River is not just a source of life in India; it represents faith and belief of the many million Indians who pray and preach the river for its mystical essence. But now the major rivers in India are threatening lives of millions of people who depend on the water from these rivers for sustenance. A team of 11 environmental activists cycled through the Gangetic plains covering about 1,800km in 27 days and have discovered that the devout rivers of these plains are turning into ‘sewage’ and becoming increasingly life threatening. The team members crossed 24 rivers while cycling through north Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, reached the capital and then cycled to their final stop at Dehra Dun.
Dr. Anil P Joshi is the team head of the environmental team from the Dehra Dun-based environmental NGO, HESCO. He is also a Padma Shri-awardee. On the current situations of these rivers, he said, “Not one river was fit to bathe in. The water at many places resembled sewage water. Among the most polluted rivers we came across was the Yamuna in western UP, Varuna and Gandak,” as reported by TNN.
Dr. Joshi further informed, “The growing pollution of rivers is a stark sign of wider ecological imbalance in the region.”
The aim of the survey done on the journey or ‘yatra’ by the environmental team was to increase awareness on the need to keep a track of India’s natural resources. The team is insisting the government to introduce an annual green measure entitled the ‘’gross environmental product’ or GEP. Joshi claims, “Like the GDP for the economy, the GEP would monitor the health of India’s natural assets, showing whether these were being overexploited or not,” as reported by TNN.
The activists were not just concerned about the condition of rivers they were even bothered about the disappearing forests on their yatra. In the states they travelled they noticed that most of them had the forest area below India’s set target of 33 percent like in Bengal it showed 14.64 percent, Delhi 11.94 percent, Bihar 7.23 percent and UP 3.61 percent.
Joshi said, “Forests are vanishing in these states. And even the ones that survive are grade C forests, consisting of bushes rather than broad-leaved trees,” as reported by TNN.
The team visiting through 31 districts held 300 meetings and spread the message to about 10,000 people to preserve the quality of rivers. They also noted the falling water table, degradation of agricultural lands in various districts and polluted underground water.
Joshi informed “We will compile a report of our observations, which will be sent to the Prime Minister’s Office and to all chief ministers.”
Similarly the holy waters of Beas River in Manali, Himachal Pradesh are gradually turning into sewage, dustbin and also a corpse dump yard for the inhabitants and the visitors. The river bank is covered with tonnes of garbage and the sewage lines of most houses open directly into the water stream.
Nanak Chand Sharma, an elderly person from Kullu said, “Beas was not so polluted 20 years back. Construction of hundreds of hotels, increasing population, plastic packaging and indifferent attitude of the government are responsible for the unimpeded destruction of holy Beas,” as informed by Suresh Sharma for TNN.
The river is also used by the ranchers to dispose their dead animals. This practice has highly contaminated the water. Hari Prasad Singh, a resident in Patlikuhal village said, “People are throwing cattle carcasses into the river while some bury the dead animals by the riverside. These people think that there are floods in the river every year which will sweep away all the dirt and bodies,” as reported by TNN.
The ignorant villagers are disposing wastes, dead bodies and animals in the river, even then very little is done by the government to stop the ongoing contamination of the river. Even with such drastic circumstances there are no signboards installed in the district anywhere warning not to pollute the river, informed another resident.
These practices in the small towns and cities in India has caused enough damage to the natural resources that it is at a point where it has become a huge challenge to salvage it. The rivers in the country have been given such importance but now these rivers require a lot of attention to be cleaned and be turned innocuous for the people in the country.