Pollution of the Ganges

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People bathing and washing clothes in the Ganges.
Humans are cremated at Varanasi in accordance with Hindu law.

The Ganga is the largest river in India with an extraordinary religious importance for Hindus. Situated along its banks are some of the world's oldest inhabited cities like Varanasi and Patna. It provides water to about 40% of India's population across 11 states,[1] serving an estimated population of 500 million people or more, which is larger than any other river in the world.[2][3] Today, it is considered to be the sixth most polluted river in the world.[4]

A number of initiatives have been undertaken to clean the river but failed to deliver desired results.[5] After getting elected, India's Prime minister Narendra Modi affirmed to work for cleaning the river and controlling Pollution.[6] Subsequently, Namami Ganga project was announced by the Government in July 2014 budget.[7]


Air and Land Pollution at the banks of Ganges.

Human waste[edit]

The Ganges river basin is one of the most fertile and densely populated regions in the world that covers an area of 1,80,000 km2 (400,000 square miles). The river flows through 29 cities with population over 100,000; 23 cities with population between 50,000 and 100,000, and about 48 towns.[8] A large proportion of the waste in the Ganges is from this population through domestic usage like bathing, laundry and public defecation.

Industrial waste[edit]

Due to establishment of a large number of industrial cities on the bank of river Ganga like Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi and Patna,countless tanneries, chemical plants, textile mills, distilleries, slaughterhouses, and hospitals prosper and grow along this and contribute to the pollution of the Ganges by dumping untreated waste into it.[9] Industrial effluents are about 12% of the total volume of effluent reaching the Ganges. Although a relatively low proportion, they are a cause for major concern because they are often toxic and non-biodegradable.[1]

Religious events[edit]

During festival seasons, over 70 million people bathe in the Ganges over a few weeks[10] to clean themselves from their sins. Some materials like food, waste or leaves are left in the Ganges for ritualistic reasons.[11]


Built in 1854 during the British colonization of India, the Haridwar dam has led to decay of the Ganges by greatly diminishing the flow of the river. The Farakka Barrage was built originally to divert fresh water into the Hooghly River but has since caused an increase of salinity in the Ganges, having a damaging effect on the ground water and soil along the river.[8] The barrage has caused major tension between Bangladesh and India. The government of India has planned about 300 dams on the Ganges and its tributaries in the near future despite a government-commissioned green panel report that has recommended scrapping 34 of the dams citing environmental concerns.[12]


A 2006 measurement of pollution in the Ganges revealed that river water monitoring over the previous 12 years had demonstrated fecal coliform counts up to 100,000,000 MPN (most probable number) per 100 ml[citation needed] and biological oxygen demand levels averaging over 40 mg/l in the most polluted part of the river in Varanasi. The overall rate of water-borne/enteric disease incidence, including acute gastrointestinal disease, etc. and was estimated to be about 66%.[13]

A systematic classification done by Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board’s (UEPPCB) on river waters into the categories A: safe for drinking, B: safe for bathing, C: safe for agriculture, and D: excessive pollution, put the Ganges in D. Coliform bacteria levels in the Ganges have also been tested to be at 5,500, a level too high to be safe for agricultural use let alone drinking and bathing.[14]

The leather industry in Kanpur which employs around 50,000 people in more than 400 tanneries uses chemicals such as toxic chromium compounds. Effectively, chromium levels have not decreased in the Ganges even after a common treatment plant was established in 1995. It now stands at more than 70 times the recommended maximum level.[15]

A study conducted by the National Cancer Registry Program (NCRP) under the Indian Council of Medical Research in 2012, suggested that "those living along its banks in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal are more prone to cancer than anywhere else in the country".[16]


Marine life[edit]

The results of mercury analysis in various specimens collected along the basin indicated that some fish muscles tended to accumulate high levels of mercury. Of it, approximately 50–84% was organic mercury. A strong positive correlation between mercury levels in muscle with food habit and fish length was found.[17]

The Ganges River dolphin is one of few species of fresh water dolphins in the world. Listed as an endangered species, their population is believed to be less than 2000. Hydroelectric and irrigation dams along the Ganges that prevents the dolphins from traveling up and down river is the main reason for their reducing population.[18]


Some of the dams being constructed along the Ganges basin will submerge substantial areas of nearby forest. For example, the Kotli-Bhel dam at Devprayag will submerge 1200 hectares of forest, wiping out the river otters and the mahaseer fish that are found there.[12] Wildlife biologists in India have been warning that the wild animals will find it difficult to cope with the changed situation.

Human beings[edit]

An analysis of the Ganges water in 2006 showed significant associations between water-borne/enteric disease pop and the use of the river for bathing, laundry, washing, eating, cleaning utensils, and brushing teeth.[13] Water in the Ganges has been correlated to contracting dysentery, cholera, hepatitis,[9] as well as severe diarrhea which continues to be one of the leading causes of death of children in India.[19]

During the summer and monsoon, hospital wards team with children who need treatment for waterborne diseases - but according to Dr SC Singh, a pediatrician at Varanasi Shiv Prasad Gupta Hospital, their parents rarely mention that they have been swimming in the river. They don't appear to have made the connection, he says.[20]


One of the planned dams on the Alaknanda River (one of Ganges' tributaries) may submerge the 17th century, Dhari Devi temple in Srinagar Town, Garhwal.[12]

Cleaning efforts[edit]

Ganga Action Plan[edit]

The Ganga Action Plan or GAP was a program launched in January 1986 to reduce the pollution load on the river. But the efforts to decrease the pollution level in the river were unsuccessful even after spending Rs 9017 million.[21][22] Therefore, this plan was withdrawn on 31 March 2000. The steering Committee of the National River Conservation Authority reviewed the progress of the GAP and necessary correction on the basis of lessons learned and experiences gained from the GAP; phase 2 schemes have been completed under this plan. A million litres of sewage is targeted to be intercepted, diverted and treated. Phase 2 of the program was approved in stages from 1993 onward and included the following tributaries of the Ganges: Yamuna, Gomti, Damodar and Mahananda. As of 2011, it is under implementation.[23]

Scientists and religious leaders have speculated on the causes of the river's apparent self-purification effect, in which water-borne bacteria such as dysentery and cholera are killed off thus preventing large-scale epidemics. Some studies have reported that the river retains more oxygen than is typical for comparable rivers; this could be a factor leading to fewer disease agents being present in the water.[24]

National River Ganga Basin Authority (NRGBA)[edit]

NRGBA was established by the Central Government of India, on 20 February 2009 under Section 3 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986. It declared the Ganges as the "National River" of India.[25] The chair includes the Prime Minister of India and chief ministers of states through which the Ganges flows.[26] In 2011, the World Bank "approved $1 billion in funding for the National Ganga River Basin Authority."[27]

Supreme Court of India[edit]

The Supreme Court has been working on the closure and relocation of many of the industrial plants like Tulsi along the Ganges. In 2010 the government declared the stretch of river between Gaumukh and Uttarkashi an "eco-sensitive zone."[14]

Namami Ganga[edit]

In the budget tabled in Parliament on 10 July 2014, the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced an integrated Ganga development project titled 'Namami Ganga' and allocated 2,037 crore for this purpose.[7]

As a part of the program, government of India ordered the shut down of 48 industrial units around Ganga.[28]

Ganga Manthan[edit]

Ganga Manthan was a national conference held to discuss issues and possible solutions for cleaning the river.[29][30]

The conference aimed to take feedback from stakeholders and prepare a road map for rejuvenating the Ganges. The event was organized by the National Mission for Clean Ganga on 7 July 2014 at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi.[31][32]

2010 Government cleanup campaign[edit]

In 2010, it was announced that "the Indian government has embarked on a $4 billion campaign to ensure that by 2020 no untreated municipal sewage or industrial runoff enters the 1,560-mile river."[33] A World Bank spokesman described the plan in 2011, saying

Earlier efforts to clean the Ganga concentrated on a few highly polluting towns and centers and addressed 'end-of-the-pipe' wastewater treatment there; Mission Clean Ganga builds on lessons from the past, and will look at the entire Gangetic basin while planning and prioritizing investment instead of the earlier town-centric approach.[27]

Lobby group Sankat Mochan Foundation (SMF) "is working with GO2 Water Inc., a Berkeley, California, wastewater-technology company" to design an new Sewage treatment system for Varanasi.[33]

Protests for cleaning Ganges[edit]


Main article: Nigamanand

In early 2011, a Hindu seer named Swami Nigamananda Saraswati fasted to death, protesting against illegal mining happening in the district of Haridwar (in Uttarakhand) resulting in pollution.[34] Following his death in June 2011, his Ashram leader Swami Shivananda fasted for 11 days starting on 25 November 2011, taking his movement forward. Finally, the Uttarkhand government released an order to ban illegal mining all over Haridwar district.[35] According to administration officials, quarrying in the Ganges would now be studied by a special committee which would assess its environmental impacts the river and its nearby areas.

Prof. G. D. Agrawal[edit]

Dr G. D. Agrawal is a notable environment activist who has been on a fast for 107 days protesting for a cleaner Ganga.[36] Due to support from other social activists like Anna Hazare, the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh agreed to Prof. Agrawal's demands. Accordingly, he called for a National River Ganga Basin Authority (NRGBA) meeting and urged the authorities to utilize the 26 billion (US$520M) sanctioned "for creating sewer networks, sewage treatment plants, sewage pumping stations, electric crematoria, community toilets and development of river fronts".[1]


  1. ^ a b c "'Ganga receives 2,900 million ltrs of sewage daily'". http://www.hindustantimes.com/. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  2. ^ "The WaterHub". Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  3. ^ A Sacred River Endangered by Global Warming 17 June 2007
  4. ^ "Most Polluted Rivers in the World: These Are the Worst 11 - TakePart". TakePart. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  5. ^ Ganga, Yamuna banks cleaned 12 November 2013
  6. ^ "Indian News - India Newspaper - India Latest News - News From India - India News Daily - Current India News". Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  7. ^ a b "Namami Ganga development Project gets 2037 crores". IANS. news.biharprabha.com. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  8. ^ a b "The Water Page - River Ganges". African water.org. 12 December 1996. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
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  11. ^ "Manikarnika Ghat". Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
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  13. ^ a b Hamner S, Tripathi A, Mishra RK, Bouskill N, Broadaway SC, Pyle BH, Ford TE. "The role of water use patterns and sewage pollution in incidence of water-borne/enteric diseases along the Ganges river in Varanasi, India.", International Journal of Environmental Health Research, Montana, USA, 2006 Apr 16.
  14. ^ a b Daftuar, Swati (25 July 2011). "Polluted flows the Ganga". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 
  15. ^ "Indians keep faith with Ganges despite pollution"
  16. ^ Ganga is now a deadly source of cancer, study says, "http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-10-17/india/34524382_1_cancer-patients-prostate-cancer-national-cancer-institute"
  17. ^ Moumita Pal, Santinath Ghosh, Madhumita Mukhopadhyay, Mahau Ghosh.Ganga and yamuna. "Methyl mercury in fish—a case study on various samples collected from Ganges river at West Bengal.", Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 8 June 2011.
  18. ^ "Ganges River Dolphin". World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  19. ^ "Problems and Solutions for the Ganges River". Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  20. ^ Naskar, Sudhiti (2014-07-01). "The river where swimming lessons can be a health hazard". BBC News. Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  21. ^ Ganga Action Plan
  22. ^ "Ganga Action Plan bears no fruit". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 28 August 2004. 
  23. ^ "Phase 2 of Ganga Action Plan". Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. 2 August 2011. Retrieved 9 August 2011. 
  24. ^ Julian Crandall Hollick (16 December 2007). "Mystery Factor Gives Ganges a Clean Reputation". National Public Radio. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  25. ^ "National River Ganga Basin Authority"
  26. ^ "Composition of NGRBA."
  27. ^ a b McDermott, Matt (2011-06-01). "World Bank Approves $1 Billion For Ganges River Cleanup". TreeHugger. Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  28. ^ "48 industrial units polluting Ganga asked to close down". Patrika Group. 15 July 2014. Retrieved 15 July 2014. 
  29. ^ Ganga Manthan
  30. ^ "Ganga Manthan tomorrow: National meet to debate over river cleaning". The Indian Express. 6 July 2014. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  31. ^ "National meet on Ganga cleaning to be held tomorrow". dna. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  32. ^ "Pollution in holy river to be discussed in 'Ganga Manthan'". The Times of India. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 
  33. ^ a b Pokharel, Krishna (2010-02-13). "India's Holy Ganges Gets a Cleanup: Government Embarks on $4 Billion Campaign to Treat Heavily Polluted Waters; Devout Hindus Revere River as 'Goddess'". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2014-07-04. 
  34. ^ Dube, Priyanka (14 June 2011). "Sadhu dies after a 73-day fast to save Ganga". ibnlive.in.com. CNN-IBN. Retrieved 14 June 2011. Swami Nigamanand 
  35. ^ "Shivanand breaks fast after forcing curb on Ganga bed quarrying"
  36. ^ "‘The govt doesn’t care for the issue Prof GD Agrawal is fasting for’". Tehelka.com. Retrieved 14 May 2015. 

http://janlok.in/1626/ http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/patna/Remove-dams-encroachments-to-clean-Ganga-Ram-Bihari/articleshow/46681566.cms

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