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Cry for green Kumbh, clean Ganga

Lucknow, Jan. 13: The sights and sounds are familiar, as befits a centuries-old festival, as about one crore people jostle for space in Allahabad’s “tent city” a day ahead of the once-in-12-years Maha Kumbh.

Yet amid the ganja smoke and naked sadhus, a new cry is making itself heard over the familiar chants of “Har Har Mahadev”. It’s a call for a clean Ganga and a green Kumbh.

The demand is old and has already witnessed the birth and end of a Ganga Action Plan that fell short of its targets. The Kumbh campaigners — a motley group of environmentalists, politicians and sadhus — hope to use the Maha Kumbh as a platform to draw attention to the issue.

One of the campaign’s most identifiable faces is BJP leader Uma Bharti. The former Madhya Pradesh chief minister, who is now an Uttar Pradesh MLA, arrived at the mela ground today and held up a sample of Ganga water to show how dirty it is.

She met Swami Avadheshanand Giri of the Juna Akhara, a leading organisation of naked sadhus, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders to request them to join the battle. Her associates claimed she had already met chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and urged them to clean up the Ganga.

The campaigners have two main demands:

Close the tanneries pouring their waste into the Ganga’s tributaries between Kanpur and Allahabad.

Get the dams in Uttarakhand to release more water to lower the Ganga’s pollution levels.

The issue is crucial because one source of Ganga pollution, apart from human sewage and industrial waste, is festive gatherings on its banks accompanied by mass bathing. Studies during the last Kumbh in 2010 in Hardwar had showed a sharp rise in pathogens in the river because of mass bathing.

Mela authorities have assured the sadhus that the Tehri dam will release an additional 220-250 cubic metres of water till February 28, the last day of the “Kumbh snaan”.

The state administration too claimed that the “bio-chemical oxygen demand” (a key indicator of water quality) for the Yamuna and the Ganga was about 6mg/ — higher than the minimum level of 3mg/, below which bathing isn’t allowed.

But sadhus and environmentalists complained about the colour of the river water.

“It still looks murky because of the effluents discharged by pulp and paper factories into the Ramganga and the Kali (the Ganga’s local tributaries),” said Mahendra Giri, a sadhu from the Juna Akhara.

The administration has taken several steps to monitor and check pollution levels in the Ganga for the duration of this Kumbh.

For the first time ever, “real-time, hi-tech quality-monitoring machines and sensors” have been installed in the riverbed, mela officials say.

These machines, installed at six places, test the water quality every minute and send a report via satellite through the global positioning system. If the quality falls, the authorities will ask Uttarakhand to release more water.

Activists from NGOs such as Gyan and the Living Planet Foundation reached Allahabad today to join the “Clean Ganga” campaign.

The foundation had, with the help of scientists, recorded images of the 2001 Maha Kumbh in Allahabad where 60 million people had assembled. Mela administration officials said these images had helped them plan anti-pollution measures, such as banning polythene in the mela area.

The green campaign is not the only new development at this Kumbh, though. The various akharas’ tents and the police outposts have been put on Google Maps, and sadhus were seen running a quick search on their iPads today.