With industries that discharge effluents in Ganga shut and the ghats closed to public, the waters of the holy river at Rishikesh and Haridwar — twin cities that record pilgrim rush throughout the year — have seen a significant improvement in quality. In fact, for the first time in decades, the water quality at Har-ki-Pauri has been classified as “fit for drinking after chlorination”.
Data from the Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board indicates that all parameters of water assessment at Har-ki-Pauri have significantly improved since the lockdown was put in place.
“There is a 34% reduction in fecal coliform (human excreta) and 20% reduction in biochemical oxygen demand(a parameter to asses the quality of effluent or wastewater) at Harki-Pauri in April,” chief environment officer of UEPPCB, SS Pal, said. Pal added that due to the lockdown, water in Harki-Pauri has ranked in Class A for the first time in recent history. “It has always been placed in Class B since Uttarakhand was formed in 2000,” he said.
Class A water has pH balance between 6.5 to 8.5. The pH is a measure of how acidic the water is and optimum pH for river water is considered to be around 7.4. It also has adequate dissolved oxygen — 6mg/litre or more. Levels below 5mg/ litre can cause stress to aquatic life. While Class A water is fit to drink after disinfection, Class B water is fit for bathing, that too after treatment.
The team also collected samples from Devprayag and water quality there has improved as well. Scientists at IIT-Roorkee said that the latest results suggest discharge of industrial effluents into the river and human activities must be checked to rejuvenate the river. M K Jain, head of department of hydrology at the institute, said, “Pollution levels seem to have reduced due to the lockdown and its effect can be clearly seen in the river water.”
This has led seers in Haridwar — many of whom have fronted campaigns and fasts unto deaths—to claim that this is the course of action they have been calling for all along. “Why is the government wasting money on revival of Ganga when all it needs to do is to leave the river alone? This can be done by banning... building of hydropower plants, mining and industrial waste being dumped into the river,” head of Matri Sadan, Swami Shivanand Saraswati said.
Renowned water conservationist Rajendera Singh said this is an example of how “the mad rush of development” must stop.“The main lesson here is that we must move in tandem with nature. The worry is that once the lockdown is lifted, things will return to what they were,” he said.