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The Ganges is the largest river in India with an extraordinary religious importance for Hindus. Along its banks are some of the world's oldest inhabited places like Varanasi and Patna. It provides water to about 40% of India's population in 11 states, an estimated of 500 million people or more, which is larger than any other river in the world. Today, it is sixth most polluted river in the world.
Recently a drive was undertaken, in which the river was reported to have been cleaned, the municipal commissioner urged people to refrain from polluting.
The Gangas river basin is one of the most fertile and densely populated regions in the world and covers an area of 1,080,000 km2 (400,000 square miles). The river flows through 29 cities with population over 100,000; 23 cities with population between 50,000 and 100,000, and about 48 towns. A large proportion of the waste in the Ganges is from this population through domestic usage like bathing, laundry and public defecation.
Countless tanneries, chemical plants, textile mills, distilleries, slaughterhouses, and hospitals contribute to the pollution of the Ganges by dumping untreated waste into it. Industrial effluents are about 12% of the total volume of effluent reaching the Ganges. Although a relatively low proportion, they are a cause for major concern because they are often toxic and non-biodegradable.
During festival seasons, over 70 million people bathe in the Ganges over a few weeks to cleanse themselves from their sins. Some materials like food, waste or leaves are left in the Ganges for ritualistic reasons.
Built in 1854 during the British colonization of India, the Haridwar dam has led to decay of the Ganges by greatly diminishing the flow of the river. The Farakka Barrage was built originally to divert fresh water into the Bhagirathi River but has since caused an increase of salinity in the Ganges, having a damaging effect on the ground water and soil along the river. The barrage has caused major tension between Bangladesh and India. The government of India has planned about 300 dams on the Ganges and its tributaries in the near future despite a government-commissioned green panel report that has recommended scrapping 34 of the dams citing environmental concerns.
A 2006 measurement of pollution in the Ganges revealed that river water monitoring over the previous 12 years had demonstrated fecal coliform counts up to 100,000,000 MPN (most probable number) per 100 ml and biological oxygen demand levels averaging over 40 mg/l in the most polluted part of the river in Varanasi. The overall rate of water-borne/enteric disease incidence, including acute gastrointestinal disease, etc and was estimated to be about 66%.
A systematic classification done by Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board’s (UEPPCB) on river waters into the categories A: safe for drinking, B: safe for bathing, C: safe for agriculture, and D: excessive pollution, put the Ganges in D. Coliform bacteria levels in the Ganges have also been tested to be at 5,500, a level too high to be safe for agricultural use let alone drinking and bathing.
The leather industry in Kanpur which employs around 50,000 people in more than 400 tanneries uses chemicals such as toxic chromium compounds. Effectively, chromium levels have not decreased in the Ganges even after a common treatment plant was established in 1995. It now stands at more than 70 times the recommended maximum level.
A study conducted by the National Cancer Registry Programme (NCRP) under the Indian Council of Medical Research in 2012, suggested that "those living along its banks in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal are more prone to cancer than anywhere else in the country".
The results of mercury analysis in various specimens collected along the basin indicated that some fish muscles tended to accumulate high levels of mercury. Of it, approximately 50–84% was organic mercury. A strong positive correlation between mercury levels in muscle with food habit and fish length was found.
The Ganges River dolphin is one of few species of fresh water dolphins in the world. Listed as an endangered species, their population is believed to be less than 2000. Hydroelectric and irrigation dams along the Ganges that prevents the dolphins from traveling up and down river is the main reason for their reducing population.
Some of the dams being constructed along the Ganges basin will submerge substantial areas of nearby forest. For example, the Kotli-Bhel dam at Devprayag will submerge 1200 hectares of forest, wiping out the river otters and 'mahaseer' (a kind of fish) that are found here. Wildlife biologists in India have been warning that the wild animals will find it difficult to cope with the changed situation.
An analysis of the Ganges water in 2006 showed significant associations between water-borne/enteric disease pop and the use of the river for bathing, laundry, washing, eating, cleaning utensils, and brushing teeth. Water in the Ganges has been correlated to contracting dysentery, cholera, hepatitis, as well as severe diarrhea which continues to be one of the leading causes of death of children in India.
|This section may be confusing or unclear to readers. (June 2012)|
The Ganga Action Plan or GAP was a program launched in April 1986 in order to reduce the pollution load on the river. But the efforts to decrease the pollution level in the river became more after spending Rs 901.71 Crore Therefore, this plan was withdrawn on 31 March 2000. The steering Committee of the National River Conservation Authority reviewed the progress of the GAP and necessary correction on the basis of lessons learned and experiences gained from the GAP; phase 2 schemes have been completed under this plan. A million litres of sewage is targeted to be intercepted, diverted and treated. Phase-II of the program was approved in stages from 1993 onwards, and included the following tributaries of the Ganges: Yamuna, Gomti, Damodar and Mahananda. As of 2011[update], it is currently under implementation.
Scientists and religious leaders have speculated on the causes of the river's apparent self-purification effect, in which water-borne bacteria such as dysentery and cholera are killed off thus preventing large-scale epidemics. Some studies have reported that the river retains more oxygen than is typical for comparable rivers; this could be a factor leading to fewer disease agents being present in the water.
NRGBA was established by the Central Government of India, on 20 February 2009 under Section 3(3) of the Environment Protection Act, 1986. It also declared Ganges as the "National River" of India. The chair includes the Prime Minister of India and Chief ministers of states through which the Ganges flows.
The Supreme Court has been working on the closure and relocation of many of the industrial plants like tulsi along the Ganges and in 2010 the government declared the stretch of river between Gaumukh and Uttarkashi an “eco-sensitive zone”.
In early 2011, a Hindu seer named Swami Nigamananda Saraswati fasted unto death, protesting against illegal mining happening in the district of Haridwar (in Uttarakhand) resulting in pollution. Following his death in June 2011, his Ashram leader Swami Shivananda fasted for 11 days starting on November 25, 2011, taking his movement forward. Finally, the Uttarkhand government released an order to ban illegal mining all over Haridwar district. According to administration officials, quarrying in the Ganges would now be studied by a special committee which would assess its environmental impacts the river and its nearby areas.
Dr G. D. Agrawal is a notable environment activist who has been on a fast for 107 days protesting for a cleaner Ganga.  Due to support from other social activists like Anna Hazare, the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh agreed to Prof. Agrawal's demands. Accordingly, he called for a National River Ganga Basin Authority (NRGBA) meeting and urged the authorities to utilize the ₹2,600 crore (US$520M) sanctioned "for creating sewer networks, sewage treatment plants, sewage pumping stations, electric crematoria, community toilets and development of river fronts".