishable offence to throw plastic bags and other dirt into the river, but they feel that it is not so much the people as the municipal corporations of the townships along the river banks that are dumping the entire untreated sewage systems into the Ganga.

A Devotee making an offering at the River Ganga
Polluted River Ganga

The general impression of the people is that the water of the river becomes undrinkable and is so polluted by the time it hits the plains at Rishikesh that even taking a dip in it on holy occasions is not without risks. The reason for this is the fact that a number of townships and hamlets upstream of Rishikesh and Haridwar dump their untreated sewage into the river unchecked.

Further the number of ascetics and sadhus that mediate or live in the upper tracts of the Himapalays are known to further dirty the river water. There is no mechanism to control them and neither have the ashrams and other such places made any efforts to construct toilets for this fairly large population. Besides the toilets should be constructed in such a manner that their waste does not flow into the river.

According to the Uttarakhand Environment Preservation and Pollution Control Board:

There are 12 municipalities in the state that dump almost 89 million litres of untreated sewage into the river and by the time the river hits the holy town of Haridwar where on any auspicious day lakhs take a dip in the Ganga, its waters are badly polluted.

According to reports:

Coliform levels in Ganga at Haridwar is 5500 per millitre of water, when the safe standards are 50 for drinking and 500 for bathing.

It is well known that the large number of pilgrims who come to the holy city not only take a dip in the river and drink its water, but also carry it in containers to their homes for use later.

The irony of the whole issue is that none of the municipalities upstream of Haridwar and Rishikesh have tried to expedite work on the construction of their sewage treatment plants, despite directions by the Uttarakhand High Court in the matter. Work on these plants is pending and none of them has been completed so that the sewage can be treated before it is released into the Ganga.

The people feel that the central government should penalize such municipalities for dumping untreated sewage into the river and they should be given a time frame to complete their sewage treatment plants, failing which heavy fines should be imposed upon them.

Even at Haridwar and Rishikesh untreated sewage water and drains flow into the Ganga without any check. Under such circumstances the centre should first come out with some bold steps to prevent this discharge of waste into the river by the municipalities and townships, which will go a long way in cleaning the Ganga water.

Added to this is the necessity of toilets being constructed for the hermits and sadhus that live in the ashrams and forests along the banks of the river.

A journalist with over 40 years of experience, Jagdish Bhatt is Editor Hill Post (Uttarakhand). Jagdish has worked with India's leading English dailies, which include Times of India, Indian Express, Pioneer and several other reputed publications. A highly acclaimed journalist, Jagdish is a recipient of many awards, latest being the 2011 Development Journalism Award. He lives in Dehra Dun.

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