Water

Kumbh is fine but why not clean the Ganga all the time?

'Govt can ensure proper flow if it desires, and thus ensure a clean river'

 
By Banjot Kaur, Sushmita Sengupta
Last Updated: Monday 28 January 2019
Representational Image. Credit: Getty Images

The Uttar Pradesh (UP) government is being praised for making river Ganga’s water ‘clean’ for the ongoing Ardh Kumbh. But why can’t the same effort me made across the year, or every year during the same season?

The state irrigation and water resources department has been releasing extra water into the river, from various barrages and dams, everyday, since preparations for Kumbh Mela 2019 began.

Mustak Ahmad, joint secretary in the department, told Down To Earth, “7,000 cusecs of extra water is being released everyday since the Ardh Kumbh started, and it will continue till it ends. On the days of ‘shahi snan’ or royal bath, 8,000 cusecs is being released.”

This year, Kumbh started on January 15, 2019, and is set to go on till March 4, 2019. The ‘shahi snan’ falls on February 4, 9, 10 and March 4, besides January 15 and January 21, 2019.

It seems that the government wanted to leave no stone unturned this time. A UP Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) official says, “The previous Kumbh did not see even one-tenth of this much water in the Ganga at Prayagraj. The volume of water released is at the maximum this year compared to last two-three Kumbh events.”

Gopal Nishad, a boatman at Sangam in Prayagraj, says, “We have never seen such clean Ganga earlier. Also the level of water this season seems unprecedented. Obviously, this much more water makes the Ganga appear clean like never before.”

This shows that the water quality has been improved through dilution and stopping pollutants from entering into the river. Thus, the government seems to have taken a course which implies that dilution is the solution to pollution.

Nishad’s claim finds support in data as well, since the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and dissolved oxygen (DO) levels are in the subscribed limits. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the river water can be fit for bathing if the BOD level is less than 3 mg/l, and DO is more than 5 mg/l. 

Name of the station Distance from Sangam Date of monitoring BOD (mg/l) DO (mg/l)

Sangam

0

8-1-2019

3.2

12.4

Sangam

0

15-1-2019

3.0

10.6

Rasulabadghat

10 km upstream

8-1-2019

3.8

12.5

Rasulabadghat

10 km upstream

15-1-2019

3.1

12.4

Shastri bridge

2 km upstream

8-1-2019

3.4

12.3

Saraswati ghat

2 km downstream

8-1-2019

2.7

9.8

Saraswati ghat

2 km downstream

15-1-2019

2.5

9.6

Chhatnag ghat

5 km downstream

8-1-2019

3.7

10.5

Chhatnag ghat

5 km downstream

15-1-2019

2.9

10.5

Source: UPPCB, Prayagraj

BOD= Biological Oxygen Demand

DO = Dissolved Oxygen

Now, look at these indicators from the same month in the last two years. They were abysmally bad. 

Year BoD (mg/l) DO (mg/l)

January  2016

Upstream:  8.10

Downstream: 8.20

Upstream: 4.10

Downstream: 4.1

January 2017

Upstream:  8.5

Downstream: 8.4

Upstream: 4.0

Downstream: 3.9

January 2018

Upstream: 10.1

Downstream: 9.4

Upstream: 4.8

Downstream: 4.6

Source: UPPCB

Even in December 2018, a few days before the Ardh Kumbh started, the figures indicated a very unhealthy state of affairs. Against the limit of 3 mg/l, the BOD was 9.2 mg/l and 9.3 mg/l upstream and downstream respectively.

Dramatically, as the above data indicates, it became well within limits on January 8, 2019 itself. Against the minimum limit of 5.0 mg/l DO, it was 2.1 mg/l and 3.6 mg/l upstream and downstream respectively, which became 12.4 mg/l on January 8, 2019.

However, its not just the experts who are livid about such make-shift arrangements to clean the river. Activists dismiss them as cosmetic.

Vinod Tare, the IIT-Kanpur professor who led the consortium of IITs and other institutes for studies on the Ganga, said, “The science says very clearly that we need a minimum flow in the river to ensure its cleanliness which requires a continuous management of the flows. Moreover, to the devotees, the river may appear clean and fit for bathing, but the real indicator of good health of any river is survival of aquatic biodiversity in the river, which is has not been studied even at the current levels. The true relevance of the measures that the government is undertaking to increase the flows will be known thereafter.” 

A senior scientist at UPPCB said that the state irrigation department and UP Jal Nigam have been working on the augmentation of velocity of the water being released from different dams at Tehri, Bijnor, Narora and Haridwar.

“The velocity of the flowing water in these dams was well calculated before hand and the process of augmentation of water for Kumbh started at the end of December itself. Water from dams near Haridwar, Bijnor and Narora were diverted towards the main stem of Ganga and are not entering into the canals as per the scheduled plan,” he said.

Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan said, “If they can do this now, why not round the year? This is a sheer deception, not just with the river but with the devotees who go with the idea that the Ganga is clean all the time. The point is if they can release water from all the projects for the river and still the projects are working, why can’t it be done otherwise. We have been raising the demand for minimum water flow in the river.”

He further said that if water meant for irrigation purposes is also being diverted to the river without giving the farmers any alternative, then it's an issue of concern. “This strengthens our idea that the government can ensure proper flow in the river if they desire so, and thus ensure a clean river too. Hence, our demand for minimum flow is the most urgent one that needs to be addressed,” he adds.

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