Hydro-power, long irrigation canals, sand mining and water for industrial use: these are not what Maa Ganga in its magnanimity provides. These are what we extract from an unsuspecting river, leaving her unwell as a result
Prime Minister Modi, in his thanksgiving address in the holy city of Varanasi, which had elected him to the Indian Parliament, extolled from the banks of river Ganga, the virtues of a mother “Jo bin maange parose, woh Maa hei (one who provides without asking is the Mother).
It is known that rivers have traditionally been revered as mothers in India and the then Prime Ministerial candidate Modi’s context for the said statement was the river Ganga and his oft made promise to work, once in power, for the return of her health from the present sad state.
Many of us at a recent seminar held in Delhi on the eco-system services of river Ganga remained quite uncomfortable throughout with the association of the term ‘service’ with the river. Has not the Prime Minister himself already defined the contours of our rightful expectations from the river? And can our expectations exceed what the river as our mother decides to provide us in its magnanimity? Is not what it chooses to provide us that we should be content with? And is it the weight of our undeserved expectations that is behind the sad and unfortunate state of the river that we otherwise fondly call as mother?
Permit me to list what mother Ganga provides us in its natural course, down the gradient?
In the hills, it provides opportunities of a spiritual journey and a grand spectacle that attracts tens of thousands annually to it’s and sister’s origins, popularly called the Char Dham, at Gaumukh, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath; Crystal clear ganga jal (water) with its amazing ability to retain freshness and wholesomeness over long periods; Caves for mendicants to meditate to their heart’s content, and suitable habitat to varied species of upland plants and animals.
In the plains, it provides in association with its co-basin tributaries, water and sediments to keep up with its ecological role of ground water recharge, deposition and rearrangement from time to time of sand and silt over its vast plains, and surface water to the needy for use in agriculture and in homes. Moreover it provides varied habitats to an amazing diversity of plants and animals, including ghariyal and magar crocodiles, turtles, sport fish mahseer, tasty hilsa and iconic gangetic river dolphin. It is here that the holy cities of Rishikesh, Haridwar, Mathura, Allahabad and Varanasi as well as the ancient and historical cities of Delhi, Agra, Kanpur and Patna, to name but few, have found refuge and sustenance.
At its mouth in the world famous Sundarbans delta known for its vast and amazing mangrove forests, it sustains in its brackish waters, rich fisheries, salt water crocodiles and the Bengal tiger. The delta itself is the gift of the Ganga and the Brahmaputra rivers.
Many might ask? But what about hydro-power, long irrigation canals, sand mining and water for industrial use. Well, these are not what Maa Ganga in its magnanimity provides. These are what we in our own wisdom have and continue to extract from an unsuspecting river and left her unwell as a result. An unfortunate state, to remedy which, we hope, has the Prime Minister Modi committed him to, on its banks. AMEN.