(May 17, 2003)

Role of local government in Ganga depollution

The 40 odd local corporators attending the workshop titled 'The role of corporators in depolluting Ganga' unanimously agreed that Ganga clean-up requires an exceptional combined effort from corporators, administration and NGOs. They also said that corruption has marred the government schemes to clean Ganga.

The workshop was held on May 17, 2003 at Merchants Chamber hall at Kanpur. It was co-organised by Eco Friends and Sankat Mochan Foundation under the sponsorship of The Asia Foundation.

Sharing their views with various experts, the corporators believed that Ganga's pollution had reached alarming proportions and it was high time that awareness on the subject is generated on a war -footing. Corporator Bhola Jaiswal suggested that the pictorial presentation of the sorry state of Ganga in different cinema halls, even for five minutes, would go a long way in sensitizing the masses. He said that public participation was a key to solve the pollution problem.

Another corporator Pratap Singh Yadav said that just mouthing slogans on Ganga depollution would not make it clean. "We need to go beyond rhetoric and do something concrete to preserve the holy river", he averred. Yadav pointed out that it was important for us to find out ways to dispose domestic waste in such a manner that it does not pollute the Ganga. He also lamented the fact that corruption was rife in the government machinery as a result of which most schemes are falling flat.

Dinesh Bajpai, representing a densely populated ward in the city, said that with the population growth, sewage has increased manifold. The Ganga pollution can be attributed to this. "There is no social sense and no planning for safe disposal of garbage. All the garbage is finding its way into the Ganga," he underlined. Arun Diwedi of Ward No 53 stated that Ganga Action Plan (GAP) has been an eyewash in which crores of money has gone down the drain. "The people are responsible for the prevalent corruption and for the dirty Ganga. They do not take responsibility and remain indifferent to the injustice," he stressed. He was of the opinion that if people raise their voice against the corruption, things can change. Diwedi said that GAP corruption should be made public. Pointing out that 17 drains still directly release their waste into the Ganga in Kanpur, he remarked that the all sewage should be stopped from going into the river.

Yusuf Mansoori expressed his sadness at the fact that people have defiled a river which they call their mother. He opined that strict deterrents should be imposed to discourage polluting practices such as dead body dumping. He said that the tanneries were the biggest culprit of the Ganga pollution and therefore the polluting tanneries should be shut down immediately. While saying that accountability needs to be fixed, Mansoori felt that the responsibility for the failure of GAP should be borne by the administration.

Ashok Dikshit of Ward 89 said that we should join hands and push the Ganga depollution campaign forward. He cited population explosion and corruption as key factors that have contributed to Ganga pollution. According to Dikshit, mass awareness was paramount to make Ganga clean. Rashtrapati Yagik, representing ward 101, pointed out that even though the awareness on Ganga pollution has increased but it is not widespread. Hence, more efforts are needed to spread this awareness. Similarly, Poornima Singh of ward no. 59 said that the movement will gain more strength if the poor section of the society is made aware about their polluting practices. She showed her disgust at the attitude of the administration which she said had turned a dead ear to the vociferous campaigning against city pollution. Sushma Awasthi (Ward 83) and Pramila Pandey also voiced their angst against the administration regarding this issue.

The interface was very interesting. The corporators were enthused by the presence of both the Kanpur Mayor Anil Sharma and Deputy Mayor Chetna Sharma.

Addressing the gathering, chief guest Mayor Anil Sharma said that the whole society is to be blamed for the present deplorable condition of Ganga. He warned that the pollution is seeping underground and the groundwater is also getting contaminated. "The roundwater of Juhi (a residential area in Kanpur) was found to be laden with chromium", he pointed out and added that the second stratum of earth's soil has got polluted too. He said that Ganga is being treated as as a dumping yard as all the city waste is going into it. However, he said if the Volga river (in communist Russia) can be made pollution-free, why not Ganga which is placed on a pedestal. He informed the gathering that Chennai and Delhi were reeling under water crisis and therefore, we should start saving water. But before that, pollution in the drinking water source (Ganga) has to be reduced, he believed. He appreciated Eco Friends for its concerted efforts since a decade to save Ganga from pollution. He hoped that the Ganga clean-up campaign would snowball into a movement some time soon.

Deputy Mayor Chetna Sharma said that Ganga is sacred but its sacredness has been profaned. The money in GAP has been misappropriated and misutilised and all the GAP assets are mostly lying dysfunctional or working much below the capacity, she regretted. She said that the participation of grass-root level workers such as the corporators is very important to bring back the lost glory of Ganga. Many schemes are not implemented and so Ganga continues to flow like a muck, Sharma added.

Talking on the occasion, executive secretary of Eco Friends said that corporators who represent a sizeable population should spread the message of Ganga depollution in their respective wards. This will help in ensuring peoples' participation in Ganga clean-up campaign. He also gave a power point audio-visual presentation on the state of Ganga in the Kanpur stretch. His presentation not only sensitised the onlookers but brought the alarming plight of Ganga to the fore.

The programme coordinator Dr AK Verma, teaching political science in Christ Church College, added flavour to the deliberations and proceedings by his orator skills. He termed the workshop as a crucial start to depollute the holiest river in the world. He said that if we want to live, let Kanpur live. If Kanpur wants to live, we will have to let Ganga live. He made the audience aware about the exceptional qualities of Ganga water. He said that the water of Ganga remains bacteria-free even after storing it for ages. It can decompose organic waste 20 times faster than any other river and it has the capacity to absorb oxygen. "Ganga is our most precious heritage and we should not lose it at any cost," he emphasised and added, "Let's wake up to the cause."

Roger Choate of Sankat Mochan Foundation said that WHO has reported that 1.5 million Indian children die from water-borne diseases annually and 30-40% of these deaths can be attributed to Ganga. 400 million people depend on river Ganga and by such estimates, 40 per cent of India’s population lives in Ganga basin. He said that it was very necessary to conduct a comprehensive survey of the health impact due to Ganga pollution in Kanpur.

Others present at the meeting were K Balakrishnan of USAEP, Dipankar Saha of CPCB, Amitayush of Sankat Mochan Foundation and city planning expert Robby Sharma. Saha of CPCB gave a presentation on URBAN Environmental Information System (URBAN-ENVIS). He explained that URBAN-ENVIS aims at data collection about the city's environment through the participation of the Local Government and the people.

The workshop ended on a positive note that Ganga can be cleaned if the campaign is taken forward with the joint cooperation of the local corporators, administration, government, NGOs and local people. The deliberations concluded with the National Anthem.

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