The fresh social movement launched to push for the cleanliness of Yamuna has once again put spotlight on two major problems—colossal pollution of the river and slipshodness of ministers and mandarins. Their lackadaisical attitude has pushed the rivers, which are billed to be symbol of culture and civilization of the country, to the perilous condition. As the river has seemingly turned into a clogged sewer and all promises and assurances to bring it to normalcy have proved futile, Yamuna Rakshak Dal had to take out a protest march from Mathura to Delhi. Despite court reprimand in this regard, the ruling establishment at the Centre in states was in deep slumber. Even bureaucrats also joined the same bandwagon. The importance of the rivers, which are deemed as lifeline of India, was underlined by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru as well. Gandhiji had called the rivers as the essence of life and the Ganga is, as portrayed by Nehruji, is a symbol of India’s ancient culture and civilization. All the saints and sages also underlined the significance of Ganga and Yamuna, saying they are eternal civilization of India and essential for the existence of the country. That’s why people of the country pay obeisance to not only Ganga and Yamuna but also all the rivers.  

Demographic pressure and exponential growth of industrialization have immensely polluted the rivers. Many governments came to power but they were oblivious to the growing pollutions of rivers, while some of them showed their seriousness in this regard, but result back to square one. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi after coming to power immediately took notice of pathetic condition of the Ganga.  He had launched an ambitious project—Ganga Action Plan—to ensure cleanliness of the river Ganga, but in course of time it was found that the plan failed to fructify and proved to be a sheer wastage of huge funds. Even after spending billions of rupees on Ganga Action Plan, the river has become so contaminated that it is neither good for drinking nor for bathing.

The failure of this plan highlights the truth that despite government’s seriousness to tackle a problem, the bureaucratic apathy would cause only wastage of resources. Ganga and Yamuna are in equally pathetic condition. The Supreme Court has expressed its dismay on several occasions over the rising pollution in Yamuna asking the Centre to take appropriate measures to tackle the problem, but lack of will-power at both the bureaucratic and government’s level has increased water contamination. Many countries of the world launched projects to clean their polluted rivers and successfully carried out them, but our politicians are not ready to learn anything from them. Thames river of London is one such example. Fifty years back, the river was so polluted that it was declared biologically dead, but after the British government vowed to make the river contamination free, it is now counted among world’s most clean rivers. First, the disposal of sewer water in the river was stopped and subsequently new sewage water treatment plants were set up besides framing stringent laws to check the river pollution.  Why the rivers like Ganga and Yamuna cannot be cleaned the way it happened in case of Thames River. Clearly, the importance of rivers is not being acknowledged by our politicians as the governments of developed countries did. Actually, the condition of rivers was not that good even in developed nations nearly 5-6 decades back, but their governments realized the need for improving their conditions. On the contrary, the concern for environment bears no significance for our politicians.

Since the government as well as the bureaucrats is oblivious to environmental degradation, the pollution level in rivers including Ganga and Yamuna has drastically increased despite spending billions of rupees.  Besides disposal of untreated sewage water in the rivers, the industries set up on their banks are a prime reason behind rising level of pollution in the rivers.  There is no proper water treatment system and those which have been set up for this purpose are not working properly. Population of big and small cities as well as villages located on the banks of rivers is also adding to river pollution. Society cannot escape from its responsibilities in this regard. It seems to be like a jigsaw puzzle that on one hand India has a tradition to worship rivers, on the other there is hardly any awareness in the society towards growing pollution in the rivers. It is also surprising to know that the drive for setting up water treatment plants near Ganga in Rishikesh is being publically opposed.

Undoubtedly, if the rivers are to be made contamination free, it is required to display strong will power at both the administrative and government’s levels. At the same time, it is also required to carry out probe to know where the billions of rupees spent on plans for cleaning the rivers have gone. Amidst ongoing probes into corruption cases, it is also required to trace and punish those people who embezzled the funds allocated by the government for the cleaning of Ganga and Yamuna. River pollution is such an issue where there is hardly any scope for political dissent. Political class should join hands and try to evolve unanimity to make river water as much pure as they were centuries back. Both the Union Environment Ministry and state governments are equally responsible for the poor state of the rivers. The ministry seems very much keen on approving the industrial projects, but it hardly cares for the poor state of these rivers. State governments also move in the same vein. They are totally unmindful of the reality that the rivers are completely messes and polluted. One can have reservation towards building dams on rivers, but there should be a quick and concrete measure to stop river pollution.

An original copy of the article published in Hindi on March 10, 2013 translated by the English editorial. The author is Group Editor of Dainik Jagran