Kanpur has been a centre of the leather trade since the early s when it evolved as a major domestic handloom and leather hub under British colonial rule. Workers, mostly poor-illiterate daily wagers, work barefoot without any protective gear as they remove the skins and send them off for chemical bleaching, colouring and drying. Drains from these river-side facilities discharge toxic, deep black, blue or at times yellow coloured waste water directly into the river.
Jaiswal from Eco-Friends estimates regulated and unregulated tanneries produce 50 million litres of waste per day, but only nine million litres are treated. The heavy metals and other pollutants kill river life and enter the food chain through use of the same water for irrigation and the local fish consumed by local villagers.
We have to do it now," he said. In the typically poor village of Jaana on the outskirts of Kanpur, the public health effects of 30 years of inaction can be seen. Malti Devi, a year-old homemaker and mother of three, said she developed severe rashes soon after she moved there after her marriage. Senior medical authorities in the area backed their claims, blaming the rashes and other ailments on contact with the water. You are now subscribed to our newsletters.
Effluent overflow While the lack of sewage facilities in Kanpur is an administrative failure common to most towns along the river, the industrial waste problem is particularly acute here. Public health calamity In the typically poor village of Jaana on the outskirts of Kanpur, the public health effects of 30 years of inaction can be seen. Internet Not Available. Wait for it… Log in to our website to save your bookmarks.
It'll just take a moment. Yes, Continue. Your session has expired, please login again. Rishikesh achieved worldwide attention in , when the Beatles, at the height of their fame, spent three months at the now-abandoned ashram, or meditation center, run by the guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who today resides in the Netherlands. Built illegally on public land and confiscated by the government in the s, the ruined complex rises on a thickly wooded hillside overlooking the Ganges. I wandered among derelict, stupa-like meditation chambers high above the river, which still conveyed a sense of tranquillity.
Baboons prowled the ghostly hallways of the Maharishi's once-luxurious hotel and conference center, which was topped by three domes tiled in white mosaic. The only sounds were the chorusing of cuckoos and the cawing of ravens. It's unlikely the surviving Beatles would recognize the busy, litter-strewn tourist town that Rishikesh has become. Down below the ashram, I strolled through a riverside strip of pilgrims' inns, cheap restaurants selling banana lassis and pancakes, and newly built yoga schools.
A boat packed with Indian pilgrims, wild-haired sadhus and Western backpackers ferried me across the river, where I walked past dozens of storefronts offering rafting trips and Himalayan treks. A building boom over the past two decades has generated a flood of pollutants and nonbiodegradable trash. Each day thousands of pilgrims drop flowers in polyethylene bags into the river as offerings to Goddess Ganga. Six years ago, Jitendra Kumar, a local ashram student, formed Clean Himalaya, a nonprofit environmental group that gathers and recycles tons of garbage from hotels and ashrams every day.
But public apathy and a shortage of burning and dumping facilities have made the job difficult. From his base in Kanpur, Rakesh Jaiswal has waged a lonely battle to clean up the river for almost 15 years. He was born in Mirzapur, miles downstream from Kanpur, and remembers his childhood as an idyllic time.
After one month it happened again, then it was happening once a week, then daily. My neighbors experienced the same thing. There he made a horrifying discovery: two drains carrying raw sewage, including contaminated discharge from a tuberculosis sanitarium, were emptying right beside the intake point. It was horrifying. At the time, the Indian government was touting the first phase of its Ganga Action Plan as a success.
Jaiswal knew otherwise. Kanpur's wastewater treatment plants broke down frequently and could process only a small percentage of the sewage the city was producing.
Environment and Pollution in Colonial India : Janine Wilhelm - Book2look
Dead bodies were being dumped into the river by the hundreds every week, and most of the tanneries continued to pour toxic runoff into the river. Jaiswal, who started a group called EcoFriends in and the next year received a small grant from the Indian government, used public outrage over contaminated drinking water to mobilize a protest campaign.
He organized rallies and enlisted volunteers in a river cleanup that fished bodies out of a mile-long stretch of the Ganges. Jaiswal kept up the pressure. In , state and local government whistle-blowers slipped him a list of factories that had ignored a court order to install treatment plants; the state ordered the shutdown of factories, including tanneries in Kanpur. After that, he says, "I got midnight phone calls telling me, 'you will be shot dead if you don't stop these things.
Jaiswal's battle to clean up the Ganges has achieved some successes.
Environment and Pollution in Colonial India: Sewerage Technologies along the Sacred Ganges
Largely because of his corpse-cleanup drive, a cemetery was established beside the Ganges—it now contains thousands of bodies—and a ban was enforced, obviously often violated, on "floaters. Enforcement, however, has been lax. Ajay Kanaujia, a government chemist at Kanpur's wastewater treatment facility, says that "some tanneries are still putting chrome into the river without any treatment or dumping it into the domestic sewage system.
India's National Botanical Research Institute, a government body, has tested agricultural and dairy products in the Kanpur area and found that they contain high levels of chromium and arsenic. I'm in a motorboat at dawn, putt-putting down the Ganges in Varanasi, where the river takes a turn north before flowing into the Bay of Bengal.
Called Benares by the British, this ancient pilgrimage center is the holiest city in India: millions of Hindus come each year to a three-mile long curve of temples, shrines and bathing ghats steps leading down to the river along its banks. With a boatman and a young guide, I cruise past a Hindu Disneyland of Mogul-era sandstone fortresses and green, purple and candy cane-striped temples.
None of the pilgrims sudsing themselves in the Ganges, bobbing blissfully in inner tubes or beating their laundry on wooden planks, seem to pay the slightest attention to the bloated cow carcasses that float beside them—or to the untreated waste that gushes directly into the river. If toxic industrial runoff is Kanpur's special curse, the befouling of the Ganges as it flows past the Hindus' holiest city comes almost entirely from human excreta. The boat deposits me at Tulsi Ghat, near the upriver entrance to Varanasi, and in the intensifying morning heat, I walk up a steep flight of steps to the Sankat Mochan Foundation, which, for the past two decades, has led Varanasi's clean-river campaign.
The foundation occupies several crumbling buildings, including a year-old Hindu temple high over the Ganges. I find the foundation's director, Veer Bhadra Mishra, 68, sitting on a huge white cushion that takes up three-quarters of a reception room on the temple's ground floor. Mishra has repeatedly called the Ganga Action Plan a failure, saying that it has frittered away billions of rupees on ill-designed and badly maintained wastewater treatment plants. Varanasi currently receives only about 12 hours of power a day.
Moreover, he says, engineers designed the plants to remove solids, but not fecal microorganisms, from the water. The pathogens, channeled from treatment plants into irrigation canals, seep back into the groundwater, where they enter the drinking-water supply and breed such diseases as dysentery, as well as skin infections. A decade ago, Mishra, with hydraulic engineers and scientists at the University of California at Berkeley, designed a water-treatment scheme that, he says, is far better suited to Varanasi's needs.
Known as an "advanced integrated wastewater pond system," the process relies primarily on gravity to carry domestic sewage three miles downstream to four huge pools where oxygen-enriched bacteria break it down and pathogens are killed by sunlight and natural atmospheric action in a "maturation" pond. But in spite of the honors that have come his way, Mishra has grown discouraged.
The national government and the state government of Uttar Pradesh, which would have to fund the wastewater project, have openly opposed it on grounds ranging from doubts about the proposed technology to objections that treatment ponds would lie in a flood plain. Meanwhile, the city's population keeps growing—it has doubled to three million in a generation—along with the bacteria count.
Mishra says he's especially concerned for the future of India's most devout Hindus, whose lives are entirely focused on Mother Ganga. He calls them an endangered species. But how?
Suresh Babu of the Center for Science and the Environment in New Delhi believes that if municipalities were obliged to draw their drinking water from downstream rather than upstream, "they would feel an obligation" to keep the river clean. But growing pressures on the Ganges seem destined to outstrip all efforts to rescue it. By , according to Babu, India will draw eight times the amount of water from the Ganges it does today. In the same time, the population along the river and its tributaries—up to million, or one-third of India's total population—could double.
Trivedi admits that the government "lacks a single coherent plan" to clean up the river.
Rakesh Jaiswal tells me that after all the years of small achievements and large setbacks, he finds it difficult to remain optimistic. In , the Ford Foundation gave him enough money to hire 15 employees. But the next year, when the foundation cut its Environmental Equity and Justice Program, Jaiswal had to let his staff go and now works with one assistant out of a bedroom in his sister's house near the river.
On his dresser stands a framed photograph of his wife, Gudrun Knoessel, who is German. In , she contacted him after seeing a German TV documentary about his work; a long-distance courtship led to their marriage in They see each other two or three times a year.
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