Modi’s drive to clean Ganga cosmetic, says Mahant

The filthy ghats on the banks of the Ganga in Varanasi, the constituency of PM Narendra Modi.Photo: Anand Singh

The filthy ghats on the banks of the Ganga in Varanasi, the constituency of PM Narendra Modi.Photo: Anand Singh

On the evening of December 12, Vishwambhar Nath Mishra, dressed in a traditional dhoti, was struggling to make his way through to the famous Dashashwamedh ghat, barely three km from his house.

The ghat was spruced up and illuminated for the Ganga Aarti hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe. The Special Protection Group personnel denied him access, disregarding his VIP ‘pass,’ and directed him through the common gate. Mr. Mishra, the Mahant of the famous Sankat Mochan temple, was shocked and felt humiliated. The officials soon realised their error and tried to make amends. But Mr. Mishra, miffed at the negligence, refused to participate further. He also boycotted Mr. Modi’s banquet, for which he was specially invited.

“If you cannot manage an event, how can you address the problems of the Ganga and Varanasi,” asked Mr. Mishra. He also termed Mr. Modi’s drive to clean the Ganga ‘cosmetic’ as there was no engineering solution in place.

“If Modi was serious about a fair assessment of the situation and concerned about highlighting Varanasi’s woes, he should have taken Abe through broken roads and shown him drains. Not the Aarti,” Mr. Mishra said.

Despite many visits by Mr. Modi to his constituency and publicising of schemes, Mr. Mishra said he had not seen any new approach to clean the Ganga.

“The Ganga Ministry has come up. But nothing concrete has been done. The same obsolete techniques are at play, like installation of pipes. Indiscriminate medication without diagnosis of the disease can be disastrous,” Mr. Mishra said, referring to the numerous proposals slated for Varanasi.

An over-emphasis on a bureaucratic approach and lack of competent officials is a big shortcoming, he said. He is opposed to the plans of converting Kashi into another Kyoto. “It is okay if we adopt some of the good things from Kyoto, like cleanliness. But each city has its own model and spirituality. You cannot tamper with that cultural coding. Varanasi is a living heritage not just buildings and monuments.”

Mr. Mishra traces the problem to the failure of the Ganga Action Plan, launched in 1986. Almost three decades later, the existing infrastructure in Varanasi can only treat 102 Million Litres per Day of discharge. The average discharge stands much higher, at 350 MLD.

The sources of pollution discharge point in the city have grown from 17 to 33.

Even the existing system is flawed and does not have the mechanism to remove faecal coli form (FCC), a form of bacteria, a major source of water-borne diseases, Mr. Mishra said. Treating FCC is what he considers an important part of cleaning the river, which feeds millions. “But there is no talk of this,” he said.

To be fit for bathing, the count of FCC in the river should be within 500/100 ML of water. For drinking, it should be zero. However, the figures are exceedingly high and have not changed much since the Lok Sabha elections. At Tulsi Ghat, which is adjacent to Assi Ghat, where Mr. Modi kicked off his Swachch Bharat campaign, the latest count is 68,000/100 ML.

Downstream, at the Varuna confluence, the situation is much worse; 4 Crore per 100 ML.

The figures are sourced from the Swachch Ganga Research Laboratory, perhaps the only one in Varanasi regularly monitoring water quality, founded by Mr. Mishra’s father, the late Veer Bhadra Mishra.

In 1982, with an aim to clean the Ganga of all sewage, his father founded the Sankat Mochan Foundation. “The raw sewage goes to the Assi and Varuna confluence. Not too long ago, they were 100 percent pure water sources. Each day we consume faecal coli form. If you cannot clean the Ganga, you cannot have any development plan work in Varanasi,” said Mr. Mishra.

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Printable version | Jun 27, 2022 8:09:21 pm |