Is faith enough to clean the Ganga?

A Ganga yatra and awareness drive may be the first steps to save the river but are far from the solution. Thousands of crores have already been spent to clean the Ganga. Yet, in Allahabad, the river water is undrinkable

Ecological violence is contagious, much like indifference, which has become the norm in our society. Violence and indifference are enough to set a nation on the path of destruction. We have eroded our mountains and chopped up catchment forests so that India is poised on the edge of the environmental precipice. The cost, 7,00,000 people die prematurely due to water pollution, while millions linger on with symptoms of dysentery to heavy metal poisoning. Our surface water resources shrink and groundwater retreats into newer depths, all precursors to water wars in the next decade.

While, younger “contractors” loot and destroy our rivers and sandbanks, illegally steal gravel and mine the bedrocks, the sententious older generation preaches duty, conveniently forgetting that it instilled indifference in us.

The Government is not responsible for the pollution: We are. The Ganga river, venerated as a living goddess, today is laden not with fertile silt and minerals but with a toxic mixture of garbage, faeces, untreated sewage, heavy metals and drug-resistant pathogens. Ganga is the fourth most polluted river of the world, toxic not only for human beings but even for the fishes and plants.

There are reports, right from The New York Times to the Government’s own assessments, that reveal mother Ganga to be little less than malodorous sewage meandering across the Gangetic plains. It was shameful that especially for US President Donald Trump’s visit, we admitted Yamuna into the ICU and galvanised it by dumping water into the river. Now that Trump has gone, the Yamuna will again become a filthy stream carrying flush water to the ocean.

A Ganga Yatra and awareness drives may be the first steps to cure this problem but it is far from the solution. Thousands of crores have already been spent to save the Ganga, yet even today in Allahabad, the river water is undrinkable.

I am reminded of the aftermath of the Ardh Kumbh Mela in 2019, one of the biggest gatherings of the Hindu faith, which saw the whole city drenched in pathogens and waste rotting all along the river banks. There is no question mark on the faith of the millions of devotees but is this faith in good faith?

The answer is tricky but the truth is obvious. Misguided faith or rather lip service to faith has killed one of the largest rivers systems of our world and in record time. A bath in the Ganga is cheap indulgence for the sinning mind. To care only for oneself and not the river is not Hinduism but egomaniacal perversion of Hinduism.

The solution is also a hard one which involves sacrifice. In good faith, we have to first regulate the holy dips in the river, especially in the upper regions of Uttarakhand. Sewage, which is 80 per cent of the pollution, needs to be immediately stopped.

A national plan for Ganga conservation should pay special attention to effective sewage management, especially in the upper tracts of the river. Currently, we can’t even stop waste. from rafting camps on the Ganga. We have to ensure purity at source, without an effective sewage management system, the river can never heal.

There is also a need for an active portal that reports the health of the river, including that of her tributaries. The next step is to restore catchments areas of the Ganga. This means that all tributaries of the Ganga, need to be declared a national treasure and any sand mining, rock mining or waste dumping should become a serious crime. Harsh punishments need to be proposed.

The rural police across States needs to be made aware about these issues, as water may even be more precious than gold in the very near future. But the biggest polluters, the industry needs stricter regulations and a new Clean Ganga tax. As part of the stricter regulations, the Government needs to look at Norway or Sweden and their river policy.

All polluting industries need to have a treatment plant on site and the State Pollution Board reports on water need to verified by a third party to have complete transparency in the matter.

CSR funds from major pollutant cities in the Ganga Basin need to be redistributed for rejuvenation activities. Eco-entrepreneurs need to be encouraged and ecological services should be valued and monetised. For example, if tanneries in a particular area cannot themselves set up a treatment plant, they can tie up with these entrepreneurs to provide them with ecological services. Small pockets along the river need to be developed not as industry zones but as green industry zones, exclusively for projects related to cleaning of water and green zones along the river. NGOs and farmers around the Ganga should be encouraged to adopt organic farming and the State Governments need to subsidise the transition to organic farming. Ganga Organic can even be developed as a brand for consumers. The Bihar Government has undertaken a similar programme called the Javik Setu that needs to be emulated across the Gangetic plains.

It is about time, we the people of India and children of the river civilisations reclaim our sanity and love for our mothers — the rivers of India. One is reminded of the Garuda Purana — “Thousands of man’s sins get destroyed by the holy sight of the Ganges, and he becomes pure by the touch of the water of the Ganges, by consuming it, or just by pronouncing Ganga.”

Such was the holiness and purity of our mother Ganga. It is time we clean ourselves and our society of greed, selfishness and ecological violence and through good faith make the Ganga our holy mother again.

To conclude, the crisis of the Ganga or Yamuna or any other river for that matter is a crisis of faith. We as a society have destroyed our culture and now reap the harvest — disease and pollution. A dead river represents a dead faith and a cadaver of Hinduism. Our greed and our religion cannot co-exist.

Either the river lives, with all sacredness within it or triumphs greed and ecological destruction. Money and Government efforts are not enough to clean the Ganga, only sacrifice and faith can heal our river. We need a Ganga Satyagraha to ensure the sense of duty is rekindled in our society.

(The writer is Director — Policy and Outreach, National Seed Association of India)

Originally published at https://www.dailypioneer.com.

Scribe for the Earth.