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Battle to save Ganga marred by tragedies, 'broken promises' on government's part

Md Sarfraz Alam*

The River Ganga is facing challenges of preserving ecological integrity due to declining flow and degrading water quality primarily due to pollution, illegal mining and quarrying of rocks, and unsustainable ways of constructing dams and barrages in the foothills of the Himalayas. Also, the ongoing and planned construction of hydroelectric projects on the river Ganga and its tributaries in the Himalayan region are adversely affecting the water quality and reducing the flow of the river.
The river is home to many aquatic plants and animals. Apart from humans, many other kinds of lives are endangered due to Ganga's degeneration. The fertilizers and pesticides are getting washed away into Ganga. Industrial sewage is also discharged in it. The Ashes of burn dead bodies the garland of flowers etc. are also thrown. It will be necessary to ensure that residues of fertilizers and pesticides do not find their way into Ganga.
Several activists and many agencies including the United Nations have petitioned the Indian government to allow the Ganga to flow by stopping the construction of dams in the Ganges and its tributaries. Swami Shivanand Saraswati founder of Matri Sadan, has adopted a non-violent hunger strike path multiple times in Haridwar, anticipating the consequences. He launched the Ganga Tapasya campaign calling on the Government of India to stop dam building.
He was assured by the prime minister office that his demands, scrapping the development of hydroelectric projects on Ganga and its sub-tributaries, prohibition on quarrying operations and moving at least 5 km of stone crushers from the Ganga river bed, rapid enactment of the Ganga Act and inclusion of pro-Ganga activists and seers in the drafted panel committee-will be considered.
The battle to save India's most famous river has been marred by tragedies and broken promises on the government's part. Veteran environmentalist Professor GD Agarwal succumbed to poor health on October 11, 2018, after fasting for the same cause as Swami Sanand for a full 111 days before life gave up on him. He wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi elicited no response. He died reminding the Prime Minister that had come to power from Varanasi and had sought votes in the name of the Ganga.
A river is only purified when it is permitted to flow freely and not restricted by building dams and getting stagnant water. In the recent past, repercussions of acts taken against the rule of nature have been seen in the form of floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones in many places around the world, including India (Uttarakhand, Bihar, Assam).
The main cause of the flooding is restricting the rivers by building dams and high-rise buildings near the riverbeds, which effectively blocks the flow of rivers and the natural merger into the oceans. "We The People Of India" do not want to face other tragedies by restricting the flow and going against it with "River Ganga". Our generation as well as the future generations need to have a balanced climate. Our rivers are the lifeline for all the creatures who live on this beautiful planet.
However, in India, the climate change situation is very critical as it is affecting millions of populations, so it needs to be quick. Rivers are the kidneys of mother earth, which can never be replaced if destroyed once, as in the case of a human body. Therefore, when we know that our kidney is endangered, it becomes our responsibility and duty to protect them by joining our hands for "Ganga Tapasya" and collectively asking the government to stop the building of dams across river Ganga.
We have yet to see a credible Environment Impact Assessment of sand mining, nor is there any worthwhile public consultation process
Officials at National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) say that demands to shut down all power projects and take away the management of the Ganga from the government are untenable because it violates principles of secularism and would, in its way, invite public wrath. If all hydropower projects were shut down… people would complain about electricity and economic hardships. Many demands -- such as putting ecological principles at the heart of cleaning the Ganga -- are genuine, but these can only be solved gradually and not through hunger strikes. 
India is a huge country with a population of over 130 crore, it requires a huge source of energy for development. Is this a good time for India to complete the shutdown of the hydro project on the Ganga or should India continue to generate energy and dams can be shut down in a phased manner?
Way forward mining in Haridwar stretch of river Ganga has always been a sensitive issue. Unsustainable and mechanized riverbed excavation of minerals would prove invitation to an environmental disaster. Apart from inflicting severe damages on aquatic ecosystem, quarrying in excess impacts the natural flow path and pattern of the river thus leading to breach of embankments and causing floods in adjacent areas during monsoon.
Unabated and deep excavation of the riverbed would also lower the groundwater and destabilize the river banks. In short, if not addressed properly, flawed mining practices could trigger a series of environmental reactions with adverse impact on local people, Haridwar town and Ganga river itself. It is a matter of grave concern that the State government has so far remained unresponsive to the plea of communities, civil society groups and experts raising voice against unscientific mining practices in Ganga.
It is good that NMCG has timely intervened in the matter and assured Matri Sadan strict actions against violators. Respecting the Matri Sadan efforts and concerns raised by experts and environmentalists, the Union Environment Ministry must form a credible and independent committee to study the whole issue thoroughly and must stop all mining activities in Ganga till then.
Unfortunately, we have yet to see a credible Environment Impact Assessment of sand mining, nor is there any worthwhile public consultation process. There is nothing in the name of achieving compliance of the environmental norms, and implementation of environmental management plans. Is it the right time the concerned State and Central departments take cognizance of these points to protect Ganga and other rivers of the country from unsustainable mining practices?
---
*PGP second year student, Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad

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