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Millennium Post

Filth and worship

Filth and worship

The holy river from ancient times continues to retain its element of faith in spite of all the toxic pollutants released into the river. Notwithstanding the extent of filth that has been allowed into the once mighty river, the developments of modern times have taken such a form that the resilience of the river is challenged continually with without impunity as cities along its course grow and leave the noxious residue of such disbalanced growth to the river. Although much damage has been done, it is never too late to try and fix things up for good. As National Ganga Bill awaits introduction in Winter Session of Parliament, the government is looking to implement a 5-year jail term for construction of permanent residential or commercial structures in the active floodplains of Ganga and its tributaries and a Rs 50 crore fine—highest fine amount—for violation of norms regarding polluting Ganga or for obstructing the flow of the river without prior permission. Offences under the proposed Act (The National River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Bill, 2019) will be cognizable and non-bailable for causing pollution in river Ganga. The draft Bill comprises 13 chapters and three schedules and lists graded penalties depending on the severity of the offence under a dozen sections. These include activities like illegal construction of ports or jetties; storage or diversion of water by any means causing obstruction to the flow of water; mining, stone quarrying or extracting ground water; and spoiling or defacing the ghats of the Ganga and its tributaries. The range of penalties introduced to check further pollution of the Ganga are a suitable deterrent to restore the condition of the river. A provision has also been put in place for regulating activities like mining, stone quarrying or extracting ground water, which may attract imprisonment of up to two years and/ or fine of up to Rs 10 lakh. Spoiling or defacing the ghats of the Ganga or its tributaries will be punished with imprisonment of up to one year and/ or fine up to Rs 10,000 or cost incurred for restoration (whichever is higher). The provisions, in a very obvious manner, point to the numerous aspects causing pollution of the river: the individual factor being the last on the category, and organised activities at the cost of the river being the most prominent ones. The discharge of industrial effluents sewage, the mining and quarrying pertain to a network of activities which need to be checked strictly in order to allow some room the restoration of the river. The proposed Act is also said to have a provision for setting up a Ganga Protection Corps which will have the power to arrest any person found violating the provisions of the Act and produce the person before the local police station.

The proposed Bill aims to prevent and control pollution of the Ganga and ensure continuous flow of water so as to rejuvenate the river to its natural and pristine condition. An ambitious target indeed, the proposed Bill also provides for constitution of a National Ganga Council, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister. This will include the Chief Ministers of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal together with Central ministers. The pollution of India's largest river is definitely one to warrant a massive-scale drive to set thing right given that the ill health of the river poses significant threats to public health in general and the environment as a whole. Apart from industrial contaminants, human waste is a major source of pollution and the solution to that lies in effective waste management. The Ganges provides water to nearly 40 per cent of India's population across 11 states and serves an estimated population of 500 million people. This is the maximum strength of people in the world to be dependent on any river—and as matters stand, Ganga is the sixth-most polluted river in the world. It was only in late 1970s that the concern for polluted Ganga started gaining prominence in public discourse in general. Numerous initiatives undertaken to clean the river have yielded only little. Narendra Modi, upon his ascension to the office of India's Prime Minister made an affirmation to begin work in cleaning the river and curbing pollution. In line with this, the Namami Gange project was announced by the government in the July 2014 budget. An estimated Rs 2,958 crore (US $460 million) have been spent until July 2016 in various efforts in cleaning up of the river. Apart from discharge of effluents, other causes of pollution include increase in the population density that result in the increase of various human activities such as bathing, washing clothes, the bathing of animals, etc on the river side. Considering such a factor must be addressed from a civic perspective, it come to light that the issue of pollution of Ganga can and must be addressed from numerous other perspectives that are only secondarily linked to the river. The extent of human waste going into the river is to the extent that since the river flows through 100 cities with populations over 100,000, a large proportion of the sewage water with higher organic load ends up in the Ganges is from this population through domestic water usage. Numerous industrial cities thriving on the bank of the river like Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi and Patna, only add to the woes of the river. Saving Ganga cannot be limited to only looking at the river for what it has become but requires an integrated approach including all the factors contributing to the river's dismal state.

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