Ganga is much cleaner now but it will take more than a lockdown for people to be able to drink from India’s holiest river

  • According to the Central Pollution Control Board, the nationwide lockdown imposed on March 25 has helped improve the quality of Ganga water.
  • In some stretches of the river, CPCB claims, the water has become “fit for drinking”.
  • Some other factors that helped in improvement include good snowfall which is melting snow, no sand mining activities, no tourist activity among others.

As the world fights coronavirus, nature is slowly showing positive signs of healing itself after years of disruption. This change can also be seen in India’s most worshipped river Ganga in Haridwar.

According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the nationwide lockdown imposed on March 25 improved the quality of Ganga water. Moreover, in some stretches of the river, CPCB claims, the water has become “fit for drinking”.

The Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Board claims that there has been a 34% reduction in faecal coliform (human excreta) and a 20% reduction in biochemical oxygen demand at Har-ki-Pauri, in April. For the first time since the formation of Uttarakhand, the river water has ranked in Class A (which has a pH balance of 6.5 to 8.5). It ranked in class B — which means the water is fit only for bathing — for over two decades.

“One of the primary reasons for this could be no industrial activity in the region. Moreover, all the hotels along Ganga between Haridwar and Uttarkashi are closed, which means less untreated sewage entering the river, less water being taken away,” environment activist and water expert Himanshu Thakkar said.

The other factors that helped the improvement include a good snowfall which is melting snow, lack of sand mining and tourist activity. However, there are several other factors that decide the quality of water including pH level, taste and odour, Thakkar added. Some of which are listed below.

What defines clean drinking water in India?

Characteristics Requirement (Acceptable Limit)Permissible Limit in the Absence of Alternate Source
Colour, Hazen units, Max515
OdourAgreeable Agreeable
pH value6.5 - 8.5No relaxation
Turbidity, NTU, Max15
Total dissolved solids, mg/i5002000
Source: Bureau of Indian Standards

Changes will be reversed after lockdown ends

While this is a good sign of change, this may reverse as soon as the lockdown is lifted.

“Yes, it is true that the water quality of several rivers including Ganga has improved because of the reduction in chemical pollutants. However, post-lockdown these rivers will again become polluted,” said Ashish Jain, founder and director of Indian Pollution Control Association.

Some experts believe narrowing down industrial activities alone won’t help clean the river properly.

“The nationwide lockdown has led to marginal no industrial activity, which has further resulted in clear water flowing in the rivers. However, this water is still not fit for drinking purposes and needs to go through a process. Moreover, sewage from domestic sources is still significantly polluting the rivers. To ensure that the water is clean in the long run, we must connect our houses to the sewage treatment plants,” said Kangkanika Neog from Council on Energy Environment and Water (CEEW).

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