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Faith at stake over river shift

Ramprasad Gupta, a resident of Sarai in Bhagalpur, religiously visits the Ganga everyday.

His only hope: To take a bath in the holy river that has gone missing in the past decade.

Gupta feels that the way the river has shifted north towards Naugachia, it would again (in the same way) return to its original route someday. “I have taken the holy dip almost every day for at least 50 years. Now, I don’t find the river anymore. But I still believe that maa (mother Ganga) would return to this part of the land,” said the 66-year-old priest.

Like Gupta, hundreds of residents of the two towns — Bhagalpur and Munger — are deprived of the holy bath that is a part of all religious ceremonies according to Hindu beliefs. In the last decade, the meandering Ganga between Bhagalpur and Munger, around 60km, has shifted 10km north towards Naugachia subdivision of Bhagalpur.

The result: The river ghats lay idle, insufficient water supply to the thirsty cities and religious acrimony over “no holy water”. Environmentalists believe that the crisis is manmade and the construction of the Farakka barrage in Bengal, around 186km from Bhagalpur, has lead to the disaster.

G.N. Singh, the former head of the postgraduate department of geography at Tilka Manjhi University, Bhagalpur, said: “After construction of the Farakka barrage in 1975, heavy deposits of silt were reported in the Bhagalpur-Munger zone. This deposition has contributed to the change in the river’s course in the past one decade.”

In 2011, chief minister Nitish Kumar, too, voiced his discontent over the Farakka water sharing accord that was signed in September 1996. He had said the Farakka water sharing accord signed by the then United Front government at the Centre was a “big wrong done to Bihar”.

“It has caused not only environmental problems but left Bihar with silt and floods,” Nitish had said. The non-existent Ganga is also posing threat to drinking water supply systems in the two towns. The Barari Water Works in Bhagalpur and the Kasturba Water Works in Munger that supply drinking water to more than 8 lakh residents are now filtering dirty water and supplying it back to the city.

“The river has shifted too far. We are left with no option but to filter used water and send it back to the city,” said an official of Bhagalpur Water Works.

Ranjan Choudhry, a former postgraduate student of geography at Tilka Manjhi, who conducted a study on the river this year, said: “The mainstream of Ganga, which 10-12 years back flowed along the Bariarpur-Bhagalpur-Kahalgaon-Pirpainty road (national highway-80) has shifted north. If this is any indication, then the day is not very far when the two towns will permanently lose the privilege of having a holy river.”