'Holy rivers' has rather become a myth today. According to a report of the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) all the fourteen big rivers of India are badly polluted. They cover 85 per cent of the surface flow of water in the country.
The main pollutant of river water is industrial waste. River Jamuna in Delhi receives 6000 kg of dissolved solids, 3000 kg of heavy metals and 200 kg of detergent every day. In its 48 km stretch around Delhi Yamuna gets polluted through 17 drains that bring toxics, acids and a number of chemicals that affect the health of the river and consequently of all those who depend on it for drinking and bathing water.
The Ganga starts getting polluted by chemicals from Rishikesh itself. It receives effluents from the Indian Drug and Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (IDPL) and Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. (BHEL). The flow of toxic effluents including chemicals, metallurgic deposits and fertilizers to river Periyar in Kerala is so great that the people living on its banks have a high incidence of skin diseases.
Cauvery and Kapila in Karnataka are so polluted that in a stretch of 10 km of the banks of Cauvery people suffer badly from skin diseases, boils and burning sensation. Cauvery receives industrial wastes from Tamil Nadu. The story of Godavari is no different. It receives 4,500 gallons of toxic waste everyday from Andhra Paper Mills alone. Plankton on which fish live has been dying in large numbers in the river. Similarly Hooghly and Damodar, receive untreated waste from coal washeries, pulp and paper mills, steel mills and chemical industries in Bengal.
Hooghly receives industrial wastes of 150 big factories including jute mills, textile mills, paper and pulp factories, distilleries and tanneries. Even the fish have been greatly contaminated causing bone diseases and arthritis among those who eat fish in the area. The waste of fertilizer plant and Indian Oil Corporation flowing into Mahi Sagar in Gujarat has killed fish, cattle and even elephants.
Human and animal excreta flow to all the rivers in India. As it is untreated it is responsible for almost all water borne diseases. Untreated sewage flows into the Jamuna in Delhi through 17 open drains. Chambal a Tributary of the Jamuna is the most polluted river in Rajasthan. The people between Rajpura and Nagda suffer from acute skin diseases because of water pollution.
Efforts have been made to remove the pollution of the Ganga through the efforts of Central Ganga Authority (CGA). No serious efforts have been made anywhere else. Three things are essential to let the rivers flow as pure as they were in the past.
All industries in the cities on the banks of rivers should, under strict vigilance, treat their effluents before the water flows to the river. Municipalities and Corporations should have treating centers for their drain water. These will provide energy besides supplying pure water to the rivers.
No government efforts can make the rivers unpolluted if the common man has no consciousness how to keep the rivers too unpolluted as he keeps his house neat and clean. Non Government Organizations (NGO) can play an important role in educating the people both in cities and the rural areas.