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.
You were born and brought up in Kanpur. What changes have you witnessed in the environment of Kanpur over the years?
Kanpur has 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 river shrunk.
Have you got accustomed to living in the most polluted city in India?
Man 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.
You keep traveling abroad quite often, how do you compare Kanpur with towns abroad?
Yes, 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.
How do you feel after being back to Kanpur?
I 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.
What is the status of Ganga today?
I 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.
Would you mind taking a dip and aachaman (mouthful) in Ganga?
No 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?
I 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.
Have you been associated with GAP somehow?
Yes, as Principal Investigator for research on biological profile of the river and its implications on river water quality.
What is your perception about GAP?
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.
Are enough efforts being made to restore Ganga?
In terms of publicity, funds and plans-yes, but no in terms of practical remedies.
What is your vision for Ganga? What kind of Ganga do you visualize?
A 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 !
I 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?
These 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?
Worshippers 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 need reminders.
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?
There 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 avail.
Should people be charged for using the river waters (direct or indirect)?
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.