(March 10, 2003)

"A large-scale dredging should be carried out in Ganga to extract the waste material that has got accumulated at the bottom of the riverbed," said Anil Sharma, the mayor of Kanpur at a public hearing organized by Eco Friends here at Massacre ghat on March 10, 2003. While offering his prayers to Goddess Ganga and lamenting the growing pollution in the river, the mayor appealed to the people to stop throwing polybags, flowers and other waste materials in the Ganga. He also said that it was high time that the three electric crematoriums in the city (at Bhairoghat, Bhagwatdas ghat and Shuklaganj) should not remain lying like white elephants. We should take a cue from Delhi where there is a beeline for cremating dead bodies in electric crematoriums, he added.

The public hearing intended to bridge the gap between the Ganga communities (communities living on the ghats) and the government officials concerned. Communities such as Pandas, Mahapatras, Doms, fisherfolk, boatmen and others participated in the meeting and voiced their grievances. Seventy-year-old Munnu Lal Awasthi of Massacre ghat pointed out that the ghat was in shambles as government had turned a blind eye to the plight of Ganga. According to him government planning to clean Ganga was only on papers and until and unless the involvement of local communities is sought by the officials, projects would continue falling flat. Similarly, Guddu of Massacre ghat asked the authorities to take notice of the encroachment of stray animals in the ghat which add to the shabbiness of the ghat.

President of Kanpur Nursing Homes Association Dr Naim Hamid echoed Munnu Lal saying that all the din about Ganga pollution was falling on deaf ears and that the ghat people should take some initiative in cleaning the riverfront themselves as the government was lackadaisical in its approach. While underlining the key role of the ghat people in restoring the pristine glory of the Ganga, he said that it is because of the increasing pollution in the river that the communities had lost their earning. He hoped that the Ganga Barrage which aims to bring back water to the shore of Kanpur ghat would rescue these communities. Addressing the gathering, executive secretary of Eco Friends Rakesh K Jaiswal said that taken-for-granted attitude of the people is the undoing of the ghat communities. He noted that these communities should realize that it is in their interest to keep their ghats and the Ganga clean. Emphasising that livelihood crisis was looming over these communities, he said that various factors have contributed to this. These include shifting of the river course away from the ghats of Kanpur and the low discharge in the river because of the diversion of the water in the upstream of the Ganga. The growing pollution load in the river, the solid waste problem and lack of sanitation are also afflicting the ghats and the people living there, he added.

Ram Avtar of Burihaghat demanded a blanket ban be clamped on the practice of dead body dumping in the Ganga. Regretting that at times such dumping was being done under the direction of the administration, he pointed out that inspectors were also being bribed by the leather makers to throw their tannery waste into the river. Banwari Lal of Bhagwatdas ghat explained that the rates of electric cremation had also been hiked from Rs 25 to Rs 500 against the court order. Fuming at government apathy to protect the Ganga, Babloo Nishad of Dapka ghat said that the ghat's water has lost all acquatic life because tannery and sewage waste was finding its way right at the ghat.

Ex NEERI official Tapan Routh said that the communities should equip themselves in a way that they are united enough to take care of the Ganga pollution at their level. He asked the communities to pressurize the government to implement ghat-friendly projects that will go a long way in reduce the pollution load in the river. The hearing also discussed issues such as failure of Ganga Action Plan, the problem in maintenance of the ghats, fishing and turtle poaching.
The authorities listened to the problems of the ghat communities. These included Deputy Mayor Chetna Sharma, V Mathur of Fisheries Department, Central Pollution Control Board zonal director B P Shukla, K K Shukla and R C Saxsena of Jal Sansthan, Assistant City Magistrate Ramesh Gutam, CEO Cantonment board D S Jassal, K C Sahu of Ganga Pollution Control Unit. They were unanimous in saying that Ganga clean-up needed voluntary participation of the civic society and everything can not be left to the government departments alone. They assured all cooperation and help to the communities to depollute the river and keep it clean.

SP Crime S B Pathak distributed Identity Cards to Ganga Praharis, ghat people who have vowed to devote their time and effort in keeping their ghats clean and not allow any pollution of the river.

Eco Friends believes that it is high time that civic agencies, NGOs, interested institutions and individuals come forward to understand the pollution problems due to which the Ganga communities are being hit adversely. It is hoped that a series of such jan sunvai would pave the path of the revival of the glory of river Ganga, the sanctity of the ghats and the safeguard livelihood of the Ganga communities.

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