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Updated on June 8, 2014

Ganga Dashahara Celebration June 8th

Ganga Ma (The Ganges) is the great and mighty river of India. Tomorrow we celebrate Ganga Dashahara, the Ganga's descent to Mother Earth on the locks of Lord Shiva's hair. From an environmental perspective water needs vegetation to stop the torrents from overwhelming the land and mountains. Lord Shiva's hair can be compared with the vegetation on mountains and land which temper the force of the water. Without the vegetation landslides, severe erosion and floods can happen.

How are we treating Ganga Ma? Not very well because the river is the sixth most polluted river in the world. Consider that this great river provides water for 40% of India's population. There is a lot of human waste in this river. Bathing, human defecation and washing clothes contribute to the pollution problems of the Ganga. Industrial pollution from tanneries, chemical plants, textile mills, distilleries, slaughterhouse and hospitals also contribute to the problem. The Ganga also has way too many dams. A government commissioned green panel suggested that 34 dams planned by the Indian government should be scrapped. The National Cancer Registry Program in 2012 conducted a study of most cancer prone areas in India. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal have the highest cancer rates.

What about marine and wildlife on the river? Some fish have high levels of mercury. The length of the fish is correlated with higher mercury levels. So the longer the fish, the higher the mercury content. Ganges River Dolphins have diminished in numbers to less than 2000. The high number of dams is the reason for the decline of their population. These dams have decimated the forests . The river otters and mahaseur fish have also been wiped out.

Humans have contracted water diseases such as dysentery, cholera, hepatitis and severe diarrhea. Diarrhea is one of the leading causes of death among children in India.

Dr. Vandana Shiva started her ecological activism with the Chipko Movement which protected the trees from the loggers. In 1981 logging was banned in the high Himalayas because of the efforts of the movement. She is also well known for her efforts to save the Ganga. In 1978 a large flood overwhelmed the Ganga. Because of global warming the Gangotri Glacier, the source of the Ganga, is retreating at a rate of 28.33 meters a year. Because of the dams farms are being destroyed. The privatization of water of the Ganga was stopped by the protests of the Citizen's Alliance for Water Democracy. Dr. Shiva worked on this effort.

Dr. Shiva says that current treatment systems do not work, are costly and return 70% of untreated sewage to the river. What she advocates is "intelligent zero-waste sewage treatment systems like those evolved in II T - Kanpur by Dr. Vinod Tare." These systems "would clean the Ganga and also fertilize the soil." Organic farming would be the result of using this manure from human waste. The government would not be wasting money on ineffective systems.

An environmental lawyer, Mahesh Mehta, has been filing lawsuits on corporations who pollute the Ganges River. Some people in India think the West should deal with pollution, not India. The sad truth is India is among the top green house gas producers along with the United States, China, Russia and Japan. We all need to take personal responsibility in every country. Deforestation is a big problem in India and so is air and and water pollution. Mahesh says, "Economic growth is important, but can you imagine a billion cars in India? As people become affluent, they want cars, air conditioners and refrigerators. What effect is that going to have on the environment?" That is a very good question. I do not own a car or air conditioner. All these things can be made in a more environmental way. Not all of us need to buy or own them.

The problems with pollution in the Ganga has just started to be addressed by the Indian government. In December, 2013 an environmental scientist, B.D. Tripathi, sent a letter to the Prime Minister and Chair of the NGRBA (National Ganga River Basin Authority) on the problems on the Ganga in Varanasi. The Prime Minister asked the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest to investigate the environmental cleaning systems used in the Ganga. In February, 2014 the Prime Minister directed the Union Ministry to develop legislation to save the Ganga. The Prime Minister suggested the Union Ministry set up a Ganga River Basin Management Fund.

The Vedas promote ecological values. This collection was the first set of texts which explained how the ecosystem worked on planet Earth. Yagnas promote ecological values and promote prayers for the ecology of the planet. Pujas use ecological symbols and physical items to promote the ecology of Mother Earth. In the Universal Prayer peace for all beings is promoted, "May there be peace in the sky. May there be peace on Earth. May there be peace in the waters. May there be peace in the plants. May there be peace in the trees."

Ganga Ma is a great and wonderful river, but she needs our care and concern. To find out more about Dr. Shiva's latest projects go to Join the movement to save Ganga Ma!




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