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Rag Rag Mein Ganga: A Stately Connection Between The Ganga and Uttar Pradesh

Protecting the Gangetic plains in Uttar Pradesh requires addressing diverse, critical and pressing concerns. However, the Namami Gange project seems to be all geared up to overcome them

Sarus crane, the state bird of Uttar Pradesh
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The sarus crane is the state bird of Uttar Pradesh. A vulnerable, non-migratory bird, it is found in north and central India and is easily recognised by its red-coloured head. It is perhaps fitting then that one of the state’s and country’s most important floodplains, the Indo-Gangetic floodplain, plays a very important role in the protection and conservation of the cranes.

Spread over 161.3 hectares, the Sarsai Nawar Wetland lies close to the city of Etawah. It has been recognised as a Ramsar site, and the slushy, black cotton soil found here attracts flocks of sarus cranes and several other migratory birds which use the marsh as a nesting and breeding ground. The wetland is now home to more than 400 sarus cranes, thereby underlying its importance as an invaluable natural resource. Even more inspiring is the fact that the wetland has been revived from the brink of extinction a decade ago, thanks to the dedicated efforts of nature enthusiasts and activists who have spread awareness among the local farmers and then enlisted their services to save the wetland from threats such as encroachment.

Etawah is situated in the Yamuna’s catchment area—hence the need to conserve the river and ensure its purity. To that end, a 21-MLD sewage-treatment plant is being set up on one of the dirtiest canals in the city that discharges its water into the Yamuna. The plant will treat the polluted water before releasing the clean water into the river.

However, Yamuna is not the only river that needs protection in Etawah. Around 15 kilometres from the city flows the Chambal, one of the major and cleanest tributaries of the Yamuna. The river is incredibly rich in biodiversity and home to several critically endangered species such as the gharial, the red-crowned roof turtle and the Ganges river dolphin. It is for this very reason that the National Chambal Sanctuary was set up along 425 kilometres of the Chambal as a tri-state protected area between Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Today, Chambal praharis are ensuring that the river’s inhabitants are no longer threatened by menaces such as river pollution and illegal activities such as poaching. The river authorities have also set up biodiversity information centres after every 20-kilometre stretch of the Chambal in Uttar Pradesh, to spread awareness and educate tourists and locals on the need for river conservation and how it can be achieved. It’s a model that could be replicated in other parts of the country as well.

50 kilometres from Etawah lies another spectacular sight. The Pachnada—a confluence of the combined stream of the Yamuna and Chambal and the trifecta of the Sindh, Kuwari and Pahuj—is an area of immense natural beauty and a rich habitat of river dolphins. The confluence amply shows what’s possible when barriers are overcome and dissolved. Etawah’s river conservation efforts are exemplary—and its reputation as a religious destination (it is home to one of the 51 shakti pithas) and a responsible animal-tourism destination (the Etawah Safari Park is one of the largest in the country and has an Asiatic lion-breeding centre) seems to be a reward for having treated its sacred rivers with the utmost care, respect and devotion.

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Kanpur boasts of one of the most unusual connections with the Ganga—the pitch of its famous Green Park Stadium is said to be made from soil and dirt dredged from the Ganga and its banks. Still, the challenges faced by the river in its stretch through the city are akin to those of a batsman trying to fend off a steep bouncer or an accurate, fast and lethal yorker.

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Boats row from the Ganga ghat at Bithoor, near Kanpur Shutterstock

Kanpur often ranks highly in lists that survey the most polluted cities in the world—and unfortunately, the Ganga also has to bear the brunt of this pollution. Solid waste and effluents and chemicals from industries (especially tanneries), household waste, sewage, flower waste from temples and places of worship—all make their way into Ganga, turning it into a toxic cesspit.

The Namami Gange authorities have sensed the urgency of the situation and are pulling out all the stops to flip the script around. Under the project, a robust system oversees the operation of the cluster of sewage treatment plants in the city. It has been successful in ensuring that one of Asia’s most polluted city canals in Kanpur is being treated efficiently. Furthermore, a common effluent treatment plant is in the works which will collectively treat effluents from different small-scale industries in a single large plant-cluster—a far more cost-effective measure compared to having individual treatment plants for each factory.

When it comes to tanneries, the NMCG authorities are increasingly recommending the adoption of greener, more eco-friendly in-house practices as well as the use of natural, less-polluting chemicals. Additionally, filters and plants to treat and recycle the different types of pollutants generated in these factories are being installed. These include zero liquid discharge plants which ensure that the tanneries won’t receive a drop of water until the effluents have all been treated and recycled for reuse in a purified form.

Alternatives to leather are also being innovated upon. For instance, flowers discarded from temples and discharged into the river are being collected to make ‘fleather’ (leather made from flowers)—a product that is, besides being environment friendly, superior to standard leather in a number of ways. The people-river connection is also being strengthened in the city, as local people and the authorities are coming together to maintain and clean ghats such as Sarsaiya Ghat and Atal Ghat, and river banks.

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Temples on the banks of the Ganga in Shivrajpur, near Kanpur Shutterstock

The river-conservation efforts in Etawah and Kanpur show all that is achievable in the face of insurmountable odds, should we face them with sustained courage and dedication. More such efforts are the need of the hour—and the Namami Gange project clearly shows the way forward.

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