The prosperity and economic development of a region is majorly dependent on the ecological state that exists. Resources in terms of quality of land, climatic conditions, flow of rivers, soil fertility has a prominent role to play in the prosperity of a region. This stands true even to the ancient societies of India, namely Harappa. Irrigation facilities, and the ability of the community to adhere and adapt and avail the optimum benefits of the ecology, by creation of stepwells, irrigation practices, trade routes or sowing crops, played a prominent role in its recognition after an epoch. The significance of natural river courses cannot be undermined in sustaining soil fertility and the economy of a region. The bygone river Saraswati in the case of the Harappan Civilization played a significant role in the economic development of the region. However, one of the theories of the fall of the civilization is also attributed to the flooding caused by the same river.

A similar analogy is the river Ganga that dominates the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. The river is revered and worshipped, holds a significant place in the Hindu mythology and contemporary religious practices, also referred as Mother Ganga. One of the reasons behind the reverence can also be attributed to the river acting as a fresh source of water to the entire northern region, one of the most fertile lands of the country. Home to more than 650 million people, the river has been recognized as a living entity, due to its cultural and spiritual significance that far transcends the boundaries of its basin. The course of the river covers 11 states, namely: (1)


-Uttar Pradesh

-Madhya Pradesh



-Himachal Pradesh




-West Bengal


The origin of the river is traced to the Gangotri glacier, in the Himalaya Mountains. The river is a confluence of rivers Bhagirathi and Alaknanda, and flows through the northern plain of India, Bangladesh, where it is known as ‘Padma’, and empties in the Bay of Bengal. Yamuna, Ghaghara, Gandak, Kosi, Chambal rivers are some tributaries of the river Ganga.


Anthropological sources are the major reasons for the pollution of the river water. Climate change also has a role to play, however waste from industries and human activities along the basins have an upper hand in the depletion of the river.


The river was decaying at a pace which needed intervention by the Central Government to implement rapid action. The river flows through a conglomerate of industries, dominated by tanneries, fertilizer and pesticides, dyeing and textile units and distilleries. The industries have transformed the river into a major source of sewage and dump. Another source of pollution is plastic and industrial trash, such as effluent from factories along the Ganga’s banks. The river’s greatest concern is the growing scarcity of water. Water for irrigation is being depleted quicker than it can be replenished during the rainy season. Industrial effluent act as a major source of contamination of the river.

The Ganges river dolphin is one of just a few freshwater dolphin species found worldwide. Their number is estimated to be less than 2000, making them an endangered species. The main reason for the dolphins’ population decline is hydroelectric and irrigation dams along the Ganges, which prohibit them from travelling up and down river.


One of the holiest rivers, and revered by thousands, Ganga is associated with purity and salvation. It is believed that bathing in the river water causes the forgiveness of transgressions and helps attain salvation. Over 10 million people bathe in the river every day. People make offerings of food and flowers, which are frequently deposited into the water in small cardboard boxes or on bits of plastic. Every day, tens of thousands of flowers are carefully placed into the river in this manner and left to drift downstream.

The bank of Ganga is considered as one of the auspicious places to die and cremated by the Hindus. After cremation, the remains are placed into the river and left to float downstream. This belief is so deeply rooted, and the spiritual importance of the river is reflected in the number of people who travel to the banks of the river, specifically for this purpose. Scientists have discovered ‘super bacteria’ living in the waters that are resistant to most forms of commonly used antibiotics. In Varanasi alone, an estimated 40,000 bodies are cremated every year. Salvation homes are specifically created for ‘kashivasis’: men and women, who come to live and die in Kashi. The underlying belief is cremation along the banks of the holy Ganges river allows you to break the cycle of rebirth and attain salvation, that has led to pyres burning incessantly at Manikarnika and Harishchandra Ghats, the steps leading down to the river, whose water is now grey from industrial and human waste.

M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, [1987] 4 SCC 463: (3)


In 1985, M.C. Mehta filed a writ petition in the nature of mandamus to prevent these leather tanneries from disposing off domestic and industrial waste and effluents in the Ganga River. This writ petition was bifurcated by the Supreme Court into two parts known as Mehta I and Mehta II.

Through this petition, the Supreme Court was requested to restrain the respondents from releasing effluents in the river, till the time they incorporate certain treatment plants for treatment of toxic effluents to arrest water pollution. Thereby, the Supreme Court under Rule 8 of the CPC, published a gist of the same in the newspapers calling upon municipal corporations, town municipal councils and industrialists to appear before the court, and many industrialists and local authorities did appear to justify why direction should not be issued to them.


The court upheld Article 48-A and 51-A of the Constitution. The former constitutes one of the Directive Principles of State Policy, while the latter imposes a fundamental duty on the citizens.

  • Article 48-A: State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.
  • Article 51-A: State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.

The Court also referred to the Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1974, which was passed to prevent and control water pollution and maintain water quality. Through this act, central and state boards were established with powers and functions related to control and prevention of water pollution. Section 24 of the Act prohibits the use of the use of any stream for disposal of polluting matter. A stream under section 2(j) of the Act includes river, water course whether flowing or for the time being dry, inland water whether natural or artificial, sub-terrene waters, sea or tidal waters to such extent or as the case may be to such point as the State Government may by the notification in the official gazette may specify. The Act permits the establishment of Central Boards and State Boards. Section 16 and Section 17 of the Act describe the power of these boards. The Court also relied on the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Section 3 of this Act confers power on the Central Government to take effective steps for the protection and improving the quality of the environment and preventing environmental pollution. Environment means water, air, and land and the inter-relationship which exists among the water, air and human beings. Section 3(2)(iv) of this Act empowers the Central Government to lay down standards for emission or discharge of pollutants. The Central Government is empowered to issue directions in writing to any person or authority to comply with such directions.

Further, the Court noted sewage, industrial run-off of cultivated land, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, industrial solid waste as the major source of pollution of Ganga. Referring to the Action Plan for Prevention of Pollution of the Ganga by the Government of India, the court held that the responsibility for treatment of the industrial effluents is of the industry. The Court ordered the tanneries to establish primary treatment plants if not Secondary treatment plants. That is the minimum which the tanneries should do in the circumstances of the case. The Court further held that the financial capacity of the tanneries should be considered as irrelevant while requiring them to establish primary treatment plants. Just like an industry which cannot pay minimum wages to its workers cannot be allowed to exist a tannery which cannot set up a primary treatment plant cannot be permitted to continue to be in existence for the adverse effect on the public at large which is likely to ensue by the discharging of the trade effluents from the tannery to the river Ganga would be immense and it will outweigh any inconvenience that may be caused to the management and the labor employed by it on account of its closure.


  • Ganga Action Plan.

This was the first river action plan by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in 1986. The primary purpose of this plan was to clean up the Ganga River by removing pollution from cities along its banks. Under this action plan, 256 programmes of around 462 crores were implemented> However it was a massive fail despite the billions of investment.

  • National Mission for Clean Ganga.

Implemented by the National Council for Rejuvenation, Protection and Management of River Ganga also known as the National Ganga Council. It was established in 2011 under the Societies Registeration Act, 1860.

The main pillars are:

-rehabilitating and boosting existing sewage treatment plants

-maintain continuity of water flow

-restore and maintain the surface flow of groundwater

-maintain the natural vegetation

-regenerate aquatic biodiversity

– allow participation of the public in the process of protection, rejuvenation and management of the river.

  • Nmami Gange Programme:

This is the Centre’s flagship project undertaken on June 2014. The twin objectives of effective abatement of pollution and conservation and rejuvenation of National River Ganga are addressed through this programme. The Ministry of Jal Shakti, under the Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and under the chairmanship of the Honorable Prime Minister of India. The focus of the programme includes:

  1. River surface cleaning
  2. Sewage treatment infrastructure
  3. Biodiversity
  4. River front development
  5. Afforestation
  6. Industrial effluent monitoring
  7. Public awareness
  8. Ganga gram


Uttarakhand High Court: “Considering the words “living entity” in layman terms, this means that both the rivers are given the legal rights same as persons. They are not the natural persons, but in the eyes of law they are considered as the legal person.”

The sanctity of the river can be established by the spiritual and religious faith that the people have, reflected through the hope and not fear, with which they worship the ghat. However, the depleting health of the river requires massive coordination on the societal level. To protect and maintain the biological oxygen demand of the river, which Is the proof of its life, decaying of the river requires swift and meticulous action.


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(2) https://geographical.co.uk/culture/the-ganges-river-of-life-religion-and-pollution




(3) https://indiankanoon.org/doc/59060/



(4) https://nmcg.nic.in/NamamiGanga.aspx



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