LIFE-GIVING GANGA’S PLIGHT

“Best of rivers, born of all the sacred waters,” the Ganges, Described in the Mahabharata.

Ganga river, also deemed as the Ganges River, flows 2,700 km from the Himalayas mountains to the Bay of Bengal in northern India and Bangladesh The Ganga rises from the Gangotri glacier about 4,000 metres above sea level on the southern slopes of the Himalayan Alps. The Bhagirathi is joined by the tributaries Alaknanda and Mandakini to form the Ganga in the Himalayan region. Its river basin covers over 1 million square kilometres and is home to more than 650 million people. The Ganges is vital for the survival of millions of people and a diverse range of biodiversity.

The Ganga and its tributaries support a diverse range of fauna and flora. The Ganges supports 104 species of Rotifers, or minute creatures, 378 species of fish, eleven amphibian species, twenty-seven reptile species, eleven types of mammals, and 177 species of aquatic birds, according to the Zoological Survey of India. The Ganges River dolphin, the Sundarbans’ Royal Bengal tiger, freshwater turtles, Gharial crocodiles, Sarius Crane, egrets, herons, and terns are just a few well-known species.

But due to the rapid rise of urbanization, farming, and commercialization in recent decades, the Ganges currently faces serious concerns. The Ganga has now become one of the five highly polluted rivers on the planet. Excessive water drawn-out for cultivation and other purposes, barrages, dams hindrance in the natural movement of the Ganges, and trash from households and industries have irreparably damaged this once pure and mighty, free-flowing river.

River pollution’s key sources

  • Hazardous trash from textile mills, slaughterhouses, abattoirs, hospitals, distilleries, and chemical facilities, being discharged into the river in large quantities.
  • The massive number of fertilizers and pesticides regularly employed in agriculture activities is washed into the Ganga with rainwater, endangering marine life.
  • Dams disrupting the river’s natural movement are also responsible for polluting the Ganga.
  • Open defecation on the river banks, some 70% of those living in rural areas have no access to toilets.
  •  Disposal of lost loved ones’ remains in the river since it is a river worshipped by a larger religious community.

Sewage- the most prominent contaminant

A report published by The Inter-Ministerial Group, established by the Indian government to study the pollution sources in the Ganga River, revealed that sewage and contaminated water dumped in the river are the principal sources of pollution in the Ganga. It also discovered a significant disparity between the quantity of garbage produced along the Ganga and the scale of waste treatment. It identified that plenty of cities along the Ganga’s banks, such as Kanpur, Varanasi, and Allahabad, lack any kind of sewerage systems at all. Approximately 2.9 billion liters of sewage, residential, and industrial wastewater are discharged straight into the Ganga daily. Millions of people who rely on the Ganga for all of their water needs are harmed by pollution. Many of these individuals have little choice but to continue to rely on the Ganga’s contaminated waters for survival, exposing themselves to waterborne diseases like dysentery, cholera, diarrhea, and typhoid.

OVerburdened Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs)

Among wastewater treatment capacity and ‘official estimated’ production, there is an 80% disparity. As per the Central Pollution Control Board, sewage is produced at a rate of 6,087 million liters per day (MLD), with a treatment capacity of 1,208.8 MLD. Since most cities are already established and overpopulated, constructing new conveyance and treatment systems isn’t just a difficult but an enormously expensive undertaking. Many of the already set up STPs are no longer functional or are underused due to a lack of financing from cities and local municipalities.

INDUSTRIAL & COMMERCIAL WASTE

More than 500 million liters of industrial wastewater is thrown straight into the Ganga daily. With toxic chemicals and pollutants flooding its waters at levels far past any form of permissible or safe levels, the Ganga has now become a toxic supplier of drinking and bathing water. 764 of the factories, approximately utilize 1123 MLD of water and dump 500 MLD of contaminated water in the Ganga’s mainstream. Tanneries produce the most hazardous types of toxins, and in a location like Unnao, more than 790 times the permitted level of chromium (about 1,125 tonnes), is dumped into the river. Small-scale companies continue to pollute the Ganga with over a billion gallons of toxic chemicals due to the lack of efficient and economical treatment methods.

FLAWED SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT 

Many cities along the Ganga and its tributaries lack solid waste management systems, & even if they have, they are never adequate to handle the volume of waste generated each day. This solid trash is carried into the Ganga and its tributaries, either deliberately or because of rains during the monsoon. Vast quantities of biodegradable debris in the water consume a lot of oxygen as it breaks down, inflicting illness or death in aquatic animals like the threatened Gangetic dolphin. There were once tens of thousands of Ganges River dolphins in the river, but there are currently only about 1,200-1,800 left. Non-biodegradable materials float through rivers, obstructing the natural flow of air and gradually releasing their harmful toxins into the river. Aquatic species frequently eat these items obliviously and perish as a consequence. The general public lacks environmental awareness and education, inadvertently throwing their litter into the surroundings, utterly oblivious to the effects.

INAPPROPRIATE AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES

Over 80% of the river’s water is used for irrigation, while numerous hydro-power projects dry out vast swathes of the river, upping levels of pollution drastically. Evaporation and other variables cause around half of the water drawn from the Ganga for irrigation to be wasted before it can nurture a single crop. Out-of-date infrastructures, such as damaged and poorly assembled pipes and unsustainable farming techniques, are to blame for much of this damage. Groundwater depletion as a consequence of over-extraction for irrigation purposes.

The Ganges River nurtures the entire country and is crucial for everyone’s survival. Therefore, it must be rescued from its current plight. The public must be educated and made aware of the problem; efficient drainage systems must be built; and illegal dumping of harmful and hazardous materials by industries and households must be prohibited, promotion of water conservation for irrigation, Enactment of rules to keep dangerous chemical run-off out of the Ganga, Increasing farmer awareness of the practices and benefits of sustainable, organic farming, Solid waste collection and treatment at the source, minimizing and repurposing solid waste need to be done.