The Ganga: A struggle between Cultural & Environmental Conscience

Posted: September 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

The River Ganga (Ganges), based on the Hindu mythology, is considered sacred and people believe it has come down to earth from the heavens. It symbolizes a means of purification to millions of Hindus who believe that bathing and drinking the Ganga water will give them “Moksha” or Salvation.



The Ganga basin extends over more than 1 million square kilometres. It covers parts of India, Nepal, China and Bangladesh. The basin occupies a quarter of India’s land mass. It is a majorly seasonal river with 80% of the discharge occurring during the southwest Indian monsoon (July – October).


The Ganga basin is home to around 450 million people and is considered to be one of the most populous regions on earth with an average density of more than 550 individuals per square kilometre. The economics of this river system depends on utilization of this water resource directly, navigation, irrigation, power generation and water supply to towns. The largest city or urban centre along the river is the city of Kolkata (previously Calcutta) with around 14.5 million people and most of the population uses this river water for drinking, sewage and sludge discharge and other industrial and domestic uses.


The Ganga waters carry one of the highest sediment loads in the world, with a mean annual total of 1.6 billion tonnes, compared to 0.4 billion tonnes for the Amazon.

The living resources of the river have been jeopardized due to population pressure, natural resource consumption and pollution to the level of over tapping of resources.

ganga polluted

The water resource management steps applied by the Indian Government and the WWF are:

1)      Establishment of Ganga Conservation Committee.

2)      Stopping the usage of plastic bags around the river.

3)      “Conservation of Ganga River Dolphin” project.

4)      Media campaigns

5)      Development of Target specific education and awareness.

6)      Workshops with village and community leaders, local NGO’s to evaluate progress.

These steps have been applied in just a short section of the river and additional steps are being implemented to actively conserve the river at a much wider scale.

I believe that the “community based social marketing steps” can be used to foster a sustainable behaviour among the people but, to change the behaviour of such a large population and their cultural and religious beliefs, there should be certain special means which have to be used to succeed at a greater scale. For example: Building the confidence of local stakeholders, establishing strong partnerships among local NGO’s, political leaders, spiritual leaders, administrative bodies and marketing sustainable measures which are positively based on the cultural and religious importance of the river. Do you think any additional measures can be applied to support the river Ganga?

Though it is pretty difficult to integrate and satisfy all the points and needs of different interest groups, but planned approaches with clear objectives and goals can help the communities and regions to work together, identify and resolve the challenges, if they want a sustainable and clean water system for themselves and their future generations.


Sarkar, S. K., Saha M., et al (2007). Water quality management in the lower stretch of the river ganges, east coast of india: an approach through environmental education. Journal of Cleaner Production15, 1559-1567.

Ganges river case study. (n.d.). Retrieved from

(2012, July 6). BBC Our World- India’s Water Crisis [Web Video]. Retrieved from

(2013, February 16). Ganges River, India [Web Video]. Retrieved from

  1. olivjenn says:

    Very informative post! It’s always nice to have a global perspective of the issues we discuss in the class. I completely agree that if Community Based Social Marketing approaches were used to help improve the quality of this water system, certain elements would need to be tweaked to best address the different needs, limitations, and strengths of all the countries along the river. You mentioned in your post that The Ganga waters carry one of the highest sediment loads in the world. Where does most of this come from? Or is it just a combination of all stress factors that add up to the large sediment load?

    • saurabhspea says:

      The major reason for the large sedimentation of the Ganges is the large scale deforestation of the Gangetic plain. This is one of the major problems with the quality of the Ganga waters.The industries represented in this river basin are sugar and paper mills, cloth, woolen, cotton and rayon mills, tanneries, ordinance factories, battery industries, thermal power houses, chemical plants, metal and steel factories, distilleries, and fertilizer corporations. Heavy metals such as cadmium, zinc, nickel, lead, chromium and copper are concentrated in the river water and the sediments There are many groups working to resolve this issue but sadly the pace is really slow.

  2. Lindsay says:

    It is so interesting to consider not only general attitudes around conservation of the river but the spiritual aspect as well. In the very limited research I did after reading your blog, it looks as though the Hindu religion incorporates a respect and deference to the environment. For example, Dharma, or duty, can be interpreted as the responsibility to take care of the environment. Additionally, the Earth is seen as the manifestation of the goddess, and must be treated with respect. It’s amazing how easily the connection can be made between environmental stewardship and spiritual belief.

    I really enjoyed your blog. Thank you!

    • saurabhspea says:

      Dharma means “duty” – can be reinterpreted to include our duty to care for the earth.
      Some of the other teachings of Hinduism are:
      • The earth can be seen as a manifestation of the goddess, and must be treated with respect.
      • The five elements – space, air, fire, water, and earth – are the foundation of an interconnected web of life.
      • Simple living is a model for the development of sustainable economies.
      • Our treatment of nature directly affects our karma.
      It is a very intricate relationship between religion and the environment which is very interesting. Thanks for appreciating my blog!

  3. Interesting, I knew very little about The Ganga and the river basin. I think you’re right that CBSM is an important part of the water quality solution, but with such a large population, I think those efforts will have to be coupled with new water quality regulations. However, incorporating CBSM into this plan can certainly help encourage regulation compliance and behavior change in order to reduce the abatement/changes that must happen from the regulatory end. Like we discussed in class, conservation is the best way to reduce waste, and I think CBSM plays an integral role in that effort.

  4. jeffmeek says:

    Great post and thanks for bringing in another perspective on the things we discuss in class. I actually just finished reading a Nature article for my climate change class about how the region will see a significant change in the distribution of water. For example, by 2050 upstream snowmelt is expected to come about a month earlier (for all of the greater Himalayan region), causing droughts to start sooner and last longer – impacting about 1/2 the worlds population.
    (tried to insert map here, but if you want to check out the paper let me know and I will upload it to oncourse/email it)

  5. Jana McGee says:

    Saurahb- After reading your post, I did a quick search on Indian environmentalist writers, because I am sure I remember an Indian woman writer who has written on the spiritual aspects of environmentalism. I wasn’t able to find the writer I was looking for, but I did find an organization I wasn’t aware of. I will post the link for the benefit of anyone in the class who may be interested: The Center for Science and the Environment, India

    In answer to your question about CBSM, I think that if preserving the Ganges could be made a spiritual imperative, that would be the most uniting approach. There are some schools of thought like that in western religion, and I wish that would gain more traction. In India, based on your post, and the news articles you linked to, it seems that a spiritual attitude to the Ganges is built in, and could help people to see the importance of protection/ conservation.

    • saurabhspea says:

      The spiritual attitude is an essence of the Ganges. If we could devise certain solid steps where we incorporate the prospect of spirituality with sustainability, then we could setup a pathway to address the global problems of sustainability. This is my point of view, to approach every aspect locally and globally at the same time!

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