And dirty flows the Ganga in pilgrim town Varanasi (Letter from Varanasi)

June 17th, 2008 - 1:03 pm ICT by IANS  

By Darshan Desai
Varanasi, June 17 (IANS) Visitors to Varanasi, hoping for a holy dip in the Ganga, might well have to share the water with buffaloes. Or they might come across a floating corpse immersed in the river in the hope that the deceased will find eternity in death. The Ganga, held sacred by millions of Hindus, flows dirty in this ancient pilgrim town. Much of it can be blamed on the river’s natural flow being restricted by the Tehri dam in Uttarakhand and the discharge of untreated domestic and industrial waste.

The other reasons are unchecked disposal of bodies and animal carcasses in the river, the washing of clothes and bathing of animals on the river’s banks, besides defecation.

According to official sources, 3,150 bodies and 6,270 carcasses were found floating in the river during 2007-2008. Some 32,000 bodies were cremated at the river’s banks generating 300 tonnes of ash and 200 tonnes of half burnt flesh, which all went into the Ganga.

“Besides Tehri, there are five dams already under construction on the river’s tributaries and 20 more are in the planning stage,” B.D. Tripathi, coordinator of the Centre for Environmental Science and Technology at Banaras Hindu University, told IANS.

Tripathi had represented several expert teams constituted by the union government and the Allahabad High Court at regular intervals since the 1980s to look into the pollution of the Ganga.

Tripathi, who first reported to parliament in 1980 about increasing pollution in the holy river, said this would slow down the flow of the river and result in stagnancy of water, as was the case in Varanasi.

This concern is also being raised by G.D. Agarwal, noted environmentalist and former professor of Indian Institute of Technology, who last week launched an indefinite a fast in Uttarakhand against the construction of dams on the Ganga.

“The river will dry up if you hold it up like this and create a huge environmental and economical impact. I know this is true of Varanasi,” said Ravi Chopra, director of Dehradun-based People’s Science Institute, who is also undertaking the fast with Agarwal.

“Add to this the discharge of effluents from Varanasi’s textile units, which goes into the river almost untreated,” Tripathi explained. He said there was a similar problem in Kanpur where the leather industry was polluting the Ganga.

The treatment plants in Varanasi under the Ganga Action Plan are not equipped to handle industrial waste at all.

As much as 275 million litres a day - 190 MLD domestic sewage and 85 industrial effluents - are sent to the three plants that together have the capacity to treat only 98 MLD. And the plants are not equipped to handle industrial discharge. The remaining 177 million litres, needless to say, go into the Ganga.

(Darshan Desai can be contacted at

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