The eternal Varanasi has been a Hindu pilgrimage site for hundreds of years and a source of pollution more recently. The problem is exacerbated with reduced water flow.
Also known as Benaras, founded on the banks of the Ganges, the city that witnessed silk laden boats ply what used to be the Silk Route, today witnesses tonnes of sewage pour into the river.
Not unlike many other cities that have mushroomed into megacities, Varanasi has also become a major source of pollution.
40-year old Virender Nishad, who makes his living on the Ganges says strong water flow could have solved all these problems. “But the government is diverting water from this river.”
Born on the river bank, this boatman and also proprietor of a modest riverside guesthouse said even 25 years ago one could see four or five feet below the water. “You could see a coin shining five feet under water. But now you cannot even if it is inches from the surface. It is so dirty.”
“You could see a coin shining five feet under water. But now you cannot even if it is inches from the surface. It is so dirty.”
And millions of devotees bathe in those dirty waters which pose serious health risk.
As part of the Indian government’s mission to clean up Ganges, this city, which is also Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, is set to get treatment plants with a combined capacity of 260 million litres per day (MLD).
The city currently generates about 300 MLD of sewage, but has a capacity to treat only 102 MLD of sewage. It is estimated that sewage will reach 390 MLD by 2030.
The Ganges and its banks around the city are expected to see marked improvement under the Namami Ganga program, which will include 84 iconic and heritage site ghats of Varanasi.
The National Mission for Clean Ganga has already commissioned the new treatment plants which will raise treatment capacity to 412 MLD, enough to see this holy city through 2035.
“But we have hardly seen any reflection of this program in the Ganges,” says a disappointed Kapindra Tiwari, a researcher and activist.
“The government program considers the Ganges sacred and it wants to make the water drinkable.”
Tiwari has been working on Ganges for 20 years and points out that the current capacity of water treatment is not even close to enough. He is not convinced that the planned treatment plants will be enough either. “The government program considers the Ganges sacred and it wants to make the water drinkable.”
Even dhobi ghats are being renovated to reduce pollution from washing clothes. Besides renovating four existing ghats, the government is also building three new ones.