Jeevan dayini Ganga in distress amid intense heatwave

| | Varanasi
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Jeevan dayini Ganga in distress amid intense heatwave

Monday, 17 June 2024 | Biswajeet Banerjee/ Ramesh K Singh | Varanasi

Jeevan dayini Ganga in distress amid intense heatwave

On the auspicious day of Ganga Dussehra, the Ganga River in Varanasi reached an unprecedented low, measuring 189.66 feet against the expected 193 feet. The river’s width, typically spanning 70 to 80 metres in June, has now been reduced to 30 to 35 metres, exposing the ghats and revealing environmental distress.

“In summers, the water level generally goes down, but this year’s drop is unprecedented due to the intense heatwave sweeping across Northern India,” said Vijay Kumar, General Manager of the Jalkal Department.

Three days ago, 1,800 cusecs of water were released from the Kanpur Barrage to sustain the Ganga’s level in Varanasi, resulting in only a 2-centimeter rise. “If the water level of the Ganga decreases further, there will be a problem,” Kumar warned, noting that he had requested additional water releases from the Kanpur Irrigation Department to stabilise the river’s level.

The city’s water supply, which relies on 120-125 million liters per day (MLD) drawn from the Ganga, currently uses 110 MLD. The present water level of 189.66 feet is significantly below the required 193 feet for an adequate supply.

“Although the Ganga is considered life-giving (Jeevan dayini), the recent heatwave has exposed the river’s vulnerability. “The declining water levels have caused the Ganga to recede from the ghats, revealing broken boats, scattered garbage, and shattered boulders,” said Ashutosh Shukla, a Varanasi resident.

Pandit Dinesh Chandra Mishra, a priest at Assi Ghat, reminisced about Ganga Dussehra’s traditional significance, when rising water levels used to mark the onset of floods 50 years ago. “This trend has diminished in the past five years,” he said.

Mishra emphasised the need for additional water releases, pointing out the challenges faced by boatmen and the looming threat to the city’s water supply. “The river has already receded from the ghats, creating major challenges for boatmen. The biggest crisis will be in our water supply,” he warned.

The past month and a half have seen relentless scorching heat, causing significant drying of the Ganga.

Temperatures soared to 46.0°C, consistently remaining above 40°C for 23 days. In the last week of May, temperatures hit a record-breaking 47.8°C, the highest in 140 years.

Contamination in Ganga Water

As water levels decline, a study by Banaras Hindu University (BHU) has found alarming levels of phosphate, ammonium, and other heavy metal contamination in the waters of city ghats. The presence of fecal matter due to sewage and drainage discharge has also been detected.

Research from BHU’s Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development revealed that at drainage discharge points like Garhwa Ghat, Ramnagar, and Assi, phosphate levels reached 0.5 PPM (1 PPM equals 1 milligram per liter), and near sewage discharge areas around Ramnagar, levels were as high as 2.7 PPM. Ideally, phosphate should not be present in the water. Ammonia levels were found to be 17 milligrams. Additionally, nitrate and sulfate levels in groundwater near Ravidas Ghat and Rajghat were already double the WHO standards, affecting the river’s water quality and increasing pollution levels.

Heavy metals like cadmium, mercury, iron, nickel, and copper were found near Assi Ghat. A study by BHU’s Botany Department, which took samples up to 1500 meters downstream, revealed dangerous levels of these metals in the water.

Professor Vishwambhar Nath Mishra from IIT and Mahant of Sankat Mochan Temple noted that fecal matter was found at all 84 ghats in Kashi, mainly due to domestic sewage mixing with the river. Consequently, water from any ghat in the Ganges is no longer suitable for ritual consumption. Preventing sewage from entering the Ganges is crucial for its cleanliness.


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