Wednesday 14 November 2018

Ganges to get armed police force to prevent pollution

Hindu devotees dry their clothes after taking a dip at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna, and Saraswati (AP)
Hindu devotees dry their clothes after taking a dip at Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna, and Saraswati (AP)

Saptarshi Ray

Armed police may be assigned to protect India's holy River Ganges from pollution and misuse, under new government proposals to save the river from further degradation.

A draft bill has proposed the creation of a 'Ganga [Ganges] Protection Corps', with a mandate to arrest polluters of the sewage-stricken watercourse that runs through eleven states.

The bill aims to return the Ganges - that provides drinking and irrigation water for about 500 million people - to its "pristine stage and ensure its uninterrupted flow".

Offences punishable under the bill include "spoiling or defacing ... stairs" leading to the water, or "throwing any offensive matter" in the river. Other offences include "stone quarrying, commercial fishing without permission, deforesting hill slopes, withdrawing groundwater for organised consumption through tube wells".

Despite the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers being sacred to Hindus and being a source of water for washing, drinking, commerce and fishing, hundreds of miles of both are filled with toxic levels of chemicals and raw sewage.

Successive pledges by governments to tackle the problem have yielded little real progress. And critics say this bill is just more window dressing.

The plans were drawn up days before the death of the green activist and spiritual leader Professor GD Agarwal, who died after a prolonged hunger strike over the state of the river.

The 'Hindustan Times' reported that the government claimed Prof Agarwal had seen the proposals before his death.

But Mallika Bhanot, of the NGO Ganga Ahwaan, said the major issues are dredging and dams.

Irish Independent

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