Dr. A. C. Shukla, formerly headed Bio-pollution
Study Centre at Christ Church College, Kanpur. He specializes
in environmental sciences and policy-planning. He has completed
a major project of Ganga Action Plan. Dr Shukla is credited with
over 250 research publications and has several edited and original
books. He has widely traveled in connection with addressing, chairing
and acting as discussant at International conferences. His area
of current research is environmental and water security. Dr Shukla
is currently visiting scholar at ACDIS, University of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign. Dr Shukla, the Founder President of Eco Friends
expressed his frank views about Ganga and Ganga Action Plan while
talking to Rakesh K Jaiswal, Executive Secretary, Eco Friends.
were born and brought up in Kanpur. What changes have you witnessed
in the environment of Kanpur over the years?
been one of the ancient cities of Ganga-Yamuna culture. During
past over fifty years the city has grown into a metropolis with
attendant problems of pollution and poverty. The city is loosing
its significance as an epitome of textile and jute industry but
its leather tanning industry has proliferated, adding to the woes
of water pollution. The waters and air is polluted, spreading
diseases of respiratory track, skin, nails and stomach. Every
third person suffers from allergy.
You must have seen Ganga in Kanpur
from very close quarters during your childhood. What changes have
you noticed in Ganga over the years?
I have nostalgic
memories of vastly expanse of Ganga, its pure, deep, silver water
and festivals, rituals and religious sentiments of Ganga devotees.
During my times, Ganga has grown dirty, people dread to take aachman
and bathing is no more refreshing – waters have lost basic
drinking or bathing quality. Ganga banks have receded and the
you got accustomed to living in the most polluted city in India?
has tremendous adaptability. Bonds of love for your birth place
give you all strength to face such problems. While keeping my
permanent abode in Kanpur, I frequently travel to States or Europe
to rejuvenate myself and face the problems here again.
keep traveling abroad quite often, how do you compare Kanpur with
I have traveled frequently all over the World except the Gulf
and Carribean countries. There is a perceptible difference in
culture and professionalism. The quality of life elsewhere is
much better. One doesn’t have electricity failures, water
and day-to-day problems of chasing and greasing palms for getting
every right work done. Things move on phone and e-mails elsewhere.
A letter posted is deemed delivered and replies on phone are authentic
but things are altogether different in India.
do you feel after being back to Kanpur?
love it for the friends, there are pending things needing chase
lest there is tremendous loss in store. While I’m abroad
I keep brooding. Back home it takes time to get settled to pollution
and vagaries of allergies despite all precautions.
is the status of Ganga today?
think it is showing signs of shrinking and decay. Ganga is no
more reaching from Gaumukh. It seems it is discontinued mid-way
and what flows is local accumulated water and wastes.
you mind taking a dip and aachaman (mouthful) in Ganga?
way ! I can think of a dip not beyond Haridwar downstream and
aachman not beyond Badrinath downstream.
Any idea about governmental efforts to depollute Ganga?
have watched and worked on Ganga both as researcher, water biologist
and grass-root worker. Ganga Action Plan launched by Late Sri
Rajiv Gandhi was a great leap forward in right direction but vested
interests and wrong planning cast serious damage on the success
of massive GAP.
you been associated with GAP somehow?
as Principal Investigator for research on biological profile of
the river and its implications on river water quality.
is your perception about GAP?
was an engineering-centric project where there was little scope
for biological implications and its role in significant self-purification
and pollution. Whatever was on agenda was listing of genetic stock
but its applied importance was not studied and could not attract
primacy in GAP. GAP remained confined to physio-chemical pollution
and ignored its biological ramifications.
enough efforts being made to restore Ganga?
terms of publicity, funds and plans-yes, but no in terms of practical
is your vision for Ganga? What kind of Ganga do you visualize?
pristine pure Ganga where water is safe enough for aachaman and
bathing. In face of massive anthropogenic problems, mass bathing
should be avoided to keep Ganga clean and if its water could be
cleansed to safe potable limits, aachaman can be practiced for
religious and spiritual healing.
What would you do, if you are given
authority to restore Ganga? How would you do it? Is it possible
to restore Ganga in the existing socio-economic and political
situation? Any hope !
have every hope and conviction in the people. If man can pollute
it, can also perish pollution. In fact no amount of governmental
effort alone can restore Ganga purity. A Ganga movement, peoples’
participation and involvement of those who use it as livelihood
is urgently needed. People need education and awareness for change
of life styles to work for improvement in river water quality
and restoration of Ganga sentiment. Adoption of water harvesting,
revival of pond system, channelization of domestic and industrial
waste away from Ganga and ban on use of non-biodegradable insecticides,
pesticides and fertilizers in agriculture is needed to reduce
stress on river.
What do you have to say about the
polluting social practices like dumping of worship materials,
dead bodies etc. in river Ganga?
social practices are age-old. While these practices were framed,
amounts dumped were far and few and could easily be digested by
Ganga. Now the amount of pollutants accompanying population influx
has grown beyond comprehension. Social practices need change.
Mother Ganga should not be overly taxed so that it screams, bleeds
and ultimately dies.
Do river worshipping people of India
care for the health of the rivers? What could be the role of religious
institutions / leaders in Ganga depollution efforts?
are more worried about their own salvation rather than survival
of “Patit-pavani Ganga” (purifier of the lowly people).
They should be told by religious sects, saints and sages that
care for the health of mother Ganga will absolve you of your sins.
Ganga Seva is enshrined in our culture and religion, people only
What kind of role do you envisage for the civil society
in Ganga restoration?
Civil society works, provides resistance and protests to counter
the stark misuse of river for financial or developmental exploitation,
provides checks and balances for exploitative regimes. Truly devoted
and activist civil society is a boon for resisting malpractices
but a vested interest makes a mockery of the agency. Sadly civil
society needs to cleanse itself of corruption, if and where it
exists, en-route to cleaning Ganga.
Your comments (feasibility, viability
and practicality) on the much debated interlinking of rivers project?
is already a debate on mega-projects and the human rights. Interlinking
river project is the engineering Magnus opus of the government.
It needs the involvement of agency of civil society and stakeholders.
Agency of civil society is critical over the project issues like
financing, generating Rs 5,60,000 crore at 2002 standard pricing,
replenishing electricity to run interlinking project and pumping
or tunneling water over or through Vindhya Mountains coupled with
problems of project refugees, their rehabilitation and issues
of human rights. Naturally, a question arises – Is it judicial
activism on the part of Supreme Court, or populist move of the
parties in the government or despair over water to call for execution
of the project. Lest the agency of civil society and stakeholders
of water and the governance come to consensus over execution,
project will remain a farce. Such mega projects need undivided
transparency, involvement and national commitment not to fritter
away public funds, the Ganga Action Plan way, without any substantial
Should people be charged for using the river waters (direct
Privitisation and pricing of water is controversial and vastly
rejected on grounds that it will not curb excessive use of water
by multinationals and rich people, as they have all the money
to fritter away on water. But poor people would face the brunt
of co-mmodification and even this life support commodity will
be out of their reach in utter disregard of basic rights of people.
While basic human right issues are championed the world over,
negating life support of water today and thinking of metering
air tomorrow, is genocide of right to live. As miniscule 4-5 percent
of total water consumption is used for drinking purposes, it should
be freely made available. The water supply to industry and agriculture,
a profiteering enterprise, can be taxed. The funds so raised can
be used to manage and improve water supplies.
What would you like to appeal to the people?
Use water judiciously, harvest rain water, develop and revive
ponds system, and keep waste products separate from surface waters.
Keep Ganga clean which is the lifeline of India.