Indian Rivers: Ah! This river is CLEAN!

Tens of thousands of crores have gone into scams and Commonwealth Games - why can't this kind of money be used to recharge the soul and essence of our dying rivers and the eco-systems they sustain? 
Hardnews Bureau 

Filth is what most Indian rivers have in common. Despite spending nearly Rs 4,085.65 crore of public money to clean up rivers in recent times, Indian rivers are dying of morbidity, choked with industrial, agricultural, household pollutants, shit, sewage, animal carcasses, half-burnt, post-cremated human bodies, garbage, plastic, polythene, toxic material, chemical effluents, multiple non-biodegradable substances. 

Crucial for the country's survival, these 'civilisational' rivers have now turned into open sewage drains (like the Yamuna in Delhi), deemed unfit for even a quick dip, or for agricultural purposes by various government and non-government agencies. Indeed, the ground water has turned so toxic with sludge that vegetables grown on this soil, or fish in these waters, are highly toxic, deadly for the physical system of human beings, creating killer diseases like intestinal damage and cancer. 

With the glaciers receding anyway, as the Gomukh-Gangotri glacier in the young and fragile Himalayas, will these dying rivers die their unnatural deaths in the years to come? So what will quench the thirst of modernity? Big dams? Big dams without water?

With more than 80 per cent of the Indian population dependent upon 14 major rivers of the country, introspection and action on war-footing is imperative. 

Tens of thousands of crores have gone into scams and Commonwealth Games - why can't this kind of money be used to recharge the soul and essence of our dying rivers and the eco-systems they sustain? If the UK can do it with the Thames, and if Europe can keep all its rivers at zero pollution, why can't India? There are rivers in Oregon in the US with treated sewage whose waters you can actually drink. In city after city in the West Coast, city planners are proud to say, "We don't drink bottled water, our drinking water is the purest, tastiest, lightest, good for the system." 

What kind of a nuclear power and economic giant are we going to become with stinking, filthy rivers in the hearts of our cities and thousands of tonnes of bottled water and plastic waste? Can't we even design a modern drainage system to block and treat the sewage? 

Crucial cogs in the machine are the urban and semi-urban areas that inject poison into the veins of these rivers. As these rivers flow past urban areas, more pollutants and chemicals get added. The Yamuna's poisonous frothy mix can be figured out even from the Google Earth satellite service. It's terrible that thousands in Delhi still take a holy dip inside this deadly drain on festivals like Chatth Puja. Environmentalist Sunita Narain calls it a "Dead River". 

The tragic, epical tale of India's holiest river, Ganga, is no different: its toxic levels are so abnormally high in places like the famous ghats of Varanasi, that it can inevitably lead to fatal diseases, slow dying and abjectly  painful death. 

Recently, in an undertaking given to the Supreme Court, the Centre has claimed that it will clean Ganga by 2020. The government has roped in seven IITs to devise a comprehensive strategy to clean the river in the next 10 years. The effort has been lauded by many, but most scientists and environmentalists are of the view that the project is tedious - its goal difficult to achieve in such a short span of time, - and will go the pessimistic way all such lofty ideals have gone in the past.

Several ambitious projects like the Ganga Action Plan and the Yamuna Action Plan have yielded no results. The government prefers being a mute, inefficient, useless spectator. The super rich 'world power' of Indian industry and business houses cares two hoots for our dirty rivers. Despite mindless splurge of public wealth and glorifying the Ganga as India's national river, the river has become so dangerously polluted and filthy that it is already a dead river. 

Can a proactive environment minister change the 'fatedness' of Indian rivers? Can they be restored to their pristine glory? Will the civil society change this stereotype of defeatism and collectively push for a new national river policy, with real life and beauty in its clean rivers? 

That would mean, this nation believes in itself. That would mean patriotism. That would mean a New Age of Reason and Change.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: DECEMBER 2010