Ganga Action Plan-A critical analysis
The Ganga River
Ganga is not an ordinary river. It is a life-line, a symbol of purity and virtue for countless
people of India. Ganga is a representative of all other rivers in India. Millions of Ganga
devotees and lovers still throng to the river just to have a holy dip, Aachman (Mouthful
with holy water), and absolve themselves of sins. We Indians are raised to consider
Ganga as a goddess, as sacred. We tell our children and grandchildren the stories of
how she came down to Earth through a lock of Shiva’s hair. The Ganga temples,
countless rituals associated with Ganga and our belief that Ganga is a cleanser par
excellence prove that Ganga has a status of a deity. Hundreds of verses have been
used to extol her glory and greatness. Lord Krishna, Lord Rama, Lord Siva, Lord Vishnu
including great saints like Sri Swami Sivananda, Sri Ramakrishna and others have all
Map of India Showing River Ganga
Ganga is a perennial river which originates as a stream called “Bhagirathi” from
Gaumukh in the Gangotri glacier at 30 ° 55' N, 79 ° 7' E, some 4100 m above mean sea
level. Ganga river basin is the largest among river basins in India and the fourth largest
in the world, with a basin (catchment area) covering 8, 61,404 sq km. It has a total length
of 2,525 km, out of which 1,425 km is in Uttaranchal and UP, 475 km is in Bihar and 625
km is in West Bengal. Already half a billion people live within the river basin, at an
average density of over 500 per sq km, and this population is projected to increase to
over one billion people by the year 2030.
The Ganges plains were first settled by Aryans around 1200 BC and in subsequent
3,200 years of occupation, the landscape of the region has been completely transformed
by generations of agriculturists and the more recent expansion of urban centres and
The Ganga drains 9 states of India. Today, the 2,525 km long river supports 29 class I
cities, 23 class II cities and 48 towns, plus thousands of villages. Nearly all the sewage,
industrial effluent, runoff from chemical fertilizers and pesticides used in agriculture
within the basin, and large quantities of solid waste, including thousands of animals’
carcasses and hundreds of human corpses are dumped in the river everyday.
The inevitable result of this onslaught on the river’s capacity to receive and assimilate
waste has been an erosion of river water quality, to the extent that, by 1970s, large
stretches (over 600 km) of the river were virtually dead from an ecological point of view,
and posed a considerable public health threat to the religious bathers using the river
everyday. The problem of river pollution is further compounded by the over-extraction
and diversion of the river waters at various points (about 47 percent of the country's
irrigated land is in the Ganga basin). The situation is intolerable, primarily because it is a
common practice for Indians to bathe in the ‘holy' waters of Ganga. In addition, a large
number of people living along the river use Ganga water for drinking and other
household purposes. Livelihoods of many people (e.g., fishermen, boatmen, priests etc.)
are also linked with the condition of the river.
The Ganga today is more polluted than when the Ganga Action Plan was first initiated
by the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1986. The fast shrinking glaciers, dams,
barrages, canals and alarmingly high volume of pollution pose an ever increasing threat
to the health and life of the river. The state of Uttar Pradesh alone is responsible for over
50% of the pollutants entering the river along its entire journey to the sea.
The defilement of the river Ganga begins at Rishikesh when the river enters the plains.
The Ganga river water is brown or black in colour from Narora to Varanasi during the
lean months. At Kanpur the water stinks even during the monsoon when the river is
flooded. Since the launching of GAP, things have gone downhill in a big way in Kanpur.
The amount of filth along and in the river still continues unabated. Polybags are tossed
in publicly and casually; piles of refuse tumble down slopes to the river edge. The river is
still the private garbage dump of industries and individuals alike. During the lean period,
the river is so shallow that one can walk through the black muddy waters of the river.
The river is littered with human corpses and animal carcasses throughout its course and
the sight is truly offensive, repulsive, irritating, and disgusting and the oily blue-black
stench of tannery waste is unbearable. These are utmost insults to the holiness of the
river and any idea of purity.
Today there are more than 50 drains carrying raw sewage to the river Ganga and
Yamuna at Allahabad while there were only 13 drains before GAP was launched in
1986. Every Magh mela, Ardha-kumbha, and Kumbha, sadhus and saints protest in
large numbers against the river pollution and boycott the ritual bathings.
Nowhere in Varanasi the Ganga is worth taking a holy dip. The coliform and faecal
coliform count is exceedingly high in the river water. The 84 bathing ghats are
sandwiched between two tributaries, Assi and Varuna, which are now huge sewage
As the Ganga continues to wind its way down towards Kolkata she experiences dozens
of similar assaults that leave her waters fetid and filled with toxins and diseases. The
situation is the same throughout the length of the river.
Ganga Action Plan (GAP)
Inertia in taking action to reduce the level of pollution stemmed largely from a
widespread belief that the Ganga, as a holy river, had the ability to purify all that came
into contact with it. Although there is some scientific evidence for the Ganga river’s high
capacity to assimilate (i.e. biodegrade) a large level of organic waste input, including
pathogens, but no river can sustain its self-purifying power with this kind of over-use,
misuse and abuse of its waters.
The Ganga Action Plan (GAP) originated from the personal intervention and interest of
our late Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi who had directed the Central Board for the
Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, now Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)
to do a comprehensive survey of the situation in 1979. CPCB published two
comprehensive reports which formed the base for GAP in Oct 1984 but was not
presented to the nation formally due to assassination of Smt Indira Gandhi.
In Feb 1985, the Central Ganga Authority (CGA) with the PM as Chairman was formed,
with an initial budget of Rs 350 crore to administer the cleaning of the Ganga and to
restore it to pristine condition by our late PM Sh Rajiv Gandhi. In June 1985, the Ganga
Project Directorate (GPD) was established as a wing of the Department of Environment.
GAP was launched on June 14, 1986 by Sh Rajiv Gandhi at Varanasi.