Fecal Bacteria Abundant in Ganga Ahead of Magh Mela
December 11 2020
Shot By Ashvani Singh
On Kartik Purnima, 29 November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in his constituency Varanasi to preside over the Dev Deepavali festival at the ghats of Ganga river. Amid pomp and show, no one talked about the falling water quality of the river.
A report released by the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) for the year 2020 has revealed that the Ganga at Varanasi, Kanpur, Mirzapur and Ghazipur stretches is highly polluted with an average fecal coliform bacteria being 12,000-13,000 MPN per 100 ml.
MPN is the most probable number used for the bacterial count. The report contains the data up to October. These fecal coliforms (FCs) levels were quite low during the lockdown at most places but have gone up once again, the statistics say.
Incidentally, Magh Mela is set to start which is held on the banks of Ganga in all major cities including Parayagraj, Varanasi and Kanpur when Hindus take a dip in the river, which is believed to be sacred. The 57-day annual fair will start with Makar Sankranti bathing on January 14 and conclude with Maha Shivratri bathing on March 11, 2021.
No permissible limits for Fecal bacteria
Ideally, there should be no fecal bacteria in the river. The presence of fecal coliforms, which come from the excreta of humans and animals, indicates that the untreated sewage water is being mixed in the river, experts say.
Such water is unsafe for drinking and bathing both and could expose people to a range of water-borne diseases.
Ironically, the CPCB or UPPCB have not set any permissible limits for FCs in river water.
Vishwambhar Nath Mishra, Head of the Electronics Department at IIT-BHU who has been working on Ganga water for a long, says, “The abundance of fecal coliforms, that usually come from humans and animals excreta, indicates that untreated sewage is being poured in the river Ganga. The government would not like to set the FCs limits as it would expose its own callousness.”
Prof Mishra, who is also the Mahant of the Varanasi’s Sankatmochan Temple, states, “Water with fecal matter is neither fit for bathing nor for achaman (ritual of drinking a small amount of water). The fresh report is in stark contrast with the chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s claims that the Ganga’s water is fit for achaman.”
Even the total coliforms (TC), another scientific parameter to measure water quality, in Ganga in all major cities in Uttar Pradesh is 4 to 40 times higher compared to the maximum permissible limit set by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
CPCB stipulates the maximum limit of TC for outdoor bathing at 500 MPN/100 ml (MPN = most probable number).
Source: UP Pollution Control Board
Fecal coliforms can cause diseases
A subgroup of TC, Fecal Coliforms mostly comprises of Escherichia coli, enter rivers through untreated sewerage. Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacteria species that normally live in the intestines of healthy people and animals. FCs contribute to almost half the TCs in the samples, said a senior scientist at UPPCB.
“More than 700 serotypes of E. coli have been identified. Most varieties of E. coli are harmless but a few strains can cause diarrhea, severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting”, doctors say.
The National Mission for Clean Ganga or Namami Gange, the flagship project of the Modi government, was allocated Rs. 12,300 crores since 2015 for abatement of pollution, setting up sewage treatment plants (STPs) and development of riverfronts and crematoria on the Ganga across the country.
Of this about Rs. 8,900 crore, or 75 percent, had been utilized by March 2020, as per the latest available government data. Besides, the budget allocation for 2019-20 was slashed from Rs. 1,970 crores to Rs. 1,500 crores after revision.
Lack of political will, Vested interest: Activists
The amicus curiae of Allahabad High Court in the Ganga pollution case Arun Kumar Gupta alleges, “The scientific indicators are alarming and expose the corruption and lack of political will at every level. The Modi government is so engrossed in the so-called development that it doesn’t listen to experts or never consults the institutions. The IAS officers are taking decisions unilaterally and also manipulating the river data.”
According to Gupta, the gap between sewage generated and the capacity to treat it is widening fast in Prayagraj. “The generation of sewage is calculated on the basis of civic water supply. The government doesn’t take into account the household water pumps that extract groundwater illegally due to inadequate civic supply.”
“Besides, 48 of 84 nullahs in Prayagraj were not connected with STPs and were pouring untreated sewage in Ganga even at the time of Kumbh Mela last year. Most households are still not connected with the Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) lines although the government has given an undertaking at the Allahabad High court in 2016 that it would do so,” says Adv Gupta.
Varanasi is no different. Prof Mishra says, “The city generates close to 380 MLD sewage. On papers, the STPs have the capacity to treat this amount of sewage. However, all sewage lines are not yet connected with the STPs.”
Prof Mishra claims, “There seems to be a deliberate attempt to keep Ganga dirty as the river has become a milking cow for many.”
Said Gupta, “Flood-planes of the river have been encroached upon by property developers over the years, which has led to a drastic decrease in the sand bed, a natural water purifier. Five small streams of Ganga enter in Prayagraj. Four of them were filled with sand for the Ardh Kumbh so that more land is available for use. In the process, aquatic biodiversity, including nesting areas of fish and turtles, is destroyed.”
The Yamuna, Assi, and Varuna rivers, which merge in the Ganga, also add to the pollution load as do open defecation and over-exploitation of river water for irrigation purposes, say locals.
Gupta said, “Presently 2,000 million liters per day of sewage is generated in the 30 cities in UP through which the Ganga flows. Three-fourths of this amount goes straight into the Ganga because sewage is being treated only in Prayagraj, Kanpur and Varanasi, and that too partially.”
Naveen Srivastava, the BJP Spokesperson, claims, “The previous Samajwadi Party government did nothing to clean Ganga. Azam Khan, the then minister who controlled Jal Nigam, usurped the entire funds meant for Namami Gange. The Yogi government has taken over only in 2017 and since then we are working at full pace to establish STPs even in smaller cities like Mirzapur and Ghazipur. It will take time to clear the years of mess.”
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