Coronavirus Lockdown: Health Of River Ganga Improves
A street vendor assembles beads to make a necklace while waiting for customers in his stall on the banks of the Ganges river in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)  

Coronavirus Lockdown: Health Of River Ganga Improves

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The health of Ganga River has seen significant improvement since enforcement of the nationwide lockdown that has led to reduction in the dumping of industrial waste into it, experts have said.

India has been placed under a three-week lockdown since March 24 with its 1.3 billion people instructed to stay home in view of the coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed 50 lives so far and infected over 1,965 people in the country. The Ganga river water was found to be suitable for bathing at most monitoring centres, the Central Pollution Control Board data showed.

According to the real-time water monitoring data of the CPCB, out of the 36 monitoring units placed at various points of the Ganga river, the water quality around 27 points was suitable for bathing and propagation of wildlife and fisheries. The parameters that the monitoring stations monitor online are dissolved oxygen (more than 6 mg/litre), biochemical oxygen demand (less than 2 mg/litre), total coliform levels (5000 per 100 ml) and pH (range between 6.5 and 8.5) to assess the health of the river.

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Earlier, other than stretches in Uttarakhand and a couple of places as the river enters Uttar Pradesh, the river water was found to be unfit for bathing the whole way till it drains into the Bay of Bengal in West Bengal. Experts said the water quality of the Ganga river has improved since the enforcement of the lockdown, especially around the industrial clusters.

Environmentalist Manoj Misra said it is a very good time for the CPCB to study the level of pollution coming from the industry. "The improvement that is visible needs to be validated with proper data. It is a very good time for CPCB to study the level of pollution coming from the industry. It is a very good time to set up a baseline," he said.

Environmentalist Vikrant Tongad said the improvement has been especially seen in the industrial clusters which used to see huge pollution levels due to dumping by industries. Tongad said the improvement has been seen around Ganga in Kanpur, an industrial town, from where huge industrial waste is generated and thrown into rivers.

"The improvement in the quality of water has also been observed in Ganga's tributaries like Hindon and Yamuna," he said. While the domestic sewerage has not reduced, industrial effluent has nearly finished and that is why the water quality has improved, he said, adding that the water quality is expected to further improve in the coming days till the enforcement of lockdown.

Bhim Singh Rawat, environmentalist and Associate Coordinator South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers, People, said improvements have also been seen in Ganga around Mathura. "The organic pollution level still gets diluted in the river but it is the chemical pollution by industries that destroy the river's self-cleaning properties. The self-cleaning properties have improved due to which the water quality has improved," he said.

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Himanshu Thakkar, environmental activist, and water expert, coordinator of SANDRP, said the improvement is a temporary respite. "Due to lockdown, industrial activities are at a lower level. There would definitely be lesser effluent generation and discharge but the improvement is a temporary respite. What is required is more stringent regulations," he said.

"The National Mission for Clean Ganga is just tinkering with symptoms. They are putting up new infrastructure, creating new agreements, giving more incentives for industries but if there is no transparency or accountability then there is not going to be any change," he said. However, no official report has been released on the improvement of water quality yet.

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