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“Press-Note: Failure of Efforts of Cleaning Ganga & Permanent Foolproof Prevention of Pollution of Ganga” by D.S. Bhargava

Bhargava, Dr. DS. “Press-Note: Failure of Efforts of Cleaning Ganga & Permanent Foolproof Prevention of Pollution of Ganga.” World Water. March/April 2010.

Previous governmental attempts to clean up the Ganga River have failed for political, technical, and scientific reasons, according to Dr. Devendra S. Bhargava, a former professor of environmental engineering and pollution control at Roorkee University in India and an author of 450 research papers and recipient of 32 awards including the most prestigious Swami Pranavananda Award, UGC’s highest academic honour for 1992 for outstanding scholarly, scientific contribution in Environmental Engineering. In an article, published in WORLD WATER of the USA’s Water Environment Federation, Dr. Bhargava explains the reasons for these repetitive failures and proposes a fool-proof strategy to control Ganga’s pollution and restore Ganga’s pristine water quality.

As published in many peer refereed foreign journals, Ganga, India’s most revered national river now aspiring a world heritage status, is famous for its extraordinary high self-cleansing abilities due to its unusual ability to reaerate and assimilate organic matter upto 25 times faster than any other river in the world through the presence of well adapted aerobic bacteria and exo-cellular polymers present in its waters. These polymers act as excellent coagulants to remove upto 60% of the total organic matter (BOD) in 30 to 60 minutes. Also, a volatile material continues to exist only in Ganga’s bed even when all Ganga waters are taken out in canals at Haridwar and Narora. This material prevents survival of disease causing bacteria (pathogens) and water putrefying bacteria (anaerobes). Ganga jal (water) is thus preserved in airtight containers for religious rites. However, Ganga’s pollution and most needed shore aestheticity have become so severe that many Hindus now hesitate to take a dip in the river or do aachman, a religious ritual involving direct inhaling of water.

Causes of failure of previous action plans include (i) adoption of unscientific and arbitrary effluent standards (legally permissible concentration of any pollutant in wastewater) which should have been worked out scientifically using mass balancing concepts from pre-fixed stream/river standards taking account of the river’s self-purifying abilities in terms of kinetic coefficients and ratios of river-effluent flow-rates. These effluent standards would thus vary for different polluters,

(ii) Ignoring of Indian conditions in formulating strategies, e.g. (a) many Indian streets are too narrow to install sewer pipelines that require deep excavations creating structural dangers to street buildings. Consequently, wastewater generated from homes in these types of streets flow directly into the Ganga, (b) many private homes in India carry on small-scale industrial activities such as plating, generating toxic wastes that flow unabatedly into the nearby river or percolate into the ground and later seep into the river, (c) slums generate large volumes of wastewater in unsewered urban areas that ultimately seep into the river, (d) religious mass bathing gatherings that are regularly held along the Ganga generate wastewater that flows directly into the river, (e) drains channel wastewater upstream of bathing platforms (ghats), (f) open defecation apart from the disposal of dead human and animal bodies (only to be scattered all over by the stray dogs and birds) degrade riverbank areas, (g) riverbanks are also used as dumping sites for solid organic wastes, including polythenes, so these substances leach into the river. not practicing a self-supported sustainable strategy (4-S) which could help keep city streets clean in an organized manner, e.g. several rag pickers could be employed to pick up fruit-skin-vegetable wastes, organic wastes, nails, and newspapers/polythenes from specified streets and sell them to consumers such as dairies, piggeries, and scrap dealers (kabaris). This will also avoid the accident causing menace of pigs and cattle on the streets.

All this uncollected waste causes 50 percent of urban, untapped, untreated wastewater to flow unabatedly into rivers. India’s extremely high population, a severe constraint to any developmental action, can effectively be controlled in Indian situations only by limiting the privileges such as voting rights, ration card, free education, reservations, etc. to only one or two children,

(iii) further, the Indian culture and religion demand a very high water quality level at the Ganga banks where millions of Hindus perform religious rites (including aachman) in the river, thus pollution control strategies successful in western countries cannot be successful or appropriate in India. In such situations, even with the most modern wastewater treatment facilities in urban areas, hundreds of action plans could/would not clean rivers,

(iv) lack of pollution control defensive strategies such as segregation of industrial wastes as in-plant practices, wastewater recycling and reuse, general sanitation, and improved agricultural practices to reduce excessive use of fertilizers and insecticides by the greed of greater yield by the illiterate Indian farmers leading to eutrophication (a bane of green revolution) in the country make river cleaning plans ineffective,

(v) not implementing proactive or offensive strategies such as the regulated release of wastewater to ensure the maintenance of the pre-fixed river standard, artificial re-aeration and in-drain treatment practices using water hyacinths (very carefully enough to ensure that it does not enter the river system to continue its stay put) which could increase the likelihood of success in action plans,

(vi) comprehensive river pollution control requires professionals with knowledge of several fields including civil engineering, public health or environmental engineering. The lack of experts in these fields (or high dominance of pseudo environmentalists incompetent to identify the relevant literature or real experts) with decision-making responsibilities within the Indian Ministry of Environment has been disastrous for success in previous Ganga clean-up projects,

(vii) political connections or bribery used to secure high positions in government, judiciary, and academia have also stymied efforts to clean up the Ganga. Merit (evaluated through an index representing the integrated effect of all essential requirements), a bygone word in Indian system (infested with severe nepotism, regionalism, casteism, etc.), and right persons not placed in right places together make India a third world developing nation despite its highest qualified hardworking genius manpower in every discipline. As a result, much smaller but merit minded neighboring countries have their leaders/drivers of better merit (manifesting superiority in sports, diplomacy, decision making, politics, academics, etc.) although persons of much higher merit are easily and abundantly available in India who are only forced to make dust bins as their habitat or migrate to even less developed nations to work almost double at half wages compared to their local counter-parts,

(viii) fine collectors demand  bribes. A hefty bonus (kind of bribe legalization) to the fine collectors would ensure honest, duty bound and dedicated fine collectors in Indian situations. The corrupt and opaque judicial system makes the legislative approach to river pollution control ineffective through delays and politically motivated judges and lawyers. Administrators deliberately ignore the principles of natural justice to victimize/harass their non-favorite subordinates as they can not be booked till they retire, due to court delays. Indian courts need to be liberal in accepting criticism without any contempt threat, avoid media censuring on any pretext or bitter reporting, classify themselves (subject-wise), appoint mobile magistrates for immediate evidence recording before the evidence is killed, and judges be paid per case as reward for timely disposal of pending 100 million cases in India. Indian Lawyers not understanding pollution and its implications argue such cases only to extort money on pretexts, delay matters for regular income, misuse power of attorney by getting blank papers signed, and hob-knob with opposite parties which add to the continued environmental degradation. The Right to Information Act (RTI), promulgated in 2005, could make government and judiciary decision-making more transparent, however its implementation is excruciatingly slow and tardy apart from being subjected to an easy evasion on any pretext (recently, an information pertaining to the year 1994 being more than 20 years old in the year 2006 has been held right after lengthy court proceedings in Nainital High Court WP No.726/2008). RTI requests have incurred police wrath, harassment, bribe, and assault,

(ix) the Indian political system, thriving on muscle-money-caste-region-religion powers, can be cured through the adoption of a Presidential form of democracy where the top person commanding the mandate of the entire country will have his own team to work uninterruptedly for the term, and a concept of weighted votes starting from the grass-cutter as one to the highest say 1000 or 10000 equivalent votes just as persons of different academic credentials are paid differently. The politics of regionalism (like the anti-Hindi movement in Maharashtra, Punjab, Assam, etc.) can most effectively be curbed through a ‘national integration model’ wherein every state will employ/promote its own natives (the main cause of unrest and fear of native’s job being taken by outsiders) and 50% employees in each state come from all other states to promote national integration, understanding of each others culture, habits etc. In metropolis, entire population is equally (population proportion basis) taken from all states. This will also reflect the real Indian culture to a foreign visitor,

(x) the most rampant corruption in India wastes most of the money allocated to river cleaning works. Former Prime Minister of India Rajeev Gandhi (1984-89) stated that only 15 percent of allocated public funds reach beneficiaries or project execution stage. His son, Rahul Gandhi, 38, the most likely future prime minister of India, recently lowered this figure to five percent. Mammoth river cleaning projects cannot be completed when so many public funds are siphoned off through corruption,

(xi) the Indian public (including saints) has been ineffective in building any pressure to clean the rivers. Increased awareness through seminars, media, non-governmental organizations, and public education could help enhance public support and participation in clean up campaigns.

For these reasons, the implementation of numerous action plans cannot ever result in a pollution-free Ganga River.

Instead, a more effective, fool-proof strategy is to prevent wastewater from entering the river by creating a barrier between the river and cities along the Ganga. This barrier could be an embankment (“bandha”) or dam-like structure constructed so that all urban wastewater is trapped, through a huge sewer or covered canal positioned parallel to the river, with or without any treatment depending on available municipal finances. The wastewater would be carried to a point some two to three kilometers downstream of the city for treatment and disposal, allowing the Ganga River to naturally purify itself before reaching the next urban center. The distance of this stretch of the river between two cities would depend on the self-purification coefficients of the river, degree of waste treatment in the previous city, river configurations, stream width-to-depth ratio, stream velocity, and other factors. If the distance between two cities is short, then the wastewater treatment at the upstream city should be more intense to produce cleaner effluent.

The stated fool-proof strategy ensuring that not a drop of any wastewater would enter the Yamuna at Delhi would be ideal and only solution for Delhi, the national capital situated along Yamuna, a tributary of Ganga.

Genre: Ganga Action Plans & Restoration Efforts by the Government of India Articles
Subjects: Ganga Action Plans & Restoration Efforts by the Government of India