IN THE upper reaches of the Ganga, numerous hydel projects threaten the river’s ecosystem. And in the plains, as the river flows through the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, a toxic mix of untreated sewage, discarded garbage, agricultural run-off and industrial waste flow unabated into it. Hindus regard the Ganga water as pure; but in reality it is pure toxic muck! So much so that one of India’s most treasured resources was also crowned one of the world’s top five most polluted rivers in 2007.
A Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board (UEPPCB) study in 2011 slotted the Ganga water into four categories: A being fit for drinking, B for bathing, C for agriculture and D for excessive pollution. The presence of coliform bacteria in water is highly dangerous for human health, and in the Ganga waters, coliform levels are well above what is considered safe for farming, let alone bathing or drinking. While the level of coliform present in water should be below 50 mpn/100 ml for it to be declared fit for drinking, less than 500 mpn/100 ml for bathing and below 5,000 mpn/100 ml for agricultural use, the present level of coliform in the Ganga at Haridwar has reached 5,500 mpn/100 ml. According to the study, the main cause for high levels of coliform is the disposal of human faeces, urine and sewage directly into the river from its origin in Gaumukh till it reaches Haridwar. Close to 89 million litres per day (mld) of sewage is released into the river from 12 municipal towns that fall along its route. During the Char Dham Yatra season, when nearly 15 lakh pilgrims visit the state, pollution levels increase even more. DD Basu, senior scientist, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), says: “Further downstream from Haridwar, the water is not fit for drinking, bathing or any other use.”