The Ganga: A Polluted Purifier
Sharma and 2U.N. Rai*
Mystical Powers of the Ganga
has always been more than an ordinary river. For millions of Indians she is a
goddess. Yet the river is exploited as much as she is worshipped.
Ganga is in danger of dying - but if the river dies, will the goddess die too?
The question took Julian on an extraordinary journey from the Himalayas to the
Bay of Bengal.
The Ganga River (Ganga in
Indian language, Ganges is Latin form) is the largest and very important river
basin of country. It has been a symbol of purity, but today it is grossly
polluted. It has long history of reverence in India and it is often called Holy
Ganga. It originated from Bhagirathi from the Gangotri Glacier in the
Uttaranchal. The total length of river is about 2,510 km. One of the largest
group of human population belts on earth is built around the Ganga.
The basin drains eight
states, H.P., Punjab, Haryana, U.P., Rajasthan, M.P., Bihar, West Bengal and
It is in flood throughout the summer months when the snow on the Himalayas melt.
Since it is a fast-flowing, it's water is always muddy.
The Ganga River has been
considered as the most sacred river of India in Puranas. It is called as Ganga
Maa (or mother Ganga) or Ganga ji (or reverend Ganga). People of India believe
that a bath in the holy waters of Ganga washes all the past sins of a person.
Numerous pilgrimage centres such as Allahabad, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Varanasi and
Patna are present all along the river. Water from the Ganga is used to cleanse
any place or object for ritual purposes. The word Ganga is considered as a
synonym of pure and holy water. According to a mythological legend, Lord Brahma
collected the sweat of Lord Vishnu’s feet and created Ganga. Being touched by
two members of the Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh), Ganga became very holy.
irrigated agriculture is practiced in fertile soils of Ganga basin since time
immemorial and recent rapid industrialization has generated large demands for
water and hydropower. The domestic water demand in high-population density urban
areas scattered throughout the Ganga basin has outstripped the supplies.
Although there is a vast
canal network in Upper Ganga basin, there are no large existing reservoirs
except on Ramganga. After the Tehri dam is completed in near future, Ganga River
will be partly regulated. Tehri will also help in irrigating new areas of about
3 lakh ha besides stabilizing the existing system. Tehri will also supplement
water supply to Delhi through the Upper Ganga Canal.
In the hilly reaches up to
Rishikesh, Ganga water is quite clean except for sediments. From Rishikesh
onwards, disposal of sewage into Ganga begins. Besides the municipal waste of
Rishikesh and Haridwar, industrial units discharge partly treated effluents into
the river. Haridwar City has a population of 1.5 lakh and nearly 60,000 people
visit the city every day on an average. This number rises to a few lakh on
important religious days and may go up to 15 lakh on the auspicious days during
Kumbha Mela. Considerable lengths of sewer lines are clogged by silts that flow
in from the adjoining hills. Further downstream from Haridwar, Ganga flows
through Bijnor, Garhmukteshwar, Narora and Kannauj. Here, water is not much
polluted as these towns do not have any large industry. Moving downstream, the
situation changes for the worse at Kanpur from the quality point of view. Sewage
from the city (population 2.7 million) coupled with untreated toxic waste
discharge from about 150 industrial units results in severe damage to water
The mean value of DO at 3
mg/l at Jajmau, near Kanpur, reflects the levels of pollution caused by
discharge from 80 tanneries and other industries. At Allahabad with population
of more than a million, municipal wastes are the major contributor to river
pollution. Yamuna whose water is highly polluted joins Ganga at Sangam. Large
volume of municipal and industrial waste is dumped in the river at Varanasi, a
city with approximately 1.2 million population. The Varuna River, which joins
the Ganga in the vicinity of Varanasi, receives waste from many drains. Besides,
due to the religious belief that those who die in Varanasi are sure to go to
heaven, on average, more than 40,000 dead bodies are cremated on the river bank
and the ashes and remains are dumped in the river.
Entering Bihar, a number
of industries (including fertilizer and oil refining) have come up along Ganga
River. Patna is the most populous city whose wastes are dumped in the river. At
Kolkota in West Bengal, the Hooghly (Ganga) river basin is highly populated as
the wastes from numerous industries as well as municipal sewage is dumped in the
In view of the magnitude
of water quality problems in the Ganga basin, two action plans were launched by
the government of India: the Ganga action plan and the Yamuna action plan.
Ganga Pollution: An
The level of pollution in the Ganga river has reached an alarming proportions.
Two types of point sources like, surface drains carrying municipal sewage or
industrial effluents, pumping stations and sewage systems effluents from
industries etc are found. These point sources can be measured. Second is non
point sources which cannot be measured such as run-off from agricultural fields
carrying chemicals and fertilizers, run-off from areas used for dumping of solid
waste and open defecation, dumping of unburn/ half burnt dead bodies and animal
carcasses, dhobi ghats, cattle wallowing, mass bathing, floral offerings etc.
According to a study nearly 89 milion litres of sewage is desposed into Ganga
from the 12 municipal towns that fall along its route till Haridwar, where the
amount of the sewage disposed in the river increase during the Char Dham Yatra
season when nearly 15 lacs pilgrims visit the state each year. Apart from sewage
disposal of half burnt human body at Haridwar and hazardous medical waste from
the base hospital at Srinagar due to absence of incinerator are also adding to
the level of Ganga pollution. The major polluting source of Ganga is leather
industries, especially near Kanpur which release large amount of Chromium and
other chemicals and heavy metals.
An emblem of India’s rich
culture and ecology, the Ganga is, unarguably one of the World’s major river but
the river is exploited and the result severe threat to the river ecology, water
security and thereby to the lives of millions who are dependent on it. In Ganga
there are three type of pollutants silt, biological and chemical. Sedimentation
may be reduced by rehabilitation of catchment area through tree plantation.
It is estimated that some
900 million litres of sewage is dumped into the Ganga every day; three-fourths
of the pollution in the Ganga is from untreated municipal sewage. In particular
the middle reach of the basin between Kanpur and Buxar is the most urbanized and
industrialized, as also the most polluted segment of the basin. Municipal and
industrial wastes with dangerous concentration find entry into the watercourse
in this segment and pose a grave threat to society.
However, industry is not
the only source of pollution. An estimated 2,000,000 peoples ritually bath daily
in the river, which is considered holy by Hindus.
Action plan: Where we stand now?
Ganga runs its course of over 2500 kms from Gangotri in the Himalayas to Ganga
Sagar in the Bay of Bengal. Department of Environment, in December 1984,
prepared an action plan for reduction of pollution load on the river Ganga. The
Cabinet approved the GAP (Ganga Action Plan) in April 1985 as a 100 per cent
centrally sponsored scheme.
Under Ganga action plan
Government of India constituted the CGA (Central Ganga Authority) in February
1985 and renamed it as the NRCA (National River Conservation Authority) in
September 1995, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister. The GAP-I
envisaged to intercept, divert and treat 882 mld (Million litres per day) out of
1340 mld of wastewater, generated in 25 towns in 3 States of Uttar Pradesh,
Bihar and West Bengal. The NRCD had scheduled the GAP-I for completion by March
1990, but extended it progressively up to March 2000. The GAP-I was still in
progress, the CGA decided in February 1991 to take up the GAP-II.
Many operation have taken
up in Ganga Action Plan like, Increase high capacity sewage treatment plant. The
NRCD sanctioned 16 STPs of 433.31 mld capacity under GAP II IN June 1994-99 but
those sanctions also left about ¾ of the sewage uncovered.
How it can be saved ?
Due to continuous pollution of Ganga, threat is not only to humans, but also to
several other species living there. The river is home to more than 140 fish
species, 90 amphibian species and the endangered dolphin. We can save Maa Ganga
by taking some prompt action. These are as follow:
Awareness among peoples of
Until now Ganga was able to clean itself and maintain the rate of pollution
because of the presence of certain bacteria’s and plants but now because of the
high value of the contaminants, those plants are also dying. So ultimately we
are not only polluting the river but also destroying the bacteria which are
helping in controlling the pollution.
Time has come when efforts
should be made to create awareness among masses. So that we can help the
government in controlling the increasing pollution.
Increase the capacity of
sewage treatment plant.
Sewage treatment, or domestic wastewater treatment, is the process of removing
contaminants from wastewater and household sewage, both runoff (effluents) and
domestic. It includes physical, chemical, and biological processes to remove
these contaminants. Its objective is to produce a waste stream (or treated
effluent) and a solid waste or sludge suitable for discharge or reuse back into
Sewage is created by
residential, institutional, and commercial and industrial establishments and
includes household waste liquid from toilets, baths, showers, kitchens, sinks
etc. that is disposed of via sewers. In many areas, sewage also includes liquid
waste from industry and commerce.
The separation and
draining of household waste into grey water and black water is becoming more
common in the developed world, with grey water being permitted to be used for
watering plants or recycled for flushing toilets. Most sewage also includes some
surface water from roofs or hard-standing areas and may include storm water
Sewerage systems capable
of handling storm water are known as combined systems or combined sewers. Such
systems are usually avoided since they complicate and thereby reduce the
efficiency of sewage treatment plants owing to their seasonality. The
variability in flow also leads to often larger than necessary, and subsequently
more expensive, treatment facilities. In addition, heavy storms that contribute
more flows than the treatment plant can handle may overwhelm the sewage
treatment system, causing a spill or overflow.
As rainfall travels over
roofs and the ground, it may pick up various contaminants including soil
particles and other sediment, heavy metals, organic compounds, animal waste, and
oil and grease. Examples of treatment processes used for storm water include
sedimentation basins, wetlands, buried concrete vaults with various kinds of
filters, and vortex separators (to remove coarse solids). Separate sanitary
sewers should not include any storm water. Sanitary sewers are much smaller than
storm sewers, and they are not designed to transport storm water. In areas with
basements, backups of raw sewage can occur if excessive storm water is allowed
into a sanitary sewer system.
There is a need to develop
a vegetation cover along the bank of river Ganga consisting of pollution
resistant and abator having commercial and economic value for environmental
management of pollution. The best green technology for remediate the Ganga
pollution is development of constructed wetlands comprising of aquatic plants
and algae for treatment of domestic waste and sewage emanating from major cities
located along the bank of river.
Wetland: A Green Attempt
Wetlands are natural purifier of water and rich in productivity ecosystem, it
provides food and clean water. Wetlands are home to some of the richest
biodiversity on earth. Wetland have vast capacity to absorb chemicals filter
pollutants sediments and cleanse life bearing water and capable of breaking down
suspended solids and neutralizing harmful bacteria.
How Wetland Clean up
A very important function of wetland is natural ability to filter the clean
water. Water entering a wetland slows down as it moves through vegetation.
Suspended particles begin to fall out or water settle into the soil at the
bottom of a wetland or become trapped among the vegetation.
Wetland plants are able to
take up waste water pollutant into their cells. The dead plants in the bottom of
a wetland pond help and provide space and condition for important Microbes.
microbes also attach themselves to stem of living plants.
Various process like
decomposition, predation and neutralization, these microbes are able to
transform contaminant into the less harmful forms. Microbes also convert various
nitrogen compounds into nutrients that help plant grow.
A constructed wetland is an artificial marsh or swamp, created for anthropogenic
discharge such as waste water, storm water run-off or sewage treatment, and as a
habitat for wild life, or for land reclamation after mining or other
disturbance. Natural wetlands act as biofilter, removing sediments and
pollutants such as heavy metals from the water, and constructed wetland can be
designed to emulate these features. Constructed wetlands are built by humans.
These constructed wetlands are primarily built to clean up waste water and
create wild life habitat. Constructed wetlands naturally filter and treat waste
water and are often less expensive than traditional treatment plants.
In an urban environment
where land is scarce, a traditional treatment plant may produce more reclaimed
water per acre but a wetland has numerous additional benefits. It provides
valuable wild life habitat, supporting numerous species of birds, mammals,
amphibians and reptiles. These wetlands also serve as a recreational and
educational site for visitors and residents. Constructed wetland will have four
- The linear system will
keep the wastewater and ground water out of contact in the system and it will be
made from 30 mil. Poly vinyl chloride (pvc) material.
- The distribution medium
system at the inlet will usually be a coarse drain filed rock of ¾ to 2½
inches in diameter.
- Plant system growing in
the wetland will be cattails, bulrushes, reeds, sedges and many other plants,
which would grow and flourish in the system to operate at maximum efficiently
and also useful for metal uptake.
- The under-drain system
at the end of wetland will be slotted with pipe. The under-drain moves the
treated waste water out of the wetland.
Constructed wetlands are
of two types: subsurface and surface flow wetland .sub surface flow wetlands can
be categorized as horizontal flow and vertical flow constructed wetlands.
Subsurface-flow wetlands move effluent, agriculture run-off, tannery or meat
processing wastes, waste water from sewage or storm drains through lavastone or
sand medium on which plants are rooted. Surface flow wetlands move effluent
above the soil in a planted marsh or swamp, and can be supported by a wider
variety of soil types including bay mud and other silty clay. In subsurface-flow
systems, the effluent may move either horizontally, parallel to the surface,
vertically, from the planted layer down through the substrate and out.
Subsurface-flow systems have advantage of requiring less land area for water
treatment, but are not suitable for wildlife habitat as are surface-flow
constructed wetlands. The community found in wetland is called periphyton.
Different species of aquatic plants have different of heavy metal uptake, a
consideration for plant selection in a constructed wetland used for water
In constructed wetland
many plant species planting of reed beds are popular in European plants such as,
cattails, Typha Species , Sedge, Water Hyacinth, Eicchornia crassipes and
trifoliate and Pendant grass (Aretophila fulva) are also useful for metal
uptake. Wetland muck soils support immense population of microorganisms. Some of
these microbes can use pesticides and other organic molecules as food. Wetlands
reduce some pathogenic bacteria after only two hours of contact with wetland
Physical, chemical, and
biological processes combine in wetlands to remove pollutants from waste water.
Treatment of waste water within a constructed wetland occurs as it passes
through the wetland medium and plant rhizosphere. A thin aerobic film around
each root hair is aerobic due to the leakage of oxygen from the rhizomes, roots,
and rootlets. Decomposition of organic matter is facilitated by aerobic and
anaerobic micro-organism present. Microbial nitrification and subsequent
denitrification release nitrogen as gas to the atmosphere. Phosphorous is
co-precipitated with iron, Aluminium, and Calcium compound located in the root
bed medium suspended solids are filtered out as they settle in the water in
surface flow wetlands..Harmful bacteria and viruses reduced by filteration and
adsorption by biofilms on the rock media in sub surface flow and vertical flow
Research Institute (CSIR) has planned to treat municipal sewage waste water with
aquatic plants before allowing them to flow into the river as a low cost,
eco-friendly and sustainable solution. The project entitled “plant based
management of Ganga water pollution” was sanctioned to the institute by the
National River Conservation Directorate, Ministry of Environment and Forest,
Govt. of India. Under this project scientists plan to cover river banks at
different spots, from Gangotri in Uttrakhand to Ganga Sagar in West Bengal.
Society of Environmental Botanists, National
Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow;
E-mail: 1[email protected];