The heads of around 25 religious groups from different faiths have urged the Centre to enact a new law for protecting and restoring the Ganga, which is one of the most endangered rivers in the world.

The leaders, including chief Jathedar of Akal Takht Giani Gurubachan Singh and noted Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, submitted a proposal in this regard to Union Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan at an event organised by Global Interfaith WASH Alliance (GIWA) and UNICEF-India at the Sindhu Darshan Ghat here.

The proposal listed several activities like industrial effluents, municipal refuge and chemicals which are polluting the river water but excluded religious offerings and “fully- cremated” mortal remains.

Replying to a query in this regard, Swami Chidanand Saraswati, the founder of the Ganga Action Parivar, which prepared the proposal, said, “This is because 70-80 per cent of the Ganga’s pollution is sewage. Another 15 per cent is industrial effluents, and on top of this is a huge amount of municipal solid waste.

“Instead of legislating people’s tiny and mostly bio-degradable offerings, it is better that we work through community-based Ganga protection workers and faith leaders to help start new customs such as planting trees with ashes and the holy water from the Ganga, and immersing religious offerings in special tanks and ponds containing the holy water,” he said.

The religious leaders requested Harsh Vardhan to discuss the proposal, which prescribes “restrictions on polluting activities”, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

They said a new law should be enacted to “grant legal rights to the Ganga”.

The proposal suggested all municipalities of class I to V category should be provided with “sewage treatment systems to ensure complete treatment of human waste and other waste matter from homes and buildings, structures and facilities before it reaches the river or its tributaries”.

It also recommended creation of a special policing force empowered to probe and arrest any person who pollutes the river.

The river basin should be declared an open defecation-free zone and limitations placed on mining of mineral resources and disposal of dead bodies, it said.
Asked why no such proposal was made for the Indus, which

also figures in the list of most endangered rivers, Saraswati said, “The Indus spans three nations and must be protected through legislation here in India, and through increased international diplomacy and solidarity elsewhere.

“This is because only five per cent of the river runs through India, while 93 per cent is in Pakistan and the rest in China.”

He said, “Some 50 crore people in India depend on the Ganga, and countless other depend on its basin’s produce and cultural and religious heritage. That is why we are paying special attention to the Ganga, which serves as an ambassador for all rivers.”

“We feel that by enabling the Ganga to secure its own legal rights to survive and thrive, just like a company or a person, the same can later be done for all other rivers such as the Indus,” the religious leader said.

On the need for a new law despite one already being in place, he said the legislation, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, has been “rendered dry” over the past four decades.

“In 1974, a Water Act was passed that called for up to seven years jail for repeat polluters. Yet 42 years later, our nation is in trouble.

“80 per cent of our drinking water is polluted, mostly with sewage. The Water Act is a dry piece of legislation,” he said.