Reviving Adi Ganga: Central funds, international project give hope

Adi Ganga was chosen from India as a part of a project to address pollution in South Asian rivers

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Wednesday 22 February 2023
Reviving Adi Ganga: Central funds, international project give hope
Photo: iStock Photo: iStock

Plans to revive the dying Adi Ganga — the original channel of River Ganga passing through the city of Kolkata — may finally see the light of the day. The National Mission for Clean Ganga has allotted around Rs 650 crore to revive the ancient river and it has also been included in a multi-country river project on combating pollution. 

The developments come after the National Green Tribunal had directed the West Bengal government to complete its rejuvenation “positively by September 30, 2025”.

The panelists at an international water conference organised in Sylhet, Bangladesh by the non-profit Action Aid decided to explore the possibility of a pan-south Asian project to address the pollution of one key river each in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, China and Malaysia. Adi Ganga was selected from India.

Adi Ganga was the river’s main channel till the 17th century. Around 1750, a canal was dug to connect the main course of the river with the lower part of River Saraswati adjacent to Howrah. The resultant Hooghly became the main river stretch and Adi Ganga turned into a secondary tributary. 

However, Adi Ganga continued to thrive till the 1970s. Since then, its water quality gradually deteriorated until it turned into a sewer and got rapidly encroached, even fully filled up just beyond the boundary of the city’s municipal corporation. 

Apart from the obvious environmental and ecological impact, the choking of Adi Ganga severely impacted the natural drainage of the area.  

“The river is now practically dead and has turned into a sewer with a load of faecal bacteria crossing 17 million in 100 millilitres of river water, according to the state pollution control board data and dissolved oxygen is zero,” said a river researcher during the Sylhet summit. Surveys showed that 57 drains containing untreated wastewater empty into Adi Ganga. 

Read more: Bengal government plans to turn part of Ganga in Kolkata into drain in name of rejuvenation

In 1998, the West Bengal government accepted in a report filed in the Calcutta High Court that 7,851 illegal structures with about 40,000 residents, 90 temples, 69 godowns, 12 cattle sheds and others existed in the 15.5 km stretch of the river passing through Kolkata and its southern fringes.

Subsequently, the Calcutta High Court directed removal of all encroachments within a month. But another report, close to two decades after the first order, showed that the encroachments were still existing. 

The government agencies recently claimed that the cowsheds have been removed, but photographic evidence presented by environmental activist and petitioner Subhas Datta proved otherwise. Such large-scale encroachment is possible as local mafias are hand-in-gloves with political leaders, Datta said.

The expansion of the Metro Rail in 2009 from the Tollygunge tram depot to Garia in the southern part of the city hit the last nail on the coffin, as 300 pillars supporting the rails were being anchored at the middle of the channel. 

Down to Earth travelled along the Adi Ganga and found several concrete encroachment, including houses, that pour effluents directly into the water. Moreover, thousands of shanties on both banks, with makeshift latrines right on top of the water, were seen. The stretches around Metro pillars were completely clogged.

The situation turned worse once the Adi Ganga crossed Kolkata city. For around three kilometres in Narendrapur and Rajpur-Sonarpur, a municipality just at the southern edge of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, the river vanished under concrete houses, halls and roads.

Moreover, a few rectangular ponds named Karer Ganga (Kar’s Ganga), Ghosher Ganga (Ghosh’s Ganga) and the like were observed. These were created when the erstwhile zamindars cut out parts of the river as their personal property, only to be used by their family members. 

Apart from Adi Ganga, Buriganga in Bangladesh, Puyang in China, Bagmati in Nepal and Klang in Malaysia were also chosen for pollution study during the conference, said Imtiaz Ahmed, an expert on South Asian water geopolitics, who participated in the conference.

A Buriganga-Adi Ganga dialogue is also possible if everything works out, said Farah Kabir, country director of ActionAid, Bangladesh, to this reporter.

Kolkata mayor Firhad Hakim has welcomed the proposal, saying tha that Adi Ganga is an important river in the city, especially in the southern part where the river has a major role in drainage, particularly with several water bodies being lost.

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