Ganga Promise: Walk the Ghats, but Don’t Take Dip
Varanasi: Clean Ganga may not be the top political issue in Varanasi this election, but it surely is a promise strong enough to find resonance in conversations of a meditative city that suddenly has to cope with construction activity round every second bend.
The dusts of change that fill the air settle down in the openings to the 84-odd famed ghats of the city, which exemplify this change best. You can hope to walk seamlessly from one ghat to another without shrouding yourself in dust or other waste. Modern stainless steel dustbins dot these paths and garbage seems to be going right where it should. There are still some patches with standing urine or cattle dung, but mostly the ghats have been transformed into walkable public spaces with clean seating overlooking the holy river.
Not many would have believed this possible till May 2014, when Varanasi elected Narendra Modi as its Lok Sabha representative. In keeping with the prime minister’s election promise, ghat cleanliness is clearly in mission mode, with the Varanasi municipal corporation and the Centre’s National Mission on Clean Ganga (NMCG) working in tandem.
This change, however, stops short of the holy river. The Namami Gange project to cleanse the Ganga of severe pollution is yet to make an impact. The pollution levels in the river stay unchanged mainly because faecal coliform levels are still as high as ever Trash skimmers were withdrawn in two months as the arrangement proved financially unsustainable; 8 boats help clean water surface near Rajendra Prasad Ghat — 70 times higher than CPCB’s permissible outdoor bathing limit. At Varuna Confluence, the figure was a staggering 3,10,00,000 per 100 ml.
There are 50,000-60,000 daily bathers in the Ganga in Varanasi, and many feel a stink that they ignore, hoping faith will give them protection. As per the NMCG website, the government has deployed trash skimmers – machines that collect floating debris off the river surface – in Varanasi. But you won’t find one. Varanasi’s municipal commissioner Shrihari Pratap Shahi told ET that trash skimmers were withdrawn within two months as the arrangement proved unsustainable. “Now we ply eight boats which help clean water surface,” he said. NMCG on its website also claims to have sanctioned three crematoria in the city, but they are yet to come up. The sole electric cre- The National Mission on Clean Ganga on its website claims to have sanctioned three crematoria, but they are yet to come up The sole electric crematorium at Harishchandra Ghat operates if and when anyone does agree to choose it over the traditional pyre Experts blame the lack of progress on frequent leadership changes at the NMCG and the lack of coordination among authorities