By Kul Bhushan
Tens of thousands of Hindus come to India from many corners of the globe every year solely for Mother Ganga. Some come to submerge the ashes of their beloved in the holy river for salvation. In a few weeks, hundreds of NRIs will visit the river goddess to perform annual 'shraddhs', or prayers for the departed souls of their loves ones. Most devout Hindus visit the river to take a holy dip to wash away their sins.
But Mother Ganga has been silently dying for over 25 years. Today she is dying at the place she was born. At Gaumukh, the glacier is shrinking 20 metres every year due to global warming. At this rate, warn geologists, the Ganga would be dead in a thousand years. On a recent visit, I saw the Ganga waters clear, blue and white at Rishikesh. Just 20 km away, at Haridwar, this nectar from the gods is muddy and red as the river gets polluted and lacks oxygen.
Downstream from here onwards, the waters get really dirty and polluted. Millions bathe in it every year, cremate their dead on the riverbank, push in half-burnt corpses, bathe their animals, carcasses, and throw plastic bags with garlands and ash as offering to their 'mother'. Cities, towns and villages on its banks dump their garbage and empty their sewers. Across the plains, the industries on its banks deposit huge amounts of toxic residues and chemical wastage while pesticide residues come from riverside farms. Gradually, its water becomes severely polluted and contaminated with bacteria.
For almost 25 years, many attempts have been made by the government of India, the state governments and NGOs to clean the Ganga but with limited results. The box office success of Raj Kapoor's film "Ram Teri Ganga Maili" in 1985, the sex appeal of its actress Mandakini and its popular songs could not rescue the river over the last two decades.
"In its 2,525-km flow, the Ganga passes through 29 cities and 70 towns," said Vijay Bhatkar, a noted Indian scientist. "It is alarming to see the Ganga getting polluted in its course, progressively more in every kilometre it surges through. Recognising the great importance of the Ganga, the Indian government launched the Ganga Action Plan in 1985. Although there have been some noteworthy successes in this project, it is highly alarming to see that even after 20 years of the Ganga Action Plan being in force, the Ganga still remains polluted."
The Ganga Action Plan, funded by international donors, has achieved limited success with its 261 programmes across the entire length and breadth of the river. Under this plan, the upper regions of the Gangotri glacier are being reforested and the river is being cleaned. In February this year, a protest march was held to urge the president and the prime minister of India to form a high-powered committee to save the Ganga and the Himalayas. Nothing has been heard of this initiative since then.
Clearly a new global initiative is urgently needed in the new century to save this soul of India. The NRIs with their networking and teamwork could be the saviours. The expertise, knowledge and experience of eminent NRI scientists, environmentalists, engineers and experts in every field working all over the globe are sorely required to provide professional inputs for this mammoth task.
The powerful Hindu NRI organisations in the US, Britain, the Middle East, East Africa and the Far East can launch, coordinate and implement this project in this era of internet and instant response. If these NRI organisations can spend millions of dollars to construct beautiful temples across the globe, they can also pitch in their resources to save the most sacred river for all Hindus.
This integrated 'Save Ganga' project can embark on cleaning the Ganga from its source, Gaumukh, to Ganga Sagar where it flows into the Bay of Bengal. In this challenging task, the professional advice and guidance from NRIs is crucial as they have the latest and the appropriate knowledge and solutions on how to tackle this task.
At every NRI conference, NRI professionals offer their knowledge to serve India; here is an environment project that is also spiritually very precious. More than telling the mystical stories of the origins of this sacred river as part of their heritage to their children, it is better to contribute in some form to save the river that is in dire distress. Now Mother Ganga calls NRIs in desperation to save her urgently. Will NRIs respond?
(A media consultant to a UN Agency, Kul Bhushan previously worked abroad as a newspaper editor and has travelled to over 55 countries. He lives in New Delhi and can be contacted at: [email protected])