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This is one Ganga story you'll never forget. Everything you need to know about this holy mess

Sourjya Bhowmick | Updated on: 16 June 2015, 20:44 IST

Ancient civilisations lived and died by rivers. In the modern world, that idea seems remote.

But it may not be.

In India, the lives of 400 million people depend on the Ganga. The holy river has been ill a long while: it is now in ICU. If it is not saved soon, the scale of disaster could be unimaginable. If that still sounds remote, read the facts below:

billion litres

  • Or roughly as much water flows in the Niagara Falls in one hour
  • That's the sewage dumped daily in the Ganga

million people

  • Or a 100 million more than the population of the US
  • That's the number of people who depend on the Ganga


mpn/100 ml

  • That's the level of coliform bacteria in the Ganga in holy Varanasi. (And pretty much elsewhere)
  • Hold your breath: It should be less than 50 mpn/100 ml to be fit for drinking
  • Less than 500 mpn/100 ml for bathing
  • And below 5,000 mpn/100 ml to be fit for agricultural use
  • The main reason for coliform in water? Dumping of human faeces, urine and sewage



  • That's the amount spent 'cleaning' the Ganga since 1985, when the Ganga Action Plan first began
  • The result: it's more polluted now


  • One of top 5 most polluted rivers in the world: that's the star ranking the Ganga enjoys
  • Here's what the Holy Ganga is made of today: insecticides, pesticides, weedicides, carcinogenic chemicals, industrial waste, human faeces, and rotting corpses

Crows feed on a dead cow in Allahabad. PM Modi vowed to clean up the Ganga, but his election vow is not going to be easy to fulfil. Photo: Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images


  • That's the number of dams that exist, are proposed, or under construction on the Ganga
  • Impact: The flow of its water is down to 10%
  • The main reasons for the Ganga crisis? Volume of sewage. And reduced water flow


  • Quote: Enough to demonstrate the folly of this.
  • "Having commissioned the Tehri Dam as the environment minister of Uttar Pradesh, I have no qualms in saying it was the biggest mistake of my life. The dam was supposed to generate 2,400 MW of electricity. Not even 400 MW has been generated." - MP Rewati Raman Singh, Samajwadi Party


  • Is all that remains untouched of the 2,500 km long river
  • 14 kilometres from its source, it starts getting tunneled. And remains tunneled for 130 km through the earthquake prone Himalayas
  • Imminent danger: remember the 2013 flash floods in Uttarakhand? 5,000 dead
  • Previous governments had allowed pan masala firms, tourism firms, even cycle manufacturers to set up hydroelectric projects in this seismic zone


  • That's how much of the Ganga is already diverted for agriculture. Not only is this killing the river, its toxic water is seeping into the food India eats


  • Doable solutions suggested by experts:
  • a) Restore the run of the river. Let it oxygenate itself
  • b) Recycle treated sewage water in cities. Do not dump in the river at all
  • c) Focus on creating efficiency in existing hydroelectric projects. Do not commission more


  • Reasons all this matters:
  • 50 species of animals, 23 species of fish, and over 500 varieties of trees live in the Gangetic plain. If the river dies any further, they die
  • But it's not just the river dolphin or the hilsa that is in danger. 400 million people are
  • Imagine that many people unable to access water to drink, bathe, water their fields or feed into industry
  • Imagine the downstream impacts of that

Boys search for coins after the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in 2013. Photo: Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images


  • Key problem. Is there enough political will to do what's obvious to save the Ganga? The UPA government did very little
  • Which leads us to our next question: What has the new government done, till now?
  • To start off, it created a fanfare in Madison Square
  • It also renamed a ministry: The former Ministry of Water Resources is now called Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation after three decades of its existence



  • That's the amount sanctioned in Budget 2015-16 for cleaning the Ganga
  • ISRO can send four Mangalyaans to Mars with this amount



  • That's how much the cabinet cleared on 14 May 2015 for cleaning the Ganga in the next five years
  • This is a five-fold increase in the money spent in the last three decades



  • That's how much the urban development ministry will spend over the next 5 years to expand sewage infrastructure in 118 urban habitations along the Ganga
  • Which nearly equals the amount allocated to midday meals over the last 5 years. Which fed over 50 crore children in more than 50 lakh schools



  • That's the amount the Centre is supposed to give to the states to free 1,632 gram panchayats near the Ganga from open defecation


  • Is the number of spiritual leaders, academicians, technocrat, environmentalists and policy makers who attended 'Ganga Manthan' - a national dialogue to provide ideas to clean the Ganga
  • However, an action plan provided by a group of secretaries on August 2014 is 'still being examined'


  • That's how long the Supreme Court said it's going to take the Modi government to clean the Ganga at the rate it's moving
  • In September 2014, rapping the government for this, the court called it Kumbhakaran - the legendary sleeper in the Ramayan
  • The government replied it would take it 18 years, not 200
  • In the meantime, it has approved a Clean Ganga Fund to seek donations (with tax exemptions) from NRIs and Indian citizens
  • It also plans to set up daughter funds in countries with high donor interests like the US, UK, UAE and Singapore
  • Unfortunately, money by itself, is not a natural purifier

Photo credit: Left: Jerry Redfern/Light Rocket/Getty Images. Right: Deshkalyan Chowdhary/AFP/Getty Images

First published: 24 May 2015, 14:03 IST
Sourjya Bhowmick @sourjyabhowmick

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