The Ganga, the most sacred and worshipped river of the Hindus, is now one of the most polluted rivers of the country. Twenty-five big cities located along its bank generated 1,340 mid sewage over 95 per cent of the same entered the river without being treated prior to the Ganga Action Plan (GAP). Out of the total length of the river (2,525 km) for Gangotri to Gangasagar about 600 km long stretch is highly polluted.

This pollution is due to the dumping of city garbage, industrial effluents, human and animal ex­creta, agricultural wastes, pesticides, burning of human bodies, community bathing and faulty social and religious practices. According to an estimate about 19,659 tons of polluted matters enter the river every year of which 55.4 per cent is contributed by Uttar Pradesh and 18.8 per cent by West Bengal (Lakshmi & Srivastava, Vijyart, Jan-March 1986).

According to a study of the Central Board for Pres­ervation and Control of Water Pollution the long stretches of the Ganga near Kanpur and Varanasi are unsuitable for any beneficial human use. The water quality is generally good (‘B’ type) up to Bithoor, except near the city of Kannauj where polluted water from the Kali river and city sewage combine to exceed the assimilation capacity of the river.

At Kanpur due to heavy influx of industrial waste and city sewage the quality drops down to ‘D’ and ‘E’, so as to reach ‘B’ (November-March) and ‘C’ (April- October) category near Allahabad. Again as the Ganga-reaches Varanasi it almost recovers its defi­ciency to reach ‘B’, but heavy pollution through city drains reduces the quality to ‘D’ and ‘E’ categories making it unfit for human use (Northern India Patrika, Feb. 1, 1982).


At Haridwar although the Ganga is consid­ered to be the least polluted but the pollution starts from Rishikesh itself where industrial wastes from Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) have pol­luted the water. The disposal of industrial wastes from the Indian Drug Production Ltd. (IDPL) adds to the problem. About 15 large and small sewage drains discharge about 42 mid municipal sewage into the river. Community bathing discharges milk pots bunches of flowers and leaves etc. into the river.

Pollution gets accentuated sharply during Kumbh (every 12 years) when up to 5 million devotees de­scend on the small town to bathe in the holy river. Most of the river water is drained out to irrigation canals at Haridwar which also reduces the pollution absorbing capacity of the river.

At Kanpur the story of the Ganga becomes more pathetic. Here more than 200 million liters of waste water is discharged daily into the river through 16 major drains. Chromium-rich from about 300 tanneries pose a serious problem. Besides tanneries, industrial wastes from cotton and woolen textile mills, jute mills, distilleries, sugar mills, paper and pulp mills and factories manufacturing synthetic chemicals like D.D.T., pesticides etc. are discharged into the Ganga.

According to Kumra (1982) per liter of Ganga water near Kanpur contains 66.3 to 173.0 mg of solids, 9.33 to 17.37 mg of chloride concentra­tion, 3.05 to 5.5 mg of dissolved oxygen (DO), 2.86 to 30.33 mg of biological oxygen demand (BOD), and 0.66 to 89.14 mg of chemical oxygen demand (COD). Adding to the woes is the low volume of water in the river during the eight non-monsoon months due to large scale transfer of water into irrigation canals at Haridwar and Narora. Power shortage and power failure impede the work of sewer treatment plants.


At Allahabad, the famous centre of Hindu pilgrimage, 13 drains discharge 112 mid of sewage into Ganga and its tributary Yamuna which contains 32,164 kg of polluted material. According to the chemical analysis made by Ganga Pollution Control Unit, Allahabad per liter of river water contains 155 to 469 mg of suspended solids, 56 to 156 mg of volatile solids, 740 to 1145 mg of dissolved solids, 14 to 18 mg of sulphates, 4 to 6 mg of phosphate, 208 to 480 mg of COD, 136 to 340 mg of BOD and 428 to 688 of CaC03. Besides, the civic wastes from the city industrial effluents from Naini industrial area and Phulpur fertilizer factory are also discharged into the river.

The annual Magli Mela and its 6-year and 12-year Kumbha Mela bring millions of devo­tees to the sacred confluence for holy bath many of which reside for a month in temporary Kumbha city. The community bathing not only degrades the water quality but the temporary camps produce large quan­tity of human excreta (about 250 tons/day on normal days and about 10,800 tons/day on main bathing days) which is dumped into the sand to be washed away during rainy season. The existing sewage treatment plants at Gaughat and Rajapur are not able to cope with the situation.

At Yaranasi the Ganga water becomes highly polluted where 71 large and small sewer drains discharge about 15 million gallons of effluents per day into the river. A problem peculiar to the city arises from the Hindu belief that the dead cremated here attain moksha (salvation). This results into cremation of about 40,000 dead bodies (50% brought from outside) at Manikarnika and Harishchandra burning ghats every year utilising about 15,000 tons of fire wood and throwing out huge quantity of ash, unburnt wood and flesh into the river.

The wood requirement alone leads to the depletion of 1 15 hectares of forests every year besides raising water temperature by 30 to 50°C and reducing the dissolved oxygen by 30 to 50 per cent. This causes deaths of about 134 children every year (Singh 2004, p.445). A number of dead bodies of human beings and animals are straight way thrown into the river.


The community bathing, practice of offering flow­ers and milk, burying human remains and washing clothes aggravate the problem. Consequently the city of Varanasi contributes about one-fourth of the State’s pollutants to the Ganga. Its 400-km sewage system has remained chocked since 1920.

In Bihar the capital city of Patna throws out 100 mid of waste water into the Ganga. The Bata Shoe factory and Mc Dowel Distillery at Mokama discharge 250,000 liters of toxic effluents/every day into Ganga which have adverse effect on the marine life. Fishes die within 5 hours at the site of outfall of drains of Mc Dowel factory. The chemical wastes from the oil refinery of Barauni further worsen the situation. It has led to worse fire killing a number of aquatic organisms.

At Kolkata more than 100 million gallons of urban industrial polluted water is discharged into the Hugli or Bhagirathi River. A 5-km stretch of the river between Bicholi Ghat and Garden Reach has be­come the worst polluted section. People often com­plain stomach trouble, kidney damage, skin dis­eases, and polio, typhoid, jaundice owing to the drinking of polluted water. About 1,500 human deaths were reported from the city due to the use of polluted water.

The Hugli has a peculiar river mechanism under which tide reaches 290 km away from the river mouth upto Nabadwip. This phenomenon adversely affects the dilution process of the pollutants. Most of the towns along the Hugli River neither have proper drainage system nor sewage treatment plants, and those that do, have outdated equipment (The Citi­zens’ Fifth Report, Part I, 1999, p. 100).