Calcutta Notebook


The Government is committed to maintain purity of waters of the Ganga River. But there is a contradiction. The Government is not taking any steps to restore free flow of the Ganga; and is taking steps only to clean it of the pollution. Money is being given to municipalities to establish sewage treatment plants. Industries are being required to stop discharging polluted water into the river. These steps are necessary but will come to naught if parallel measures are not taken to restore free flow of the river.

The Ganga is important because her waters have special qualities. Conservation of these special qualities requires that free flow be maintained in the Ganga. The Nagpur based National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) has undertaken a study of the "self-purifying" qualities of the Ganga. There are two kinds of bacteria in the river waters—coliforms and coliphages. Coliforms enter the river from the human excreta. They are very harmful for human health. Coliphages are beneficent bacteria that are created in the river out of her natural processes. The coliphages "eat up" the coliforms and clean the river. There are hundreds of species of coliforms. For each species of coliform there is a particular species of coliphage that will eat it up. If there are, say, 130 species of coliforms in the Ganga, then purifying it requires that 130 species of coliphages also be present so that the coliforms can be destroyed. The wondrous quality of the coliphages in the Ganga is that they are "wide spectrum.' One coliphage has the capacity to attack and destroy many species of coliforms. These coliphages give Ganga a capacity to self-purify itself. NEERI found that such wide spectrum coliphages were not present in any other river of the country that they studied.

These coliphages stick to the sediments in the river. They can lie dormant here for years. They become active when they sense the presence of coliforms. It is necessary for the Ganga to flow freely so that the sediments from the hills are reached across the length of the river and carry the coliphages with them. The water and sediments of Ganga are presently wholly removed at Haridwar and Narora Barrages. Water downstream Narora is wholly from Ramganga and other rivers that do not carry these coliphages. Hence the Ganga below Narora no longer has the self-purifying qualities that was her uniqueness. The small amounts of sediments that may cross the Narora Barrage are trapped at Farakka. These are flushed into the Padma and go to Bangladesh. The Ganga at Kolkata is thus further deprived of the beneficent sediments and coliphages.

Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is dredging the Ganga and making her waters flow in a small channel so that large ships can sail to Patna and Varanasi. Dredging further disturbs the natural flow of sediments. NEERI has concluded that making of the Tehri Dam will not harm the coliphages because they flow with the river water as it is released from the dam. That logic does not apply to the downstream barrages such as at Narora where the entire water of the Ganga is removed. There is no flow from Narora hence no possibility of coliphages reaching downstream. It is necessary to reestablish free flow of the Ganga for the coliphages to spread.

The second negative impact of dams and barrages is on the fish. The Ganga in the plains is home to the famous Hilsa fish. This fish moves upstream in the sweet waters of the Ganga to lay eggs. The hatchlings flow down with the Ganga to the sea. Here they become adult fish. Then they take the same journey upstream to lay eggs. This upstream movement of the Ganga has been blocked by the Farakka Barrage. As a result the Hilsa is no longer found upstream of Farakka. Previously it was found up to Allahabad. Similarly, the Mahseer moves upstream into the higher mountains to lay eggs. Her path has been obstructed by the barrages and dams at Haridwar, Chilla, Tehri and Srinagar. As a result the size of this fish is becoming smaller. Fish are important for cleaning the Ganga because they are at the head of the food chain. The lower organisms eat up the pollution and clean the Ganga. Decline of these fish means that the lower organisms are also dying. As a result the Ganga is not being cleaned by the fish any longer.

Thousands of people died in the 2013 disaster at Kedarnath. Dead bodies of these unfortunate pilgrims have been buried in the sediments accumulated behind the Srinagar Dam. Water of the Ganga carrying the spiritual charges cohabits with these dead bodies behind the dam. There is no study of these impacts but common sense indicates that the "living" waters of the Ganga would scarcely be happy living with the dead. The wide spectrum coliphages, the fish and the spiritual charges of the Ganga waters impart the unique qualities to the Ganga. These all can only be conserved if there is free flow in the river.

The NDA-I Government accomplished the making of the Tehri Dam and blocking the free flow of the Bhagirathi, which is a tributary of the Ganga. The Vishnu Prayag hydroelectric project on the Alaknanda was also constructed at that time. Now NDA-II wants to do better. This Government is determined to destroy the free flow of the Ganga remaining in the hills as well as in the plains. The Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC) is a Public Sector Undertaking owned by the Ministry of Power of the Union Government. THDC had started the construction of another dam on the Alaknanda at Pipalkoti in January 2014. The NDA-II Government has done nothing to stop the construction of this darn by its own company. The IWAI under Ministry of Shipping is planning to ply large ships on the Ganga to move heavy cargo from Haldia to Allahabad. IWAI has taken a loan from the World Bank to make the Detailed Project Report for this purpose. The project involves large scale dredging that will disturb the sediments carrying the wide spectrum coliphages, habitat of the remaining fish and disturb the spiritual charges of the waters of the Ganga. IWAI is also considering whether to build a number of barrages between Allahabad and Buxar to raise the level of water so that large ships can ply. The Government must put a stop to these steps that harm free flow of the Ganga.

Vol. 48, No. 33, Feb 21 - 27, 2016