The Ganges is revered by Hindus across the world and a plunge in the holy river is considered to free the human soul from their sins.
However, the holiest of all rivers for the Hindus has been turned into an unholy mess. The increasing population, mismanaged sewage and industrialization has caused serious implications for the Ganges in the holy town of Varanasi, India.
From the Christian Science Monitor's Holy Man, Secular Plan: Clean Up the River Ganges:
The Ganges, revered as a symbol of spiritual purity for more than 2,000 years, is today a filthy soup. This is especially true in the ancient pilgrimage site of Varanasi, where 32 old pipes on the riverbank disgorge raw sewage into the flow.
But people like Veer Bhandra Mishra, one of Time's Heroes of the Planet in 1999, are standing up with a mission to clean the polluted river.
According to CSM, Mishra - a professor of hydraulics at Benaras Hindu University and hereditary priest of the nearby Sankat Mochan temple - along with scientists from the University of California in Berkeley, had developed a cheap, sustainable system for diverting the city's sewage away from the river, and cleaning it more than a decade ago. But then the state and central government rejected his plan and a $242-million plan was set aside by the Indian government (From CSM's 1987 story: Cleaning Ganges, India's Polluted Symbol of Purity, No Easy Task).
Today, Mishra stands successful by his plan.
Gentle-mannered Mishra continued his tenacious lobbying, and last year secured a meeting with prime minister Manmohan Singh.
Last month, he heard what he describes as "the best news in 20 years."
On June 30, the central government wrote to him, telling him it would support a pilot run of his scheme in Varanasi and suggesting it would hold back support for a much costlier, ineffective state government-led scheme.
Mishra's scheme, instead of depending on scarce supplies of electricity, the system would use gravity to carry sewage to four big pools, built on wasteland several miles outside the city, where it would be broken down by bacteria, algae, and sunlight, CSM reports.
But it's not only a single person like Mishra working toward the goal of cleaning the Ganges. There are different organizations supporting Mishra in his endeavors, such as The Sankat Mochan Foundation. The foundation has been working since 1982 with its Swatcha Ganga (Clean Ganges) Campaign educating people and implementing various river clean-up activities.
The increasing population and industralization is indeed a huge challenge not only for a river like the Ganges having a religious significance, but for all of the world's water masses. But when it comes to the Ganges, it is a matter of "health of Hinduism – how a dirty river might damage the faith," in Mishra's words.
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