THE ETERNAL GANGA - OUR VISION FOR GANGA
 
When we attempt to reconcile the significance of the sacred river in the past to its present reality, a most tragic paradox is encountered. Ganga today is being worshipped and defiled simultaneously. In fact, at most times, the process of worship itself has a polluting influence since bulk of the worship materials are disposed off in the river in ugly non-biodegradable polythene bags and in other unthinking ways. Today Ganga is the natural home and recipient of half burnt dead bodies, unclaimed bodies, animal carcasses, washermen's points, dairies and cattle bathing points, garbage from the slums, open defecation along the river and domestic and industrial effluents of all kinds. Whatever remains of the endangered species of dolphins and the turtles are openly poached. The coexistence of worship and defilement of the Ganga defies logic and reason and leaves most observers confused.

Polluting socio-religious practices apart, Ganga since perhaps about a century, has been subjected to a multiplicity of serious threats, multiplying in their impact and intensity every second. Planners in independent India have approached the river and its pollution with frightening ad-hocism. Adherents of the existing developmental model in India, still consider the pollution of the river as inevitable, also perhaps as an acceptable cost in the process of development. Ganga waters have been freely diverted and dammed for a myriad reasons, not least on account of powering a so-called Green Revolution in agriculture. Unplanned urbanization and industrialization together with the population boom have extracted a very heavy price from the river. The waters of Ganga have been and continue to be treated as just another input, an economic resource, to turn the mighty wheels of development. The western model of development has been and continues to be blindly, almost slavishly, imitated in India sans the safeguards.

Over time, in between passing of ambitious national laws on protection of environment and international pledges for sustainable development, the government did take notice of the alarming threats to the life of the river. However, instead of a comprehensive, sustained and intensive attack on pollution in the river, action could not proceed beyond taking of symbolic steps. There was and exists a wide chasm between the promise of Ganga Action Plan and the reality of millions of litres of all kinds of pollution meeting the river every single minute. Inaccurate, partial and self-laudatory reports have become the norm but do precious little to make significant forward movement on reversing the flow of pollution in the river. Admittedly, the task is Himalayan in nature and requires sustained convergence of comprehensive attempts by government, industries and civil society alike.

In all this, the civil society has been a helpless and passive observer. Everyone has a foot somewhere in polluting the river but no one could care less about doing anything about it. Very few Individuals and organizations are even attempting to do something beyond an occasional burst of green concerns, which are event driven and only perhaps serve to save ones' own souls rather than saving the soul of Ganga.

The painful reality still remains that environmental concerns in India continue to be the burden of a few green crusaders with the vast majority just plainly looking on. A serious erosion of faith has entered the psyche of the masses, gripping all with the thought that "nothing can be done". The rapid rise in the pollution of the river has been accompanied by (and also because of) mass apathy. Pollution and public concern of Ganga seem to exist in inverse ratios.

If ever any crisis meant an opportunity to make a difference, it could not be truer than is the case for Ganga. The distressed river beckons all to come to its rescue.

It took hundreds of years of penance by Sage Bhagirath to bring the celestial river to earth and it would not be an exaggeration to say that today Ganga requires many Bhagiraths to survive and reclaim its sacred nature.

Before any action can be initiated, all concerned should start thinking in terms of a new vision for Ganga. How do we want Ganga to be and what can be done to achieve that vision is the question posed to all of us. A new vision for a pristine and pure Ganga has to pour forth and translated on the ground. A new vision, which needs churning of the spirit and mind. A new vision that can inspire the masses to action. A new vision that needs to reconcile the competing demands on the precious waters of the river with sustainability. It needs to think of the river as one organic entity where tinkering in one-part affects the entire body of the river. A new ion which believes that if we as humans wish to survive, Ganga needs to survive.

The eternal Ganga today, needs new heroes and new voices. If you wish to respond to her call, the time is NOW.

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