The nationwide lockdown has significantly improved the health of the Ganga river.
Experts attribute this to the substantial reduction in the dumping of waste, industrial as well as human, into the river over the last few days.
The latest Central Pollution Control Board data finds Ganga water suitable for bathing at most monitoring centres. Out of the 36 real time water monitoring units that the CPCB has placed at various points along the Ganga, the water quality around 27 was suitable for bathing as well as for sustaining wildlife and the fish population.
However, while the Ganga has become fit for bathing after a long time, “it is still not suitable for ‘aachman’ or the direct inhaling of the river water for religious rites” says Abhay Mishra, environmentalist and author of several books on Ganga river.
Mishra also feels the lockdown is the right time for authorities to release water stored for hydropower generation into the Ganga since electricity consumption has come down by 20 per cent.
He says, “The released water will allow Ganga to rejuvenate itself as it will be able to maintain the minimum environmental flow required for its self cleaning capacity.”
Central to India’s social and religious traditions, the Ganga basin is the largest in the country and home to around 43% of the total population.
Spread over an area of 8,60,000 sq km across 11 states, the Ganga basin is the world’s most populous river basin. Being an extraordinarily busy site of human activity has polluted this lifeline of the country beyond belief. A 2018 report calculated that 1.3 billion litres of sewage is discharged into the Ganga daily.
National efforts to clean the sacred river started in 1986, with the launch of Ganga Action Plan-I. The Modi Government launched the Namami Gange in 2015 with a budget of Rs 20,000 crore with a target to achieve a Nirmal (clean) and Aviral (flowing) Ganga by 2020.
The cost of sewage infrastructure, ghats, crematoria, and river surface cleaning among other sanctioned projects was subsequently raised to Rs 28,790 crore.
Govind Sharma; general secretary of Varanasi based NGO Ganga Mahasabha, says that. “It is for the first time in almost 20 years that I saw fish returning to the ghats during this lockdown period.”
He adds, “In the last six years the condition of Ganga has improved but there is a lot that needs to done. Individuals have to play their part by not polluting Ganga,” adds Sharma.
As humans beings struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, they also seem to be taught an invaluable lesson.
River Ganga is breathing fresh for the first time in many decades.
“The message is clear – if you truly worship your Ganga, respect it, let it heal, and stay away from it,” says Mishra.