- In advance of the large-scale Ardh Kumbh festival in Prayagraj (Allahabad), India’s top pollution watchdog has directed the pollution controlling authorities of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to ensure there is no discharge of effluents in river Ganga and pilgrims coming to Prayagraj for Ardh Kumbh festival get clean water for bathing. Kumbh is a major celebration of Hindus and is visited by millions from around the world.
- The order is significant for political reasons because cleaning of river Ganga was a major promise of Narendra Modi before he became prime minister. However, there has been no significant improvement in water quality, making the Ganga pollution a hot topic in the run up to the 2019 elections.
- Activists believe the order is nothing but an admission of failure of authorities in the cleaning of Ganga river.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has asked Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh (UP) state governments to ensure a pollution-free Ganga for bathing during the upcoming Ardh Kumbh festival in UP’s Allahabad (recently renamed officially as Prayagraj). The issue of cleaning up the Ganga river is a hot topic ahead of the 2019 elections for the Parliament of India.
Ardh Kumbh is a six-yearly ritual as part of the bigger Kumbh festival, one of the largest religious pilgrimages for the followers of Hinduism, attracting millions of visitors from across India and the world. In 2017, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) inscribed Kumbh on the “Representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity”. During the festival, visitors take a dip in the sacred Ganga which is believed to free one from the cycle of birth and death. The location of Kumbh spans over four places in India – Prayagraj, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik.
The CPCB letter to the two states noted that “Ardh-Kumbh is scheduled to be held at Prayagraj during January 2019 to February 2019” and it is an important “six-yearly ritual held on the bank of river Ganga in Prayagraj which involves a holy dip (bathing) into river Ganga”.
CPCB observed that the discharge of “partially treated/untreated effluent of the industries is a major source of pollution in Ganga and impacts the colour of the river beside increasing its pollution load thereby making the water unfit for bathing on the holy occasion.”
In Prayagraj, the Ardh Kumbh celebrations are scheduled to start on January 15, 2019 and expected to end in the first week of March 2019 after approximately 55 days.
The orders of the CPCB, which is India’s top pollution watchdog, were sent to the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) and the Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board (UEPPCB) in November 2018.
Ganga water unfit for bathing or drinking, shows data
The cleaning of river Ganga, considered holy by millions of Indians, was one of the key promises of Prime Minister Narendra Modi before assuming power in May 2014. But progress has been slow on this front and according to the CPCB’s own data, the water at Prayagraj is currently unfit for bathing or drinking. The data on the suitability of Ganga’s water is displayed on the CPCB website in accordance with an order by the National Green Tribunal.
The CPCB directed the UPPCB and UEPPCB under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 to address the pollution problem with a series of “corrective measures” and “further direct the concerned authorities/industries for ensuring pollution free condition in river Ganga at Prayagraj during Ardh Kumbh”.
“There will be no discharge of effluent in river Ganga and its tributaries from grossly polluting units (distillery, sugar, pulp and paper, textile) during the Kumbh,” said the CPCB order to the state pollution control boards. It directed the UPPCB to inspect these grossly polluting industries on a weekly basis to ensure there is no discharge of effluent.
The CPCB has also asked the UPPCB to monitor water quality of the river Ganga on daily basis, monitor drains twice in a week and monitor discharge from Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) on a weekly basis and upload the data on the web. Similar directions were issued to the UEPPCB.
UEPPCB and UPPCB “shall enforce regulatory measures for control of pollution so that bathing water quality is maintained during Kumbh”, the CPCB order said.
Ganga cleaning to be a major issue in 2019 elections
The pollution watchdog’s order to ensure clean bathing water during Kumbh is politically important as the festival is just ahead of the country’s general elections that are scheduled to take place in the first half of 2019.
Soon after coming to power in May 2014, PM Modi led National Democratic Alliance (government) launched the “Namami Gange” programme at a cost of Rs. 200 billion (Rs. 20,000 crore) for conservation and rejuvenation of Ganga over five years. The much-debated issue is expected to be a hot topic in the run upto 2019 elections, with political parties ready to highlight that over the past four years Ganga cleaning has not seen any action.
On December 20, Satya Pal Singh, Minister of State for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, told the Parliament that “under the Namami Gange Programme, an amount of Rs. 4,994.10 crore (Rs. 49.94 billion) has been spent by the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) out of the total release of Rs. 6,131.22 crore (Rs. 61.31 billion) from the financial years (2014-15 to November 30, 2018).”
Under the Namami Gange Programme, a series of short-term, medium-term and long-term activities are being carried out like development of ghats, river surface cleaning activities upgradation of existing Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) and Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP), creation of new STPs & ETPs, focus on rural sanitation and maintenance of ecological & geological integrity of river.
“The central government approved the Namami Gange programme in May 2015 as a five-year program till 2020. However, efforts are being made to achieve substantial progress by March 2019,” said Singh.
Varanasi based environmentalist and Gandhian Jagriti Rahi of the Saajha Sanskriti Manch said river Ganga is nothing but a commodity for the government.
“They (government) have nothing to do with the environment and ecology of Ganga. Will Ganga just be revived for Kumbh and then left to die afterwards?” questioned Rahi.
Last year, in an order related to cleaning of the Ganga river, the NGT had noted that even after spending of billions of rupees the status of the Ganga has not improved in terms of quality or otherwise and it continues to be a serious environmental issue.
Hemant Dhyani, an environmentalist who has been working for cleaning and protection of river Ganga, criticised the central government for failing to clean it.
“The strict CPCB directions, which are telling the state governments to ensure that polluted water does not flow in Ganga, clearly shows that the quality of Ganga’s water is not satisfactory at all. That is why CPCB had to issue such directions to stop industrial effluents from flowing into the river. It just means that they want to manage it just during Kumbh and then can be allowed to continue, as usual, after it,” said Dhyani.
Banner image: Kumbh festival is visited by millions from around the world. Photo by Shak.On/Wikimedia Commons.