Nature and the Ganga by M.E.(Roorkee), Ph.D.(IIT Kanpur) Professor (Environmental), Department of Civil Engineering, University ofRoorkee, Roorkee 247 667, U.P., India. DEVENDRA SWAROOP BHARGAVA, of independent India) picturesquely put it, 'the Ganga is a symbol and memory of the past of India, running into the present, and flowing on to the great ocean of the future'. The secular concept of the holy Ganga has been repeatedly manifested. Thus the famous seventh-century Chinese traveller Hyun T
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  Nature and the Ganga by DEVENDRA SWAROOP BHARGAVA,  M.E.(Roorkee), Ph.D.(IIT Kanpur) Professor (Environmental),Department of Civil Engineering,University ofRoorkee,Roorkee 247  667,  U.P., India. THE GANGA'S ORIGIN AND SIGNIFICANCE The Ganga (Ganges), the most significant river of theIndo-Gangetic plain, srcinating from the Uttrakhand Hi-malayan glacier in Tehri-Garhwal (Uttar Pradesh) at 'Gau-mukh' ('the Cow Head', 3,900 m above mean sea-level),reaches 'Gangotri', where a statue of the Goddess 'GangaMata' (the 'Mother Ganges') is installed in a small temple.While falling into 'Gauri Kund' (3,100 m above mean sea-level), the Ganga makes a unique, scenic fall of  30  m—theonly fall in its entire length of 2,525 km from Gaumukh tothe Bay of Bengal. The Ganga swirls through deep gorgesalong a meandering course as an upland river under thename of Bhagirathi (after Bhagirath)*, criss-crossingmountainous terrain of great scenic beauty and touchingmany holy places with temple complexes developed by theancient 'Rishis' (Saints) at vantage points along itsbanks.After its confluence with the Alakananda, at Devprayag,the Ganga finally takes its name, continuing its mountai-nous course before emerging as a river of the plains atRishikesh. With waters famous for their medicinal values,it flows across the length of Uttar Pradesh  via  Haridwar,Narora, Kannauj, and Kanpur, to Prayag (Allahabad).Here it is joined by another 'holy' river, the Yamuna(which srcinates from 'Yamnotri', also in the UttrakhandHimalaya, and runs an almost parallel course). The con-fluence spot at Allahabad is called 'Sangam', and is wheremillions of pilgrims from all over India come to bathe onthe occasion of'Kumbh Mela' (Singh, 1974, 1980) everytwelfth year (Fig. 1).From Allahabad, the Ganga flows to Varanasi (Kashi orBanaras, associated with ancient Hindu religion and cul-ture) on its way to Calcutta  via  Patna (Patliputra of ancienttimes), where the longest bridge (5,575 m) in the world wasrecently constructed. The Ganga bifurcates near Calcuttainto the Bhagirathi (Hooghly) and the Padma, both ofwhich flow into the Bay of Bengal at Gangasagar. Theinternational character of the Ganga is manifested by itslast stretches belonging to Bangladesh.The Ganga River has come to symbolize Indian cultureand civilization from very ancient times right up to thepresent. As Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (first Prime Minister * Indian mythology has it that the Ganga, the eldest daughter ofHimavat (Himalayas), was brought down from the Heavens in theform of a river. Because of its supposed descent from the Heavens,Hindus regard the Ganga as the mother of all Indian rivers and asthe purest, holiest, and most sacred, water-stream of the world,and consider that a dip in it or imbibition of its holy water wouldpurge away their sins, and ensure their 'moksha' (salvation). of independent India) picturesquely put it, 'the Ganga is asymbol and memory of the past of India, running into thepresent, and flowing on to the great ocean of the future'.The secular concept of the holy Ganga has been repeatedlymanifested. Thus the famous seventh-century Chinesetraveller Hyun Tsang described Haridwar on the banks ofthe Ganga as a holy place, and the Hindi epic 'RamcharitManas' (the Ramayan) was written by the saintly poetTulsidas on the banks of the Ganga at Assighat in Varanasiin the sixteenth century, while his contemporary, theMoghul Emperor Akbar (1542-1605), regarded the Gan-ga's water as nectar or drink of the gods 'Amrit'. As one ofits 108 names suggests, the Ganga is '... a mine of nectar',while to quote again the late Prime Minister Nehru, it is'the symbol of Indian culture and tradition', such that 'mydesire to have a handful of my ashes thrown into the Gangaat Allahabad has no religious significance' (Singh, 1974,1980).Over the ages, the Ganga (revered by all Hindus as'Ganga Mata') has come to be associated with religious andsocial connotations that tended to obscure its great eco-nomic and practical exploitation, such as for agriculture(for which purpose, the British engineers had designed andbuilt the Indian canal system), industry, pisciculture, nav-igation, wastewater disposal, drinking-water supply, andrecreational uses. All the same, the religious importancecan hardly be overemphasized, as the Ganga has becomenear-synonymous with Hindu religion and culture. Peoplealong its entire course use its waters for religious bathing,drinking, morning ablutions, and culinary purposes, beingseemingly unaware of the quality status of the river water, FIG.  1.  A view of he 1986 Kumbh Mela at the Main Bathing  Ghat at Har-Ki-Peri in Haridwar. 307 Environmental  Conservation,  Vol. 14, No. 4, Winter 1987-© 1987 The Foundation for Environmental Conservation-Printed in Switzerland.  308 Environmental  Conservation and apparently without realizing that the Ganga water hasnow been badly fouled. SPECIAL QUALITIES OF THE GANGA As already indicated, the Ganga has a unique place andstatus among Indian rivers, such that the quality of itswater constitutes the main theme of this paper.The source of water in the Ganga is mainly from snow-melts, though in that sense it is little different from severalother Indian rivers. The Author has done extensive experi-mental work as well as made theoretical studies on theGanga River, expecially in regard to its extraordinary  self- purifying abilities—which, very interestingly, is a verydeep-rooted and traditional belief amongst the Hindus.Some of the traditional and religious practices, such as thecollection and preservation of the 'Ganga Jal' (Ganga wat-er) in closed containers of metal, glass, plastic, or othermaterials (in which the 'Ganga Jal' does not putrefy evenafter prolonged periods of storage). This is because of theGanga's high content of dissolved oxygen (DO), extraordi-narily high rate of reaeration, long DO-retention abilities,and the very fast assimilation of the putrefiable organicmatter that has been discharged into the Ganga River.The Author's recent research, using state-of-the-artscientific methods for the Ganga River survey and its wat-er-quality analysis, have corroborated many of the tradi-tionally-believed myths about the Ganga. His studies havebecome all the more relevant in the context of  the  currenthigh level of pollution in the Ganga (for example, in termsof the biochemical oxygen demand [BOD], the GangaRiver water's BOD at Haridwar, Kanpur, and Varanasi,was found to vary in the respective ranges of 6-8 mg/1,20-27 mg/1, and 9-10 mg/1, while the count of coliformBacteria at Kanpur may reach as high a figure as 10 7 ). Thestudies are also significant in view of the Government ofIndia's determination to restore the Ganga River to some-thing like its former pristine state.* THE DEFILED GANGA The Ganga  gets  naturally polluted by rain-water bringingin atmospheric impurities; by storm-wash and swampdrainage carrying impurities from the exposed rock, soil,and plant, materials; by forms of aquatic life; by infiltra-tion of ground-water containing materials from the sub-soil strata when the ground-water table is about a metre ormore higher than the River's water-level; etc. Bhargava, 1978,  19836, 1984a, 1984/ 1985/z; Basin... Assessment...,1982-83). The Man-made sources of pollution, however,cause more significant pollution of the River when thewastewaters emanating from the various activities of Manenter the Ganga through point sources (wastewater enter-ing from drains and defined outlet-points) than from con-tinuous or non-point sources (wastewater entering theRiver through undefined clusters of sources along a givenstretch).The wastewaters of various kinds emanate from varioushuman activities such as domestic (sewage and othermicrobe-containing wastes), industrial (different kinds ofpollutants generated from a great variety of industrialactivities), mining (including acidic drainage from aban-doned mines), nuclear (radioactive wastewaters generatedin nuclear power-plants; also in medical, industrial, andresearch, laboratories), navigation (wastewater and oil-spills from vessels), construction, etc. (Bhargava, 1978,1978-796, 1978-79c, 1984/ 1985/z, 1986g).In addition to the above sources of pollution, the con-struction of hydroelectric power-plants and dams on theGanga has defiled the scenic background and surroundingenvironment, and has even affected the flow of the Ganga.But this kind of defilement is perhaps a necessary evil inview of the importance and usefulness of such construc-tions, and will have to be accepted.The Ganga basin accounts for some  25%  of India's landsurface and involves about 33% of its population. TheGanga receives domestic and industrial wastewaters fromabout 100 large or small cities and towns during its 2,525-km journey from its source to the ocean through the threemajor Indian states of Uttar Pradesh (U.P.), Bihar, andWest Bengal. The  27  major towns along the Ganga contrib-ute as much as 902 million litres of wastewaters per day.Haridwar, Kanpur, Varanasi, Patna, and Calcutta, are thefive biggest culprits, which respectively account for theestimated 15, 150, 120, 50, and 150, million litres of was-tewaters per day that flow or are thrown into the Ganga. AtCalcutta, about 550 million litres of wastewaters per day donot flow into the Ganga because of the city's slope towardsthe East.* Patna is the only city situated on the Gangawhich treats almost all of its wastewater before dischargingit into the River.An ironical aspect of the situation has been the extraor-dinary lack of civic sense on the part of the planners andadministrators who had permitted such 'raw' wastewaters'discharge—even just on the upstream side of the many holyghatsf of towns and cities situated on the Ganga (Fig.  2).  Asa result, the Ganga remains bacterially contaminated (thecoliform Bacteria [expressed as MPN/100 ml] givingcounts as high as 2,400/100 ml) around many of its holyghats (Bhargava, 1985/z; Bose & Datta, 1985). In the entirestretch of about 100 km within the Calcutta MetropolitanDistrict, the coliform Bacteria (expressed as MPN/100 ml)were found to vary from  10 4  to  4 x  10 5 .  The holy and sacredGanga of the Hindus could easily have remained relativelyclean at the  ghats  simply by having  the  wastewater-carryingdrains diverted to the downstream side of the importantghats where unaesthetic sights and sewage disposal couldhave been far less objectionable.The Author's one-man water-quality survey of theGanga (Bhargava, 1983/ 1983& 1984/ 19854 1985/z) wasundertaken from upstream of Rishikesh to downstream ofVaranasi (cf. Fig.  3)  during the summer and winter months,to investigate such aspects as the reasons for variations inwater quality of the Ganga, the related implications for the * Even in the manner of Britain's River Thames in London, therecent story of which should interest our Indian friends.—Ed.*  See  also the paper entitled 'Ecological History of Calcutta'sWetland Conversion', by Dr Dhrubajyoti Ghosh & Susmita Sen,published on pages 219-26 of our Autumn issue.—Ed.t Ghat  =  stepped platform constructed along the bank of a riverwhere people can bathe and take a dip and imbibe some holy waterfrom the river for their religious rites, and also a place meant forperforming religious ceremonies by the Hindus along some holy  Bhargava: Nature and the Ganga 309 FIG.  2.  View of  a crowded  ghat  where  pilgrims are bathing andperforming their  religions  rights. various beneficial uses of the water, the self-purifying abil-ities of the Ganga water and related phenomena; also towork out a suitable strategy for controlling the Ganga'spollution. The Author travelled to monitor the water qual-ity of the Ganga, carrying portable equipment such as theportable-sized incubators, pressure cookers, balance Dial-O-Gram, conductivity meter, galvanic cell oxygen analys-er, pre-calibrated turbidity disc, thermometers, etc., to-gether with the necessary glassware, chemicals, and otheraccessories, carefully packed into boxes for transportationto the various sampling-stations along the Ganga.A temporary laboratory was set up at each sampling-station. Monitoring for some of the water-quality variablescould be done directly on the spot, but for the remainingparameters, river-water samples were collected for analysisin the temporary laboratories (Bhargava, 1983/ 1985/;) bythe standard methods (APHA, 1971). The turbidity andsuspended solids were interpreted indirectly from a meas-urement of the depth of light-penetration (DLP), for whichpurpose a 10-cm-diameter weighted metal disc, colouredred and white in alternate quadrants and duly pre-cali-brated, was used (Bhargava, 1983a, 1983/ 1985/*). Such adisc was considered superior to the standard  Secchi  discfrom the points of view of visibility and maintaining avertical position in the flowing river  water.  The DLP is thedepth in centimetres of this disc below the water's surfaceat which it just becomes invisible (Bhargava, 1983a). Ahigher figure for DLP manifested a higher clarity of theGanga water. A mathematical model correlating the wat-er's BOD with the DLP and the river's velocity was alsoevolved (Bhargava, 1983a).The Author also used the imaging  type  of remote-sensingtechniques (Bhargava, 1982a , 1983& 1985a, 1985e, 1986/19876) for monitoring the water quality of the Ganga Riverby using very-low-altitude photographs apparently for thefirst time (Bhargava, 1983g). The photographs of the wat-er's surface at each sampling-point were taken in order to 788286°30 28 26 LEGEND .Use Ho. Permissible use Legendu/s = Upstreamd/s = DownstreamReligious bathing, -drinking withouttreatmentPublic water supplies ãPisci-cultureIndustrial ãAgri cultural Scale  1:5 000 000 0 100 200 300 km   I.I.I 30   8° 26° 86°88° FIG.  3.  Sketch-map  showing positions  of main centres, with  graphical presentation  of the  various  beneficial uses that can be  considered permissible in the studied  reaches  of the Ganga.  310 Environmental  Conservation correlate the photographic optical density (POD, deter-mined from an analysis of the photographs  [using the  DU-2Bechmann Spectrophotometer]) with the conventionalpollutional parameters such as the River's BOD and tur-bidity  {Idem). The observations of  the  various water-quality paramet-ers as the upstream and downstream ends of the samplingstations are presented for both the seasons (summer andwinter) in Table I. The BOD at Patna and Calcutta (Dia-mond Harbour) is reported to be 1.2 mg/1 and 1.3 mg/1,respectively (Basin... Assessment, 1982-83). The Author'sreported BOD values at other locations along the Gangatally closely with the values reported by the Central Boardfor the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, NewDelhi  (idem). The water quality of the Ganga undergoes significantchanges owing to seasonal effects, confluence with tribu-taries, and entry of wastewaters at the various urbancentres all along its course. The clarity of the Ganga wasseen to be higher (DLP in the 70-120-cm range) in theupland parts of the River in the winter months than thesummer ones, owing to the infiltration of the clean ground-water and springs that largely constitute the River in thewinter months.* On the other hand the River's clarity wasvery low in the summer months (DLP around  6— 8  cm)when the snow-melt runoffs constituting the major river-flow carried a considerable load of suspended sedimentinto the River's summer flow (Bhargava, 1984/ 1985/0-Downstream of the wastewater outfall points, however,river clarity was seen to improve from the bioflocculationand subsequent sedimentation that takes place in theGanga (Bhargava, 1982ft , 1983c, 1986ft, 1986c).An upswing in the Ganga's temperature characterizedthe wastewater (of slightly higher temperature) outfallpoints, though such upswings at the urban centres were lessmarked, owing to evaporative and radiative cooling (Bhar-gava, 1984/ 1985/;). The BOD of the Ganga was higher inthe summer months (as is apparent from the summer *  and, one would think, a likely lack of phytoplankton.—Ed.downstream BOD values of  7.2  mg/1  at Haridwar, 27 mg/1at Kanpur, and 10 mg/1 at Varanasi, against the winterdownstream BOD values of  6.6  mg/1,  20  mg/1,  and 9 mg/1,at these locations, respectively), due  inter alia  to thereduced flow of the Ganga in the summer months (Bhar-gava, 1983/ 1984/  1985/1,  1986e). A  region's ground-water quality plays a significant  role  inaltering the character of a river (Bhargava, 1983ft), and suchan influence was noticed in the Ganga through the ob-served concentrations of 'conservative' variables such asthe conductivity, chlorides, hardness, etc. (Bhargava,1984/ 1985/0- For example, in the Ganga's upper reachfrom Haridwar to Narora, the (averaged upstream anddownstream) rise in conductivity and hardness was, re-spectively, 50 m mhos/cm and 26 mg/1 in the winter, asagainst the respective rise of 25 m mhos/cm and  16 mg/1  inthe summer, showing the influence of the ground-waterinfiltration during the winter months. Such an alteration ina river's quality could be more pronounced when the riverflows alongside or through towns utilizing very large quan-tities of the ground-water for various purposes and practi-cally all of such water enters the river as spent water (Bhar-gava, 1983ft).The coliform Bacteria MPN and total plate-count (TPC)concentrations had shown an increase at the wastewateroutfall points along the Ganga, but their concentrationswere significantly reduced (by up to about 90%) withinshort distances, as a result of their natural dying out andgetting enmeshed in the settling 'floes' (Bhargava, 1984/1985/;). More comprehensive discussions of the qualityvariations of the Ganga's water, along with reasons for andimplications resulting from them, have already been pre-sented elsewhere (Bhargava, 1982/ 1983<>, 1983/ 1984/1985/z; Chaudhuri  et al,  1986). CLASSIFICATION OF THE GANGA The various impurities entering the Ganga are expressedas concentrations of pollutants that have been broadlygrouped into: physical (temperature, turbidity, colour, TABLE I Observations for the Water Quality Along the Ganga  (Bhargava, 1983/ 1984/ 1985/;). Temperature Depth of light Dissolved Biochemical Conductivity(Ambient) Penetration Oxygen Oxygen Demand(DLP) (DO) (BOD,, 30  °C) °C cm mg/1 ing/I m mhos/cmSummer Winter Summer Winter Summer Winter Summer Winter Summer WinterLocation RishikeshHaridwarNaroraKannaujKanpurAllahabadVaranasiupstreamdownstreamupstreamdownstreamupstreamdownstreamupstreamdownstreamupstreamdownstreamupstreamdownstreamupstreamdownstream ;» 22 18 20 v 30 29 l 28 29   27   29 l 31 30   27 31   13, 5 23 1 29 9 30 J 3D 1 31 : i7 18 20^ 161618172428392219183135737811792647023283637352825344441 7.57.4 6.0 5.97.5 5.8 7.67.7 8.58.2 8.0 7.8 7.2 4.2 10.027.0 6.06.8 4.0 10.0 4.67.4 20.0 9.0 130100150155180147301315287293406406494515140140170160210220300320300350320380400410
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