Pollution of the Ganges

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People bathing and washing clothes in the Ganges.
Humans are cremated at Varanasi in Hindu tradition.
Air and Land Pollution at the banks of Ganges.

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 fifth 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]

Causes[edit]

The main causes are the increase in the population density, the enhanced per capita pollutants discharged to the river and the meagre dry season water flows in the river due to upstream uses.

Human waste[edit]

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 sewage water with higher organic load in the Ganges is from this population through domestic water usage.

Industrial waste[edit]

Due to the 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 Ganga by dumping untreated waste into it.[9] Industrial effluents are about 12% of the total volume of effluent reaching the Ganga. 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 Ganga over a few weeks[10] to clean themselves from their past sins. Some materials like food, waste or leaves are left in the Ganga for ritualistic reasons.[11]

Dams and Pumping Stations[edit]

Built in 1854 during the British colonization of India, the Haridwar dam has led to decay of the Ganga by greatly diminishing the flow of the river.[12] The Farakka Barrage was built originally to divert fresh water into the Hooghly River but has since caused an increase of salinity in the downstream Ganga river, 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 Ganga 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.[13]

Downstream Effects of Upstream Modifications

Three more barrages across Ganga main river are existing at Bijnor, Narora and Kanpur. The barrages at Bijnor and Narora divert all the water including baseflows during dry season to the canals for irrigating vast area up to Allahabad city. Most of the water available at the upstream of the Kanpur barrage is used during dry season for the cities drinking water needs.[14] Downstream of Kanpur barrage, adequate water is not available from the barrage to dilute the polluted water reaching the main river during the dry season.

There are number of pumping stations located on the banks (right & left) of Ganga river down stream of Kanpur barrage serving the irrigation requirements of huge area.[15] These large pump houses are located at Rukunpur 26°10′21″N 80°38′57″E / 26.17250°N 80.64917°E / 26.17250; 80.64917, Kanjauli Kachhar 25°17′37″N 82°13′15″E / 25.29361°N 82.22083°E / 25.29361; 82.22083, Hakanipur Kalan 25°12′57″N 83°01′15″E / 25.21583°N 83.02083°E / 25.21583; 83.02083, Bhosawali 25°20′46″N 83°10′11″E / 25.34611°N 83.16972°E / 25.34611; 83.16972, Shekpur 25°32′13″N 83°11′57″E / 25.53694°N 83.19917°E / 25.53694; 83.19917, Chochakpur 25°28′55″N 83°25′11″E / 25.48194°N 83.41972°E / 25.48194; 83.41972, Lamui 25°23′20″N 83°32′11″E / 25.38889°N 83.53639°E / 25.38889; 83.53639, Chausa 25°31′11″N 83°54′04″E / 25.51972°N 83.90111°E / 25.51972; 83.90111, etc. (Refer to Google Earth maps) These lift irrigation schemes are pumping out most of the baseflows available in the main river down stream of Kanpur city.

To make Ganga river live/flowing and dilute the polluted water inflows from habitations and industries, at least 5000 cusecs flow is required from Narora to Farakka as minimum environmental flow during the eight months dry season. This is possible by constructing storage reservoirs of capacity 100 Tmcft across Ganga tributories located up stream of Narora city and reserving the stored water only for minimum environmental flows.

Statistics[edit]

A 2006 measurement of pollution in the Ganga 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%.[16]

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 Ganga in D. Coliform bacteria levels in the Ganga have also been tested to be at 5,500, a level too high to be safe for agricultural use let alone drinking and bathing.[17]

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 Ganga even after a common treatment plant was established in 1995. It now stands at more than 70 times the recommended maximum level.[18]

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".[19]

Impact[edit]

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.[20]

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 Ganga that prevents the dolphins from traveling up and down river is the main reason for their reducing population.[21]

Wildlife[edit]

Some of the dams being constructed along the Ganga 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.[13] 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 Ganga 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.[16] Water in the Ganga 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.[22]

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.[23]

Heritage[edit]

Cleaning efforts[edit]

Ganga Action Plan[edit]

The Ganga Action Plan or GAP was a program launched in January 1986 by the then Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi, 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.[24][25] 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 Ganga: Yamuna, Gomti, Damodar and Mahananda. As of 2011, it is under implementation.[26]

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.[27]

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 Ganga as the "National River" of India.[28] The chair includes the Prime Minister of India and chief ministers of states through which the Ganga flows.[29] In 2011, the World Bank "approved $1 billion in funding for the National Ganga River Basin Authority."[30]

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 Ganga. In 2010 the government declared the stretch of river between Gaumukh and Uttarkashi an "eco-sensitive zone."[17]

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' (meaning 'Obeisance to the Ganga river') 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.[31]

Ganga Manthan[edit]

Ganga Manthan was a national conference held to discuss issues and possible solutions for cleaning the river.[32][33]

The conference aimed to take feedback from stakeholders and prepare a road map for rejuvenating the Ganga. The event was organized by the National Mission for Clean Ganga on 7 July 2014 at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi.[34][35]

Nepal to release water during lean flow period

Nepal has constructed many barrages (excluding joint projects with India) or pump houses to divert the lean season river flows for irrigation purpose. These water diversion projects are located near 28°25′29″N 81°22′49″E / 28.42472°N 81.38028°E / 28.42472; 81.38028, 28°02′24″N 81°57′12″E / 28.04000°N 81.95333°E / 28.04000; 81.95333, 27°52′51″N 82°30′13″E / 27.88083°N 82.50361°E / 27.88083; 82.50361, 27°40′00″N 83°06′49″E / 27.66667°N 83.11361°E / 27.66667; 83.11361, 27°42′17″N 84°25′57″E / 27.70472°N 84.43250°E / 27.70472; 84.43250, 27°08′11″N 85°29′01″E / 27.13639°N 85.48361°E / 27.13639; 85.48361, 26°53′09″N 86°08′13″E / 26.88583°N 86.13694°E / 26.88583; 86.13694, 26°50′13″N 87°09′01″E / 26.83694°N 87.15028°E / 26.83694; 87.15028, 26°41′05″N 87°52′43″E / 26.68472°N 87.87861°E / 26.68472; 87.87861, etc. India being lower riparian state has right to claim share out of the river water flows from Nepal similar to India entered in to river water sharing agreement with Bangladesh recognising it as lower riparian state.[36] Till now there is no bilateral agreement between India and Nepal adhering to equitable sharing of river waters during the lean season. When Nepal releases water in to India during the lean flow period, it would help in cleaning / diluting the polluted waters of downstream Ganga river up to Farakka barrage.

Water diversion from Manasarovar lake

Satellite view of lakes Manasarovar (right) and Rakshastal with Mount Kailash in the background

For restoring the minimum environmental flows, it is difficult to identify nearly 100 tmcft storage reservoirs in the hilly region of Ganga basin in India as the river is flowing through steep valleys. Already big storage reservoirs like Tehri and Ramganga are constructed at feasible locations. However the water of Manasarovar Lake located in China can be diverted to the upstream of Kanpur barrage (117 m msl) via Girijapur Barrage (129 m msl) located at 28°16′21″N 81°05′09″E / 28.27250°N 81.08583°E / 28.27250; 81.08583 across the Ghaghara/Karnali river which is a tributary of Ganga river flowing from Tibet/China and Nepal. Manasarovar Lake's surface area is 320 square kilometres (120 sq mi) and its maximum depth is 90 m (300 ft). It holds more than 100 tmcft water in its top 13 meters depth. At present it is overflowing in to nearby Lake Rakshastal which is a land locked salt water endorheic lake. The annual water inflows from the catchment area of Manasarovar lake located at 4,590 metres (15,060 ft) above msl, can be diverted by gravity to the Karnali River basin of China through a fifteen kms long tunnel. The diverted water available continuously can be used in China for hydroelectric power generation where the head drop available is in excess of 800 meters over a 40 km long stretch. This would be a joint project of China, Nepal and India for controlling river water pollution and making the Ganga river live and flowing throughout the year. With the diversion of Manasarovar lake water to Ganga basin, Lake Rakshastal would turn in to a Soda lake with further increase in water salinity which is useful in abstracting the water-soluble chemicals on commercial scale. The fresh water inflows in to Manasarovar lake can be augmented further substantially by gravity diversion of the inflows available from the major catchment area of Rakshastal lake to Manasarovar lake by constructing an earth dam isolating northern tip of Rakshastal lake where it is fed by its substantial catchment area and also connected to the Manasarovar lake.[37]

Utilisation of Ganga and Bramhaputra flood waters to fight pollution in all rivers of India

Massive storage capacity fresh water reservoir can be established on the shallow sea area adjoining West Bengal, Odisha and Bangladesh coast by constructing sea dikes / bunds/ Causeway up to the depth of 15 meters. Water can be pumped from this artificial fresh water lagoon throughout the year with abundant solar power resource of India to many river basins in India for meeting needs of agriculture, maintaining environmental flows, salt export requirements, etc. Nearly 150 billion cubic meters (bcm) storage capacity fresh water reservoir/lagoon can be located on the sea area which stretches from Kutubdia island of Bangladesh (near 21°44′23″N 91°53′01″E / 21.73972°N 91.88361°E / 21.73972; 91.88361) to the mouth of Brahmani River (near 20°49′37″N 86°57′57″E / 20.82694°N 86.96583°E / 20.82694; 86.96583). The dike would be envisaged with gated barrages to pass to the sea the excess flood waters (total mean annual flow 1200 bcm) received from the Ganga, Brahmaputra rivers, etc. for limiting the full reservoir level (FRL) to 1.0 m above MSL.[38]

From this reservoir, water is pumped up to the elevation of nearly 425 m MSL (near to 21°55′17″N 86°09′07″E / 21.92139°N 86.15194°E / 21.92139; 86.15194) in the Brahmani river basin for further transfer in most of the area of Damodar River basin, Subarnarekha River basin, Brahmani River basin, Mahanadi River basin in Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal states. The Hasdeo Bango reservoir (near 22°36′47″N 82°37′27″E / 22.61306°N 82.62417°E / 22.61306; 82.62417) would receive the Ganga water and further pumped in to the Narmada, Sone, Tapti, Yamuna, Sutlej, Luni, Chambal, Ghaggar, Ganga, etc. river basins for using in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, south Uttar Pradesh, south Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Delhi states. See Google earth maps for more geographical information. Further, water can be pumped in to the Bagh reservoir (near 21°03′47″N 80°28′13″E / 21.06306°N 80.47028°E / 21.06306; 80.47028) and Upper Indravati reservoirs (near 19°20′29″N 82°51′59″E / 19.34139°N 82.86639°E / 19.34139; 82.86639) located in Godavari basin to transfer Ganga water in to Godavari basin and further to south Indian river basins.

The minimum water flow from Bangladesh coast to the Bay of Bengal sea is 7,000 cumecs which is equal to 220 bcm annually. This water can also be put to use in addition to the impounded water by the water reservoir. The advantage of this scheme is that Ganga and Bramhaputra river waters can be stored on Bay of Bengal sea area and nearly 440 bcm water @ 14,000 cumecs transferred throughout the year to other river basins including Ganga basin at optimum pumping head.[39]

Map of the Ganga (orange), Brahmaputra (violet), and Meghna (green) drainage basins.

Nearly 1000 million tons (500 million cubic meters) of sediment annually from Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers is settling in the sea coast of Bangladesh & India and the sea area is shallow (up to 15 m depth) for at least 50 km wide. Bangladesh plagued with high population density, can reclaim nearly 6,000 km2 (4% of its total land) area of sea by excavating/dredging sediment from the fresh water lagoon bed without any effect on the water storage of the off-shore fresh water reservoir.[40] Presence of the protective sea dike, makes sub sea soil dredging more easier and economical by warding from rough sea waves. This reclaimed area from the sea, can be advantageously utilised for locating a megacity with international standards to cater to the modern needs of Bangladesh. This off shore dike would protect the Bangladesh from the wave & tidal activity during the frequent cyclones preventing human & property losses drastically and also from sea level rise due to global warming. Thus Bangladesh would also benefit immensely with this off shore fresh water reservoir project.

The sea dike extending 8 m above the mean sea level and 50 m wide at the top surface, would be nearly 520 km long connecting Indian mainland to South east of Bangladesh forming transnational high way and rail route from the Indian subcontinent to East Asia up to Singapore and China. Also this dike can be used as access way connecting deep sea ports located close to this dike. The proposed dike would be similar to the land reclamation of North Sea area called Delta Works in Netherlands. The experience of the Saemangeum Seawall already constructed in South Korea which is 33 km long and with 36 meters average depth, can be utilised for this project which is a lesser challenging project. Locks arrangement (similar to Panama canal) would be provided for the movement of ships from the open sea to harbours located in Bangladesh and India. This lagoon area can also be used for shipping, ship breaking, ship building, etc. purposes.This man made lagoon can also be broken in to parts and interconnected by under water tunnels/ ducts (nearly 500 meters long) in case existing ports and famous beach resorts must be protected. The cost of the total project including sea dikes, water pumping stations (60 GW), canal drop hydro power stations (15 GW), main canals, tunnels, aqueducts, barrages, distribution canals and the required solar power generation plants (200 GW) is estimated nearly INR 36 trillion (lakh crores) at year 2015 prices. The irrigation potential of the project alone is 120 million acres with water supply throughout the year. It is a gigantic multi purpose project where cleaning of many major rivers of India (not Ganga river alone) from the water pollution is one of its purpose

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."[41] 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.[30]

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.[41]

Protests for cleaning Ganga[edit]

Nigamanand[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.[42] 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.[43] According to administration officials, quarrying in the Ganga 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.[44] 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]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]