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And shallow flows the Ganges

Recent media reports claim that devotees thronging Allahabad for the Mahakumbh, were greeted by a shallow Ganga on the eve of the mela opening. The report quotes experts at Allahabad University and UP Pollution Control Board to say that there’s only knee-deep water at the Sangam and around three feet at the main bathing areas.

The situation, if true, is really alarming, and not just because of the possible predicament of the devotees. The Ganges is one of the most important rivers in the country and not simply because it is venerated by a certain religious community. The river is also the main source of irrigation for many farmers. Pollution can be one reason why the Ganga is shrinking, environmental and climatic changes affecting the glaciers that feed the river is a second, but dams are the third and important reason for the river becoming increasingly shallow.

There are two main dams on the Ganga, one at Haridwar and the second at Farakka. There are also dams on its tributaries such as the controversial Tehri dam on the Bhagirathi. In April 2012, a report commissioned by the government had recommended that the proposed 34 dams on the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers - the two main tributaries of the Ganga - should not be allowed to come up as they will cause irrevocable harm to the biodiversity in the area. But states on the banks of the river are eager to harness as much of the water of the river as possible.

The National Ganga River Basin Authority was formed to work on cleaning up the river and maintaining its natural flow. But at a meeting of the panel in 2012, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna batted for construction of more dams on the river and even restarting work on three hydroelectric projects that had been shelved in 2010. While dams have long been hailed for providing electricity without the pollution of other methods, for flood protection, and for making water available for agriculture and human needs, its negative impacts have recently been realised. The construction of a dam affects the flow rate of the river over which it has been constructed. It also leads to water loss by increasing the potential for evaporation. Some experts have also pointed out a long term problem of dams. The construction of a dam helps in the development of the region where it is built. Cities, roads, parking lots and houses will come up. This, unfortunately, lowers the water table due to water extraction and urban runoff. And that lowers the river even further.

Given the years of abuse, is the shallow Ganges then any cause for shock?
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