WEIGHT OF THE DEAD
Down To Earth|July 16, 2021
TURNING THE GANGA INTO A GRAVEYARD FOR COVID-19 VICTIMS WILL BE DETRIMENTAL TO ITS AQUATIC ECOSYSTEM
DIPAK ANAND, SYED AINUL HUSSAIN AND RUCHI BADOLA

THE GANGA river basin is India’s largest, spanning 11 states and covering 29 per cent of the country’s landmass. It is also the most populous river basin in the world, supporting 43 per cent of the country’s population. The Ganga is home to a diverse aquatic ecosystem of over 143 fish species, 90 amphibians, and several birds.

It is known that increasing population, urbanization, and industrial development have deteriorated the Ganga. To restore its cultural, social, economic, and ecological value, the Union government in 2014 introduced the Namami Gange mission. Under this, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), the implementation wing of the National Ganga Council, has entrusted the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), with the “Biodiversity Conservation and Ganga Rejuvenation” project in 2014. It aims to conserve aquatic species and reinforce ecosystem services in the Ganga basin. Under it, WII has appointed citizen volunteers called Ganga praharis to spread awareness among the public.

However, covid-19 has put a strain on the Namami Gange mission’s efforts. Particularly, recent incidents where the bodies of those who succumbed to covid-19, along with others who died amid the pandemic, were released into the Ganga or buried near the river bank have evoked concern. These incidents occurred at several places along the river’s route—in Hamirpur, Uttar Pradesh, and Buxar, Bihar, in 2020; and in Kanpur, Varanasi, and Patna during the recent wave.

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