Water pollution in India

Ques. “The task of reducing the pollution load of the Ganga is daunting, but the clamour for a cleaner river has gained momentum in recent times” while analysing the given statement describe the causes of increasing pollution of India’ water bodies. What are its consequences? Critically examine what measures are needed to address the pollution problem.

Water Pollution is the presence of harmful and objectionable material in water in sufficient concentrations to make it unfit for use. Water contamination weakens or destroys natural ecosystems that support human health, food production and biodiversity. India’s 14 major, 55 minor and several hundred small rivers receive millions of litres of sewage, industrial and agricultural wastes. Presently, only about 10 per cent of the waste water generated is treated; the rest is discharged as it is into our water bodies.


  • Untreated sewage and industrial waste are dumped into the waters without remorse.
  • Reduced flow and rampant underground water withdrawals affect millions of people who depend on the river’s water.
  •  Further, floods and droughts, which endanger lives and cause serious damage to crops, livestock and infrastructure, are a common phenomenon in the river basin.
  • The combination of glacial retreat, decreasing ice mass, early snowmelt and increased winter stream flow adds to the pressure. There is a clear evidence that climate change is already affecting the Himalayan ice cover. This will have a profound impact on the river.


  • With agricultural activities intensifying in areas near the river, particularly in urban and peri-urban areas, farmers frequently rely on waste water for irrigation. This poses a serious public health risk.
  • Deteriorating water quality in the Ganga — due to domestic, industrial and agricultural effluents — is also a major threat to riverine ecosystems and to people whose livelihoods depend on water.


  • Ganga being a complex trans-boundary basin, needs a basin-scale approach. This would require close coordination with all the countries sharing the Ganga, such as Nepal and Bangladesh, so that the interests of both upstream and downstream users are taken into consideration. The existing treaties on “sharing water resources” could be renegotiated as “shared management of water resources.
  • Low cost, simple ecological sanitation and reuse systems in context to agricultural waste may be few of the measure for making waste water treatment feasible for agricultural purposes.
  • Innovative methods for maintaining environmental flows and the quality of water during environmentally critical periods, along with procedures for implementing these methods, need to be investigated.
  • Application of remote sensing and hydrological modelling has helped in developing high-quality flood maps, which are useful for developing plans for river conservation, maintaining the quality of water in different stretches and, more importantly, reducing the vulnerabilities of the affected communities.
  • Innovative approaches such as underground taming of floods for irrigation and aquifer management could offer solutions to the flood problem. These approaches essentially involve storing floodwaters in underground structures in upstream areas. This will help prevent floods and help maintain water availability even during dry seasons.

Recent initiatives by the Indian government such as including ‘River Development’ and ‘Ganga Rejuvenation’ to the portfolio of the Minister of Water Resources, and the establishment of the National Ganga River Basin Authority and the National Mission for Clean Ganga, show a commitment to address some of these pressing concerns with special attention given to pollution control.

In recent times, the clamour for a cleaner Ganga has gained momentum. Although huge progress is being made, the need of the hour is to widen our focus. Negotiations on economic revitalisation of the Ganga should involve India, Nepal and Bangladesh. This task in itself is of mammoth proportions. However, by taking small steps, we can still reduce the pollution load and restore the river to the people.

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