ECO TALK (Travels on the Ganga)
 
 
 



 



 

Rainer Kellers, a journalist from Germany, is travelling along river Ganga . He shares his views and experiences about Ganga with Eco Friends.
When I came to Kanpur in the middle of May 2005 I knew that I was going to see one of the most polluted places in India. Perhaps the most polluted of all. But despite this knowledge I was truly shocked when I actually saw it.

Before coming to Kanpur I had been visiting the upper part of the Ganges. During my four months stay in India I was following the holy river from its source to the end. This travel was part of a scholarship program that I did with support of the German Heinz-Kuehn-Foundation. This foundation helps young journalists from the state of Northrhine-Westfalia to work in developing countries. My aim was to write about pollution of the Ganges and the various efforts to save the river, including the Ganga Action Plan (GAP).

First I went up to the source of the river, on about 4000 metres in one of the most beautiful valleys of the whole Himalayan range. There the river, named Bhagirathi, is coming out of the Gaumukh glacier. It is a very special place even for a non-Hindu like me. The air is thin, the surrounding mountains are majestic and the river is cleaner than clean – it's in the true meaning of the word pure. I didn't hesitate to taste the icy cold water. And if it hadn't been for the cold air and the shallowness of the river just at the beginning of the melting period at the end of April I would have taken a dip. So with a feeling of joy to have seen a wonderful part of nature I started my long journey downriver.

The sad moments began quiet soon when I saw the dams and barrages at Uttarkashi, Tehri and elsewhere. The river is forced into tunnels, diverted and its course changed. The worst part was Haridwar, where most of the sacred water is diverted into the Upper Ganges Canal . I took a look at the original bed of the river behind the massive barrage and it was nearly dry.

My spirit rose when I saw the river again some two hundred kilometres down south before the Narora barrage. Although still very shallow the Ganges was wide there. The landscape looked peaceful and there were only a few smaller towns and villages on the riverbanks. Obviously these settlements contribute to the pollution of the river but the Ganges is still capable of handling this load there. A proof for that is the existence of a small population of river dolphins, very sensitive animals, who need a clean environment to survive.

Everything had changed when I reached Kanpur . As I said before, I knew what was awaiting me. But after seeing Gaumukh, the Bhagirathi valley and the dolphins of the Upper Ganges I was really shaken.

On one of my first days in Kanpur Rakesh Jaiswal from Eco Friends took me to the riverbank near Jajmau. Most of the several hundred tanneries of the city are located there. We went to the backside of one of these factories. There I saw a stream of green coloured stinking effluent coming out of the building. It formed a small waterfall when going down to the sandy bank of the Ganges . Without any interruptions it found its way into the water just beside the burning Ghat.

Some days later I took a boat downstream from Massacre Ghat. This time I saw several of these disgusting streams of green chemical poison emptying into the river. Clearly the Effluent Treatment Plants these tanneries are supposed to run are not working or even nonexistent.

But there are other annoying sights at the riverbank in Kanpur . At Dapka Ghat for example. Just behind the temples at this bathing site there is a major sewer, which diverts domestic sewage from the city to one of the three Sewage Treatment Plants. This sewer is broken. In a big fountain the polluted water is coming out of the sewer, forming a tributary which flows into the river. Buffalos are bathing at the confluence.

Only some hundred metres from that place there is another nice little waterfall made of domestic sewage. This time the sewer is not damaged. It is an open pipe obviously constructed to empty its load into Ganga . Given that the capacity of the three treatment plants of the city lies way behind the actual load of about 400 mld, it's no wonder that this sewer exists. Where else should the untreated water go but into the drain Ganges ? Ganga looks like a huge open drain in Kanpur .

And even the installed capacity of about 170 mld is not fully used. I visited the Intermediate Pumping Station at Chabilepurwa, which is supposed to pump the tannery effluent to the treatment plant. It was not working. One worker there was told that he hadn't received any salary for over four months now. You can't expect any initiative or dynamism from frustrated people like him.

On a visit to two villages outside of Kanpur I saw another sewage channel. This open drain, covered with white foam and stinking like the toxic cocktail which came out of the tanneries – clearly some of the effluent was mixed with the domestic sewage – is going out of town to the downstream villages. There it is used to irrigate the fields. One can imagine that this water is not doing any good for the villagers, their cattle and their crops.

And indeed: When I interviewed some of the villagers they revealed that there is an unusual high rate of skin diseases among them. I saw people with rotten fingernails, people whose skin lost all colour and others with wound-like markings on their necks. They were complaining about high rates of tuberculosis, cancer, stomach and kidney problems and leprosy. Moreover the productivity of their crops, they said, has gone down by 40 percent and their cows only give half the amount of milk they should give. The villagers blame the bad water for their problems. They say even the colour of the groundwater has changed to an ugly yellow. Officially all this is denied. The low productivity for example is said to be a curse of some root disease.

In the suburb of Noraiakheda the colour of the groundwater has also changed. I saw greenish water coming out of a hand pump. This time it's not the sewage but heavy metals in the soil that contaminate the water, mostly chromium. Noraiakheda is located next to an extended dumping ground for industrial waste. It is a barren place with multicoloured hills made of waste and some poor human creatures that make a living from these remains of the industrial production. Of course, the health of the people from Noraiakheda is deteriorating.

There are more such sad sights in Kanpur . For example the neglected streets and living quarters of the tannery workers. Or the newly built Kanpur barrage which will provide drinking water for the city in the future but will also worsen the situation of the river because it reduces the inflow of fresh water in the downstream. But without any doubt the worst I've seen in Kanpur were the floating dead bodies in the river.

For religious reasons some of the dead may not be burned, pregnant women for example, sadhus or lepers. Others are only half burned because their relatives can't afford the wood for the pyre. And there are those unfortunate victims of a capital crime who are thrown into the river either by their murderers or by policemen who rather keep the money meant for burning post-autopsy bodies for themselves or simply do not mind dumping of the bodies in the river. The dead are not a major contributor to the pollution of the Ganga . But their sight is truly irritating and disgusting. Even more so, if you see more than one of these. And I happened to see a lot at one spot.

I took part in a two day cleaning campaign organized by Eco Friends. The aim of that campaign was to fish the human corpses out of the Ganges and to bury them on the sandy riverbank. Two days before the campaign started members of the Dhanuk caste had collected every floating body they could find in the river stretch from Old Ganga Bridge to Massacre Ghat. They had tied the dead near the riverbank to drag them out of the water and bury them. The sight and especially the smell of these rotting carcasses are indescribable. These are utmost insults to the holiness of the river and any idea of purity. It was the negative highlight of my sad visit to Kanpur .

Carrie Knowlton, University of Michigan, USA
I am an American graduate student studying freshwater ecology, water quality and public health. I came to India to work with Eco Friends and learn about the Ganga, because professors at my University, the University of Michigan, have taken a great interest in the Ganga, and have formed partnerships with Universities such as Patna University, Benares Hindu University, and IIT Kanpur to conduct a comprehensive study on the ecological state of the River. This interest arises from the personal interest of some of the professors, who are of Indian descent, but also because of some of the inherent similarities between the Ganga river basin and our own watershed. These include similar size and amount of water, similar problems with pollution, and a culture centered on an abundance of freshwater in continents that are otherwise relatively dry. Poor water quality in some parts of the Great Lakes and the Ganga have also led to the discovery of zooplankton (single celled animals) that have developed similar abnormal tumors.

Michigan is a state in the northern Midwestern United States, surrounded by five of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, and filled with rivers, streams, and hundreds of smaller lakes. I have spent most of my life in Michigan, and have always been surrounded by water, everywhere. But Michigan, like India, has struggled with pollution and the abuse of its resources. Because of industrial pollutants, some of our native fish are now considered unsafe to eat because of the level of toxic chemicals, mercury in particular, that have accumulated in their bodies. The water level in the Great Lakes has been decreasing, and other states that have been abusing or depleting their own water resources now ask that our water be transported to them. In both Michigan Rivers and the Ganga, microscopic organisms called zooplankton have been recorded to have abnormal tumors, speculated to be the result of high levels of pollutants in the water. We have taken our access to clean water for granted, but we are abusing our most precious resource. India and the US can learn from each other, as the conservation of water worldwide is not a local, but a global imperative.

The Ganga is famous all over the world, although I have always known it as the Ganges. In America, when we think of India, we often think of the Ganga – it is mysterious and beautiful to us that people can believe so strongly in the power of a river to wash away their impurities and sins. In the five weeks I have spent in India, I have had the opportunity to travel to three sites on the Ganga – Patna, Varanasi, and, of course, Kanpur, each awe-inspiring in its own way.

In Patna, I was struck by the sheer size of the river – after being fed by tributaries and the accumulation of rain during the monsoon, the water pours over the banks, mightily flowing towards the Bay of Bengal. Although the water is polluted in Patna, I was stricken by its beauty, by the many colorful birds living on its shores, the river dolphins frolicking between the fishing boats whose owners rely on the Ganga for food and livelihood. I have seen no river, in America or elsewhere, as awesome as this.

In Varanasi, I was introduced to the cultural importance of the Ganga. The ancient temples and rituals unfamiliar to me taking place along the banks of the river captivated my attention. I know about the pollution in the river, and am aware of the diseases that can be passed by bathing in the water, but was still inspired by worshippers at the ghats in Varanasi, by their faith and reverence for the Ganga and her water. The rituals I saw in Varanasi are foreign to me, but the concepts behind them are familiar. Just as people bathe in the Ganga to cleanse and purify their souls, my grandparents took me to a Catholic church when I was only a few months old, before I can remember, to baptize me in holy water, anointing themselves before they entered the sacred space to affirm their faith in God and protect themselves from harm. Water is revered in all cultures, it is universal and natural to believe in its power to heal and purify.

Unfortunately, clean water is becoming scarce, and its capacity to purify is only so powerful. Faith is a beautiful thing, but it must be tempered with common sense and personal responsibility. In Kanpur, I was as awestricken by the Ganga as I was in Patna and Varanasi, but it was because of pollution, not beauty. I took a boat trip along the river and was shocked by what I saw – the hundreds of drain pipes discharging raw sewage and toxic effluent into the river, and people bathing or watering their cattle only a few hundred meters downstream. I visited the villages of Jajmau, and witnessed the health problems people suffer from exposure to this toxic water – fingernails blackened from exposure to chromium, skin lesions and stomach illnesses. I toured the waste treatment plants, in severe disrepair, more examples of the all too common tragedy of well-intentioned but poorly implemented development projects. It is tragic that a river with such potential for beauty and the sustenance of life has been so abused.

As saddened as I am by the state of the Ganga at Kanpur, I am inspired by organizations such as Eco Friends and youth such as yourselves, who have taken the initiative to protest the current state of the river and make changes for the better. My time in India is short, and I am happy to contribute what I can, but it is you, the young citizens of Kanpur, who will suffer the most from the state of the Ganga today, and be able to influence its future most. I encourage you to take what you have learned today and use it, to educate your peers and families, to take action against the forces responsible for the pollution, and refuse to accept the injustices caused by this abuse of your precious natural resource.

Dr. Elizabeth A. Guillette who visited Eco Friends recently (July 11,2004 - July 21, 2004) takes a boat ride on the Ganga. Here is her account of the experience.

I braced myself against the stench for another boat ride down the Ganga. Much to my surprise, there were no offending odors. The river was running rapidly, diluting and washing away the upstream disposal of untreated sewage. The water had risen to within a few meters of the tannery discharge pipes, hiding the blue sediments of the chromium and other toxic waste. While not at a flood state, gone were the islands, which previously accumulated trash and corpses. Also under water were the patches of land, which farmers had used during the previous growing season. The land was being rejuvenated for next year’s plantings. Old temples and the remains of fancy buildings lined the banks. The innocent eye would see nothing but beauty on this section of the Ganga. My thought ran differently. Still present were a few tell-tale bubbly accumulations of waste. Where was this majority of waste going and what lands further down the river would be affected? Much of the human waste products would be broken down, but the industrial toxic materials are persistent, either evaporating into the air for someone to breathe, entering bodies through the skin during bathing, or even being used for drinking and cooking. No comment sums up the situation better than ”Dilution is not the Solution to Pollution. more...

Two French girls Laure de Rotalier and Agnes Saule after traveling several countries came to Kanpur on April, 2004 to study Ganga and its religious significance. Their curiosity to know more about Ganga drew their attention towards Eco Friends.They spent 3 days with Eco Friends and shared their experiences with us more...

T. S. Gopi Rethinaraj, currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering at the University of Illinois spoke to Dr. A. C. Shukla on energy and water issues, specially interlinking of rivers. Dr. A.C. Shukla is a Visiting Scholar, ACDIS, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. more...

S P Mishra currently holds the post of City Commissioner in Kanpur and is the administrative head of Kanpur Municipal Corporation. Mr. Mishra talked to Mohd. Owais on various issues pertaining to pollution of Kanpur and river Ganga. more...

Smt. Anita Bhatnagar Jain, Vice-Chairperson, Kanpur Development Authority, IAS officer (1985 batch), spoke her mind on various environment and pollution related issues, while talking to Rakesh K Jaiswal, Executive Secretary, Eco-friends. more...

Dr Vandana Asthana is the Head of the Political Science Department and Environmental Studies Unit, Christ Church College, Kanpur, expressed her views on Ganga and Ganga Action Plan freely while talking to Rakesh K. Jaiswal, Executive Secretary, Eco Friends. more...

Dr. A. C. Shukla, formerly headed Bio-pollution Study Centre at Christ Church College, Kanpur. Dr Shukla, the Founder President of Eco Friends expressed his frank views about Ganga and Ganga Action Plan while talking to Rakesh K Jaiswal, Executive Secretary, Eco Friends. more...

Deputy Mayor of Kanpur Chetana Sharma shares her views on Ganga pollution with Eco Friends.   more...

Ram Nath Mahendra is the All-India Treasurer of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). He is also the Regional President (Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal) of the outfit. In an interview given to Eco Friends, Mr Mahendra expressed his anguish at the deplorable condition of the river Ganga and declared that VHP would soon launch a massive Clean-Ganga campaign with the help of saints in Kanpur. more...

Jacek Bozek is a Polish river activist who is striving hard to save the Vistula river in Europe. Founder of the GAJA club, Jacek is helped by his wife Beata in the group's activities. Recently, he was in Kanpur and Eco Friends took the opportunity to speak to him and find out what he thought of Ganga's pollution. more...

Suchitra Singh is a woman of conviction, who cares about the ambience around her and more importantly, inspires others to do so. She is the President Elect of Rotary Club. A member of All India Women’s Conference, Suchitra is an interior designer by profession.more...

Director of Wendy Group of Schools Kanpur, P C Mal is also an avid ornithologist. In this interview given to Eco Friends, he takes a deep look at the problem of pollution and suggests ways to tackle it. more...

Amitayush Vyas and Roger Choate are members of Civil Society Parnership Programme of Varanasi-based Sankat Mochan Foundation which is campaigning for a clean Ganga.
They spoke to EcoFriends and reflected their views on the Ganga pollution and how it should be handled. more...

Father S M D'Souza, principal of St Aloysius' School, shares his feelings on the environmental crisis looming over Kanpur. more...

Colombian researcher Anamaria Aristizabal and Washington-based freelance journalist Andrew Blackwell speak to EcoFriends about the Ganga river pollution.more...

Sister Smitha of St. Mary's Convent School feels that the involvement of children is necessary to solve the environmental problem. more...

In an interview with EcoFriends, Dr. Naim Hamid talked about the deteriorating condition of Kanpur and expressed his concern about the same. more...

Seventeen-year-old Shantanu Adhicary is a 12th class student of Sheiling House School, Kanpur. His honest and committed efforts as a Ganga Ambassador made us to delve deep into his mind. more...

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