Gangajal Nature Foundation, Mumbai

From President's Desk (Mr. Vijay Mudshingikar)

I am an ordinary man in this extra ordinary world. Believe me it is not my modesty but the truth. During last five years, I have seen so many moods of the River Ganga.

"Water can live very well without people, but we people can only live for 3 days without water." This quotation already contains the whole truth about the importance of water as the most essential form of nourishment for all forms of life. But humanity treats water as if it were an infinite resource. Only around 3% of the total amount of water available in the world is fresh water. Most of this is only available in the form of ice or subterranean water which cannot be exploited by us so that all in all, only around 0.2% of all the water in the world can be used for drinking water. Water cannot be reproduced; it is recycled in a closed circuit.

The human body is 2/3 water, and this fact alone shows just how important healthy drinking water is for us. Every cell in our bodies needs water to function properly. Without water there would be no people, no animals, and no plants.

To maintain all bodily functions, a human needs up to 3 liters/5 pints of fluids a day. Unlike hunger, which a human can survive for several weeks as the body possesses sufficient reserves of fat, a lack of water will lead to certain death of a period of 3 days as the human body cannot retain any reserves of water.

Humanity has been aware of this fact for thousands of years. In ancient Rome, for example, contamination of water was still seen as one of the greatest crimes. But we believe that we must sacrifice everything, and everything includes our water, on the altar of progress and so-called "prosperity." The people in our "prosperous" society have lost all respect for water and for Nature.

In the industrialized countries, for example, daily water consumption per head is between 150 and 300 liters/33-66 gallons. And of this only around 2% is used for drinking or cooking. The rest goes to flush toilets, to wash clothes, to wash the dishes, to wash the car, to clean the house, on body care or on watering the garden, etc.

And then there are the huge amounts consumed by industry. Up to 400 metric tons of water is used, for example, just to produce one metric ton of steel.

Almost every day we hear or read in the media that experts fear that there will be water shortages in the near future; or we learn how many diseases have their origin in poor water quality. Chemicals, fertilizers, air pollution, electro smog, etc. are the reasons why water has lost its power of self-regeneration today.

In earlier times water still had this power of vitalizing the whole organism. Today, the emphasis seems to be more on putting so many chemicals (chlorides) into the water that it presents - at least from a scientific point of view - "no risk to health."

On World Water day WWF released a list of the world's 10 largest rivers most at risk of extinction. Unfortunately the most popular and revered river Ganga and Indus River from which India derives its name both find a place in this list.

Nature has always been an integral part of our existence, the Sun, the Mountains, the Animals, the Trees have always been revered and worshipped by us.Throughout the history of India, and the River Ganga has always had special significance. In fact it is the most sacred river in the country. For thousands of years she has flowed enchanting everyone that walks on her banks. Our ancestors taught us to worship rivers and respect them as one would respect one's life giving mother. Rivers are the lifeline of a nation, water is life giving, life sustaining. Today the water of India themselves plead for a life line. The greed and selfishness of today's material lives has pushed us to turn a blind eye to the sensible teachings of our ancestors. The result forced to digest all the incessant crap thrown in her basin, the Ganga is making a journey towards her death.

Sindhu (Indus), Ganga, yamuna, bhramaputra are the many life lines of India. Cores of Indians thrive on their waters. Ganga alone is responsible for the fertility of about 40% of the country's agricultural land. Power generation, industry, infrastructure and for other daily necessities we depend on this perennial mighty river. The rich Indian culture and civilization took root along the banks of this mighty river Ganga. Not surprisingly, these rivers are the most revered ones and have found a place next to god in beliefs and sentiments of Indians. Truly life giving and leading to salvation!

In the higher Himalayas the Bhagirathi River meets Alaknanda River at Dev Prayag. The long flow of these two rivers immerges from the valley formed by Himalaya's Mountains to be known as Ganga River. Not only is Ganga the major river of India butt is also raised to the level of goddess in popular sentiment. It represents the ancient and rich Indian culture and civilization.

The journey of the sacred waters of Ganga as "Gangajal" starts from Gomukh to cover 2540 kM to merge in the Bay of Bengal. The glacier of Gangotri lies in the high mountain ranges of the lofty Himalayas. This mountain range has major peaks of Santopath, Bhagirathi, Shivling and smaller adjoining peaks of Raktavarna, Chaturgiri and Shweta Vasuki, Kirti and Kalindi. This glacier has an area of 200sq kM and is partly a snow bound area. However glacial scientists say the area of the Himalayas is shrinking. Due to global warming the rate of glacial melting has increased at a rapid rate according to the survey done by Indian geo survey department.

The importance that River Ganga has attained for the Indians right from the stage of birth to death is evident. The everyday ritual of bathing is also not complete without the utterance of a short prayer to the Ganges. Every religious Indian has a wish to visit Kashi (Varanasi) and take a holy dip in the sacred Ganga. If that is not possible the journey to salvation can be ensured by giving few drops of sacred waters to a dying person. The river Ganga is preferred over other rivers for releasing the ashes of a deceased person.

Some of the notable religious festivals, such as the Kavad yatra of Haridwar, Kumbhamela of Allahabad and Light festival of Varanasi, Chatpuja of Patna, Durga Puja of Kolkata and Gangasagar yatra of West Bengal are all celebrated on the banks of Ganga. One can go on and on in the praise of Ganga but that is beside the point. This great river enjoying godly status in the sentiments of crores of Indians and supporting similar hordes from Bangladesh has been included in the list of 10 endangered rivers of the world. How many people are aware of this? How many people are aware of what consequences this will give rise to? This revered and perennial river that keeps flowing over the northern plains for all these years is subjected to indescribable pollution from crap and debris that gets thrown into her waters. At this rate its perennial flow will soon be throttled. Geologists hypothesize that the Sarawati River used to flow through what is present day desert of Rajasthan. It is feared that the Ganga will soon follow the same course unless drastic measures are made.

The Ganga River is being rapidly degraded and its waters polluted to unimaginable extent. Global warming, movements in the earth's crust, receding snowline, shrinking basins of the rivers, decreasing water table, siltation and reducing river basins, tons of garbage and sewage thrown into the river and unrestricted pollution all have a negative effect on the Ganga.

None of our politicians seem to have an idea of what the future of this river will be in the coming decades. Our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had a lot of respect for the Himalayas and river Ganga that has its origin in the great mountains. His last wish was to have his ashes submerged in the holy confluence of the Ganga. All Indians love and adorn this mighty river. A lot of good and sad memories of the country's history are tied with this river. It has been witness to the victories and failures and struggles for independence. It is a representative of our ancient rich civilization. And a witness to the changing times.

Nehru's love for the Nature and environment was further seen in his daughter Indira Gandhi. She was much concerned about the pollution of river Ganga. When she was re-elected / resumed office again in 1979 she ordered to have a survey done of the Ganga valley by the Central pollution control board. After 2 comprehensive reports the work of purification of the Ganga was underway. Rajiv Gandhi took over the office in 1984 he gave a major impetus to the project. Also it was given priority as an initiative of the Centre. An ambitious and model project to be emulated by other states, its work was kept up in spite of the opposition and resistance of the religious leaders and the saint community of the country. As a result of this project sewage treatment projects were started in Muni KO Reto in Hrishikesh and Jagjitpur in Haridwar. These towns were the starting points of pollution entering in the Ganges. Now the sewage is treated in these plants and then the water is used for agriculture. Not only did this provide employment but it also put brakes on the incessant pollution of the Ganga. These water purification projects are considered model projects in the Ganga purification campaign. This campaign is a testimony to the foresight and concern for the environment that the late Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi had.

Unfortunately his successors did not show as much interest in continuing the project. Unrest in the northern states and corruption in implementation were reasons that the project never saw the light of the day again. The consequences were manifold and serious. As a result lakhs of people in the northern states have to suffer. Moreover a question mark lies on the existence of the Ganga.

In the state of Bihar the river basin of the Ganga is a broad as 5 kM and near Patna it is as broad as 7 kM The Mahatma Gandhi Bridge connecting Patna and Hajipur over this section was till recently the longest bridge in Asia. When one looks over this bridge to the river the waters seem to span the horizon like an expanse of the sea. Even in the heat of the summer the melting snows feed the river with plentiful of water. But the picture has gradually seen change. The many large dams and power projects build in the upper reaches of the Ganga have substantially reduced the quality of water available in the actual river basin. As compared to U.P. the river basin becomes drier in Bihar. The huge stretch of 5-7 kM has been laid barren and the river can be seen reduced to a small stream.

When religious followers enter the river during Chatpuja this is especially evident. The river flow has shifted to the north and at places tot eh south due to immense siltation. The base of the bridge is exposed to erosion and this can weaken the structure and lead to accidents. Between Maner and Mukkam about 120 kM of stretch has been exposed in the last few years. About 500 kM of land has been newly created. This land once a part of the river basin is not included in the Govt. records as agricultural land. This land is misused by goons to plant opium leading to local skirmishes, murders and law and order issues. It has led to a new kind of Mafia.

Due to the receding waters of the Ganga, the water table in the region has gone down resulting in drought in Bihar. In the north, Kosi, Kamala- Balan, Gandak and Buri Gandak rivers that originate in the Himalayas meet the Ganga in Bihar. Towards the south many rivers from the neighboring States of Madhya Pradesh Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand meet the Ganga. But all these rivers get water only from the monsoon rains and become dry in the summer months. This leads to draughts in South Bihar. The irony is that in north Bihar the rivers flood the region while in south Bihar people suffer from draught, lack of drinking water and disease. Thus the life giving Ganga take many lives in this manner. This will soon be the picture in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

WWF has issued a warning that the existence of Ganga is at risk in the next four decades. If that happen the entire picture of north India will change. It is a fearful proposition. In south Bihar of the 47 lakhs hectors of agricultural land still 20 lakhs hectors of land does not receive irrigation. Earlier the villages and farms on the banks of the Ganga would not experience water shortage. But in the upcoming 50 years the receiving waters of the Ganga have resulted in mass water shortages. It is a given that the agriculture and life in south Bihar will further deteriorate.

If this is the state of affairs for Bihar, Uttar Pradesh is not very far away. The situation though, there is very different. Large cities like Kanpur, Mirzapur, Allahabad and 47 such cities are located on the banks of the Ganga. Tons of sewage water is directly released into the Ganga. The sewage water treatment project should too late. The damage had already been done. The Ganga purification project found that approximately 140 crore litters of sewage water was released untreated in the Ganga.

The example of Varanasi itself is enough to imagine what the status of affairs would be 25 years down the line. Rakesh Jaiswal who filed public interest litigation for the purification of the Ganga gave a report which is equally unnerving. Kanpur has hundreds of leather work small scale industries and Varanasi has saree dyeing cloth textiles while Mirzapur has carpet factories. The 150 leather industries of Kanpur, 40 saree dyeing and printing projects of Varanasi and 10 carpet deying factories of Mirzapur do not follow any rules of pollution control and continue releasing environmentally harmful chemically polluted water into the Ganges. The 7 stone crushers of Haridwar also fall in this category. Although there are hundreds of beneficiaries who worship the Ganga and wish that their last rites be done on the banks of the holy river, the fact is that even today half brunt dead bodies are released into the river adding to the pollution mentioned above.

The dirt and muck underneath the popular Howrah Bridge at Kolkata is unbearable. The Durga immersion further pollutes the Ganga which flows through the city. The famous bellur Math on the banks of the Ganga has a serene atmosphere to match the neat and tidy place. In sharp contrast though are the unclean and polluted banks of the Ganga flowing through its backyard. The Ganga meets the sea at Gangasagar carrying all the harmful pollutants in its waters. During the Gangasagar Yatra lakhs of people drink this very water said to be pure and holy. Will this really lead to redemption?

The saga of the Ganga pollution can fill pages and pages. The point is that if this continues, the next four decades will see the end of this mighty river. The two drops of Ganga water put in the month of an expired person will surely be nothing but poison.

What is the need of the hour is to relieve the Ganga from the clutches of pollution, corruption, superstition, dominance of the religious sects, mafia and the inefficiency of the political leaders and social apathy.

The focus of the Gangajal Nature Foundation, Mumbai is to intervene and put a stop to the rising pollution of the Ganga. Keeping this in view the founder of the Institution Vijay Mudshingikar conducted this photo shoot, from 2001 to 2006 in the five years. The aim is to hold this exhibition and create awareness in each and every village and town situated on the banks of the Ganga.

This awareness drive started on 16th august 2006 at New Delhi. It was inaugurated by Neuro surgeon Dr. Ramani and well known artist Mr. K, R. Subbanna. In Mumbai it was held in NCPA Piramal auditorium on 6th Jan 2007. Similarly on 10th April to 14th April it was held at Dadar and from 22nd April to 3rd May in Vileparle while the people of kalian appreciated it from 22nd May to 30th May. On the occasion of world environment day it was held in Dombivali. The aim is that the exhibition of these photos be seen by as many numbers of people from Gangotri to Gangasagar. The purpose is to create awareness with respect to the pollution of the Ganga.

In today's fast paced world we tend to get too involved in our own hectic lives to think about larger issues like the environment. I hope this exhibition inspires you to take up the cause of our nation's most sacred river, the Ganga.

Together we can make difference....


Dedications

Every one of us has been shaped by circumstances and been inspired by the people in our lives. 'Gangajal', my most ambitious project yet, has been inspired by the following people. Each in their own way has a telling influence on me and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them.

Dr. Premanand Ramani

Dr. Premanand Ramani is counted among the ten best Neuro spinal surgeons in the world. He is also one of the kindest human beings I have met with the most kind hearted approach towards patients. He has saved my life twice when even simple everyday actions like walking had become tough for me. He is the energy behind my Gangajal project for it is with his blessings that I could complete my journey of five years from Gomukh in Gangotri to Gangasagar in West Bengal. I will always be grateful to sir throughout my life.

Raghubir Singh

Raghubir Singh was photographer, the Ganga is an adventure, a passion-almost an obsession. The 'Ganga', published by him after wandering for six years along the river, from its source at Gomukh in the Himalayas to the point of its influence, at Sagar Island in the Bay of Bengal, a watercourse of 1,560 miles. His book "The Ganga" is great inspiration for my project "GANGAJAL".



-Vijay Mudshingikar

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