The rejuvenation of the Ganges: Old wine in a new bottle

Mumbai, 21 June-2014, Hormaz Fatakia/DNA: In a historic address on the banks of the river Ganga in Varanasi, then PM designate Narendra Modi had vowed to turn the holy river into a squeaky clean one before Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary which falls five years down the line.

The rejuvenation of the Ganges: Old wine in a new bottle

The rejuvenation of the Ganges: Old wine in a new bottle

The river Ganga is revered in the Hindu culture. It was the most common metaphor in Hindi films during the Eastman colour era when a poor father tried to prove that “uski beti ganga ki tarah pavitra hai” (Her daughter is as pure as the Ganges). People swore by it, drank its water to free them of their sins and even put ‘Gangajal’ (as the water of the river is known), into the mouth of a person on deathbed.

Unfortunately, the same holy, pure and sacred Ganges is in shambles today. Even the most hardcore religious followers have to admit this. In the name of traditions and rituals, people have taken the river for an extremely long ride, to a point that restoring its ‘Pavitrata’ has become a herculean task.

PM Narendra Modi has treated this ‘Ganga rejuvenation’ plan as his pet project. As a result of which, in a first of its kind, a ministry for the same has been established in the central cabinet as well with Uma Bharti at the helm. They also intend to set up a website for the people to pool in their suggestions for cleaning the 2,500 km long river which runs its course from the Himalayas all the way into Bangladesh.

The late Rajiv Gandhi had set up the first Ganga Action Plan in the year 1985. Since then, closed to Rs. 40,000 Crores have been spent on various actions pertaining to cleaning of the river. But the levels of pollution of the river have gone from bad to worse. It is the same water in which people bathe their cattle, immerse the ashes of their loved ones, bathe themselves, urinate, defecate and even drink the same water considering it to be the holy one! The oil from the ‘diyas’, that are released into the river waters, make matters worse for the marine life beneath it.
The cleaning of India’s longest river cannot be the prerogative of the government or the ministry alone. It is also the people who have made the river a source to propagate their agenda who have to make a significant contribution in this noble cause.

With so much of dirt around, it is time that stringent laws need to be made. If the PM wants to take tough decisions for the economy, let him take a few for his baby as well. Banning washing of clothes, animals and bathing in the river could be implemented. Some of you may not like this but then if you really wish to see the river clean, this is perhaps the biggest step that has to be taken at a micro level. Let there be only specific spots which are not highly habituated by marine population used for the immersion of ashes. A strict punishment should also be imposed for those who try to break this law.

The government also plans to develop a waterway through the holy river linking major centres like Varanasi and Kolkata. This can only be possible if the river is back at its cleanest best or else people would rather prefer to fly to their destination rather than wading through water full of filth and garbage.

No matter how many governments spend whatsoever amounts of money to clean the Ganga, it is for the people, who emphatically took a vow with Modi on the 16th of May to clean their river to put their words into action. Let the people bring ‘acche din’ for the river, and the holy water shall reciprocate to their efforts as well!

Hormaz Fatakia is a media student and sports buff. He tweets at @IHarbuBhai