Prelims Level
Mains Level
Prelims Syllabus : Mains Syllabus : GS-3 “Environmental Conservation”
  • River Ganga acts as the lifeline of our country. The river also serves as major source for the agriculture belt apart from that its rich deposit from the Himalayas create new fertile plains.

About River Ganga:

  • The point of origin of Ganga is Gangotri Glacier in Himalayas’ southern slope and it runs through India and Bangladesh, covering a total distance of 1560 miles or 2520 kilometres.
  • Ganga is the home for 140 different species of fish and 90 different species of amphibians, many of which are near extinction today.
  • Ganga is also the home for fresh water dolphins and Ganges sharks, both of which are endangered species with Ganges shark being critically endangered.
  • The Ganges shark is a requiem shark species that is found in Indian rivers Ganga and Brahmaputra. While many confuse this species with bull sharks (that often come to Ganga and then return back to salt water for reproducing), the Ganges shark lives and reproduces in Ganga.
  • River Ganga supports many bird species that are uniquely found in India. They don’t live anywhere else in world. The Ganga is the only river in the world that decomposes organic wastes at a rate 15 to 25 times faster compared to other rivers in entire world.
  • D.S. Bhargava also found during his 3-year study that the river is capable of reducing its level biochemical oxygen demand way faster than any other river in this world. He explains that organic waste reduces the level of dissolved oxygen in river water when it starts putrefying and Ganga is no different but, an unknown substance in Ganga kills organic material and bacteria and helps to increase the level of dissolved oxygen.
  • Water putrefies or emanates foul odour when level of oxygen depletes because of decomposing organic waste. C.E. Nelson, a British Physician during a return voyage to England took some water from Hooghly river, one of the dirtiest mouths of Ganga and observed that it remained fresh throughout the voyage. New Delhi-based Malaria Research Centre found that water taken from Ganga’s upper ambits prevent mosquito breeding and also prevented mosquito breeding when the water was added to any other water from other sources.

Causes of Pollution in River Ganga

  • During religious ceremonies, up to a hundred million people clean their sins away in the Ganges River. They believe that bathing in the river will make them pure. In addition, thousands of bodies are cremated near the river, especially around the holy city, Varanasi. The ashes are often released into Ganges.
  • The Ganges also provides water for farming land, which is increasing at a tremendous rate. Irrigation projects cause water levels to go down along the river. More and more dams are being erected along India’s holy river, mainly to produce energy for Delhi and other large cities in the area.
  • The river flows through 30 cities with a population of over 100,000 each. Every day, 3 billion litres of untreated water from these big cities pass into the Ganges River, along with remains of animals. Because of India’s lax environmental regulations, industries along the river release chemicals and other poisonous material into the Ganges. In some places they are a thousand times over the allowed limit. Especially India’s traditional leather industry needs great amounts of water. In addition, fertilizers from the fields find their way into the ground water, and ultimately flow into the river. Altogether, the amount of industrial pollution has doubled in the past 20 years. This widespread pollution of the Ganges River has also led to major health problems.
  • Many diseases are common, including cholera, hepatitis and diarrhoea.
  • While India’s population keeps growing, more and more people are leaving the countryside and moving to big cities along the Ganges. As a result, the river will not be able to cope with even more people.
  • Life in the river is also at risk. Recent reports have shown that there is a high level of mercury in some fish. The construction of dams is destroying forests and vegetation, killing off many animal and plants. Indian authorities are fighting an upward battle towards cleaning up the Ganges River. International organizations have offered help. The World Bank has agreed to give India a loan of up to a billion dollars to clean up the Ganges River.

About Ganga Action Plan

  • The Ganga action plan was, launched by Shri Rajeev Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India on 14 Jan. 1986 with the main objective of pollution abatement, to improve the water quality by Interception, Diversion and treatment of domestic sewage and present toxic and industrial chemical wastes from identified grossly polluting units entering in to the river. The other objectives of the Ganga Action Plan are as under. Control of non-point pollution from agricultural runoff, human defecation, cattle wallowing and throwing of unburnt and half burnt bodies into the river. Research and Development to conserve the biotic, diversity of the river to augment its productivity.
  • New technology of sewage treatment like Up-flow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket (UASB) and sewage treatment through afforestation has been successfully developed.
  • Rehabilitation of soft-shelled turtles for pollution abatement of river have been demonstrated and found useful. Resource recovery options like production of methane for energy generation and use of aquaculture for revenue generation have been demonstrated.
  • To act as trend setter for taking up similar action plans in other grossly polluted stretches in other rivers. The ultimate objective of the GAP is to have an approach of integrated river basin management considering the various dynamic inter-actions between abiotic and biotic eco-system.
  • Notwithstanding some delay in the completion of the first phase of GAP it has generated considerable interest and set the scene for evolving a national approach towards replicating this program for the other polluted rivers of the country. The Government of India proposed to extend this model with suitable modifications to the national level through a National River Action Plan. The NRAP mainly draws upon the lessons learnt and the experience gained from the GAP besides seeking the views of the State Governments and the other concerned Departments/Agencies. Under NRCP scheme the CPCB had conducted river basin studies and had identified 19 gross polluted stretches and 14 less polluted stretches along 19 rivers, which include 11 stretches situated along 7 rivers of M.P.
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