Dharma like the Ganges is ever pure. The impurity is only man made.
With the sorry state of the biggest river in India, the above lines quote nothing but the truth. The lifeline of India- The sacred Ganges or the Ganga continues to suffer miserably at the hands of humans. It is given the status of mother- the one who is eternally pure and forgives all who come to her, washing them clean of their sins. But the question is for how long will she forgive and carry the burden of our sins?
We are already aware of the rising mercury levels in fish muscles of fish in Ganga. The unique Ganges river dolphin has already entered the endangered species list and the Ganges softshell turtles are presumed to enter this list as well. Even the cause of this evil- the human being is not going to be spared as water-borne diseases due to consumption of contaminated water are increasing. The dams planned on this river will submerge huge forest areas leaving thousands of animals and birds homeless.
If we jump to the past, the roots of ancient civilizations are all connected to rivers. Mesopotamia around the Tiger and the Euphrates rivers, Egyptian civilization around the Nile River, and the Indus Valley civilization which flourished in the Indus river valley. The end of the Indus civilization is unknown but one of the possible causes is drying up of rivers due to a shift in rainfall patterns. The other could be extreme flooding due to climate change. Is history repeating itself? Yes- but the causes are not the same.
The Mithi River flowing through the financial capital of India, Mumbai, is classified as an ecologically dead zone. A part of the river is full of mangroves and hosts migratory birds every year, their numbers declining each year. The river has been reduced to a sewer serving as a dumping ground for industrial and domestic waste. Its floodplains are dominated by civil structures that have shortened its width. The carrying capacity of the river is possibly at its lowest point the result of which was the Mumbai disaster in 2005. The 2015 Chennai floods were no different.
With the destruction of rivers, we are destroying the floodplains, an entire ecosystem. The floodplains are as important as the rivers. Simply put, they hold the nutrient-rich sediments the river carries thus keeping the river clean and creating a fertile land for farming. The excess water which they hold is slowly released on land and in groundwater. The man-made floods which we speak of today are due to the destruction of flood plains.
Deforestation in the river catchments is another grave concern. Thanks to the forests, a huge quantity of water is trapped in the atmosphere via plant transpiration. This refills the clouds and instigates rains which maintain the forest- a beneficial cycle. But with deforestation, plant transpiration stops which stops the rains. The water instead of being trapped in plants flows away as a part of the river leading to drying. Many such river catchments are undergoing brutal deforestation and we are gradually fuelling the formation of deserts.
The end of this cycle- drying up of river basins- 16 basins in India are facing low moisture levels threatening croplands and magnifying the issue of food security. To make things worse, pollutants are entering crops ultimately entering our body. Furthermore, most of the rivers in India ultimately meet the sea. 90% of the plastic is carried to the oceans by rivers and if this is not controlled, the oceans will have more plastic than fish. The toxic chemicals also enter the oceans, entering the body of fish that we consume.
I can say that the way we are treating our rivers is coming back to us through the water we drink and the food we consume. The various river clean-up projects- Namami Ganga Project, Cauvery Calling, Narmada Seva Mission, Yamuna Action plans- are they working or it is just a distant dream for us to see clean rivers. These projects worth 1000 crores are a wakeup call that we have reached a stage where even a huge amount of money is not doing the trick.
Is there hope? Not really. I’d say unless we consider this to be a personal problem. No project is going to see success until we join hands and take it upon our shoulders to stop the death of our rivers. The connection between the public and the authorities should be intensified or else we are closer to building a graveyard of rivers and with it are we rapidly approaching our doom?