Are We Trying Enough To Maintain The Sanctity Of Indian Rivers?

Har Ek Boond

34 years after the GAP initiatives, what is the condition of Indian rivers today? Did we, as responsible citizens of the country, try to save the rivers?

Written By Debolina Datta | Mumbai | Updated On:
Water Pollution

India is a land surrounded by the Indian Ocean. The Himalayan glaciers are divided into three river basins, which are Ganga, Indus and Brahmaputra. Freshwater is distributed across the length and breadth of the country through these major rivers and their tributaries. India is a land of diverse culture and heritage. Most parts of the country consider and worship the rivers as Goddesses. Ganga and Yamuna are two of the most celebrated rivers of India. Travelling through the northern parts of India, one can come across prayers being offered to these rivers along with major celebrations.  


Ganga (or Ganges) is a trans-boundary river, that flows across the Indian subcontinent, into Bangladesh and merges into the Bay of Bengal. Ganga, as a river and a deity is worshipped in many north Indian states of India. The Ganga aarti at the Har Ki Paudi ghat of Haridwar and the Dashaswamedha ghat of Varanasi attracts pilgrims from all over the country and large groups of foreign tourists. Ganga has been a part of our mythology as the mother of warrior Bhishma in Mahabharata. But what remains of this historical entity?

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The river has been under a major threat of pollution for decades. During the Rajiv Gandhi government, the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was launched as an initiative to ‘bring back the purity of the Ganga river’. However, 34 years later, the water remains equally polluted with fecal coliform present in the river a hundred times more than the official Indian government limit. Ganga is one of the major rivers where dead bodies or the ashes are cremated. The pollution in Ganga not only affects the citizens living on its banks but also a large number or aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna.  

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Yamuna is the second largest tributary of the Ganges basin and the longest tributary river in India. The river is the major source of freshwater for the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, where it merges with Ganga at Prayagraj (previously known as Allahabad). Like Ganga, Yamuna is also venerated in many parts of Northern India. Yamuna becomes an important part of Indian history during the Mughal rule, where many Mughal forts and buildings were constructed on the banks of the river.  

With rapid urbanization in the states on the bank of Yamuna, and the constant population growth, Yamuna was the second most polluted river of India. The major causes of pollution are human waste, industrial outflow and irregular treatment of the water. The once, blue waters are not fit for drinking or human use anymore. It also has dried up in many parts of Uttar Pradesh due to a polluted riverbed, that was caused by immersions and cremation activities.  

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As Indian citizens, how much have we done to maintain the sanctity of these rivers that we considered Goddesses, and are the only sources of drinking water and are used in food production? Have we ever considered how much we have endangered the riverine animals through our activities? Today, it is our responsibility that we don’t wait for the government and other organizations and ensure that the rivers are clean. Some of the bare minimum steps can be cleanliness drives and ensuring that there is no waste disposal in the rivers.  

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By 2030, 40% Indians will not have access to drinking water