Pollution of the Indian river Ganga has reached septic levels in some stretches. Those using its waters are thus exposed to serious health problems, a noted campaigner has said.
Apparently hundreds of crores of rupees sunk in cleaning up India's most sacred river have gone down the drain, literally.
"Dissolved oxygen has dropped to alarmingly low levels. In Varanasi alone, the seven km stretch from upstream Assi Ghat to Varuna Sangam, pollution has reached septic levels," Professor Vir Bhadra Misra said.
Samples tested by his laboratories showed that the river was dirty in the upstream Assi Ghat area and by the time it reached Varuna Sangam, it attained septic levels, reports news agency PTI.
"We had set up these labs along the river ever since the authorities claimed its Ganga Action Plan was a success," said Prof Misra who heads the Sankat Mochan foundation that is running its own 'Clean Ganga Campaign.'
Prof Misra, who was recently honoured by the Council of Science and Technology with Vigyan Ratna award, said he had formulated a plan for the Varanasi Nagar Nigam way back in 1995 to clean up the river using low cost gravitational force method to stop the inflow of domestic sewage into the river.
Mishra says that his suggestions are compatible with the climate and conditions of India. The advanced integrated wastewater oxidation pond system he is proposing would store sewage in a series of ponds and use bacteria and algae to break down waste and purify the water, so it wouldn't need electricity. Sankat Mochan has been trying to persuade the federal Indian government to adopt the plan, but to no effect thus far.
Every kind of organic waste, sewage, trash, food, human and animal remains, is flowing into the river in a relentless torrent.
While the population in the region has exploded, the waste-control infrastructure remains antiquated.
Sewage systems designed near the turn of the 20th century do little more than channel waste into the river today.
The San Fracisco-based Earth Island Institute has noted, "Some 300 million gallons of waste go into the Ganges each day, and the effects are stunning: recent water samples collected in Varanasi revealed fecal-coliform counts of about 50,000 bacteria per 100 milliliters of water, 10,000% higher than the government standard for safe river bathing. The result of this pollution is an array of water-borne diseases including cholera, hepatitis, typhoid and amoebic dysentery. An estimated 80% of all health problems and one-third of deaths in India are attributable to water-borne diseases."
The belief that Ganga is the right vehicle for the last journey has further compounded the situation.
In Varanasi, some 40,000 cremations are performed each year, most on wood pyres that do not completely consume the body. The partially burnt cadavers find their way to Ganga ultimately.
And there are thousands more who cannot afford cremation. Consequently they simply dump the bodies of their near and dear in the river. In addition, the carcasses of thousands of dead cattle also go into the river each year.
"While industrial pollutants account for a smaller proportion of contamination in the Ganges, the health and environmental impacts of toxic chemical waste can be far greater. From the plains to the sea, pharmaceutical companies, electronics plants, textile and paper industries, tanneries, fertilizer manufacturers and oil refineries discharge effluent into the river. This hazardous waste includes hydrochloric acid, mercury and other heavy metals, bleaches and dyes, pesticides, and polychlorinated biphenyls—highly toxic compounds that accumulate in animal and human tissue.
Runoff from farms in the Ganges basin adds chemical fertilizers and pesticides such as DDT, which is banned in the United States because of its toxic and carcinogenic effects on humans and wildlife. Damming the river or diverting its water, mainly for irrigation purposes, also adds to the pollution crisis. Rivers need fresh infusions of water to dilute and dissolve pollutants, and water flow is necessary to flush material downstream," the Earth Island Institute has stressed.
But the government claimed recently, "Since 1985, with the implementation of Ganga Action Plan (GAP) for pollution abatement activities in the identified polluted stretches of river Ganga, a total sewage treatment capacity of 1765.34 million litres per day has been created so far for Ganga and its major tributaries. Despite phenomenal increase in the urban population along the banks of the river leading to increased pollution loads, the water quality of river Ganga has shown discernible improvement in terms of organic pollution at major locations, over the pre-Action Plan water quality."
Interestingly the federal minister who made the claim in the Parliament also admitted, "The levels of Fecal Coliforms (bacterial indicator for health concerns) are also reported to be exceeding the maximum permissible limit of 2500 MPN (Most Probable Number) per 100 milliliter at many of the monitoring stations along river Ganga except in upstream locations of Haridwar."