CLEANSING THE SOUL of the Ghats of Varanasi

Just go to Assi Ghat and see for yourself. The place is completely unrecognisable. It is so clean that now you can actually get to see the real beauty of this place,” says the localite.

WORDS BY- AABHA TIWARI

BANARAS is a place where people visit to seek soulful peace, divinity and the quiet serenity of the Ganges. It is a perfect place to enjoy a natural as well as religious vacation.

It is a true heaven for travel wanderers, history enthusiasts and prominent religious crowds, this city is said to have one of the oldest settled civilisations of the world.

Amongst other things, Varanasi is also known for its many ghats that open up to the River. Historically, it was rebuilt after 1700 AD, under Maratha reign.

The Ghats in Varanasi are the steps of riverfront leading to the banks of the Ganges. The city has a total of 88 ghats and is associated with mythological stories, while other ghats are privately owned.

Most of these are used for the purpose of bathing and performing religious ceremonies. Specifically two ghats are used as cremation sites. One of the oldest Ghats of the cities are: Manikarnika and Harishchandra Ghats and they are specifically used to perform the oldest yet the most controversial religious practice of cremation. The practice has become controversial because of the water pollution it causes and many failed attempts to change the beliefs of the people.

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Architect Geetika Verma and Kartik Shrivastav, Assistant Professors of Amity University, while presenting their paperwork in “finding the cause of water and Ghats pollution of Varanasi”, laid emphasis on the deterioration of the water quality and its serious implications for the supply of water for drinking, and irrigation. “Nearly all kinds of wastes coming out of Varanasi, from sewage inflow, industrial waste, animal carcasses, unclaimed human bodies and other kinds of biodegradable as well as non-biodegradable waste is being dumped in the Ganga”, says the duo in their research paper.
One can observe the negative effect of disposing the liquid waste, untreated sewer water and cremation ground (Manikarnika Ghat) of Varanasi City. As per various studies conducted on environmental degradation issues, it has been deduced that the cremation activity is recorded to have one of the most serious impacts on the environment of Varanasi.

It affects the environment, the human health and overall economy of the country, it adds. The Ganges has been constantly at risk of high levels of pollution from sewage or as a result of cremation.

It emerges as great concern to save and clean the river Ganga along with the Ghats in its vicinity.

WIPING THE REALITY:
The Swach Ganga Research Laboratory in Varanasi conducted regular water quality tests and found the FCC (faecal coliform counts) ranges between 16,000 to 60,000 mpn per 100 ml of water. These ranges far exceed the permissible limit.

THE PROBLEMS WITH MANIKARNIKA GHAT
If mythology is to be believed, it is said due to the presence of the Temple Tarakesvara (Lord Shiva’s temple at the ghat), which says that Lord Shiva whispers the Taraka mantra in the ear of the dead due to which the dead gets Moksha (liberation of the soul). Due to this reason, dead bodies are burnt there. The environmental degradation and water pollution near Manikarnika Ghat are caused by increasing number of anthropogenic activities such as disposal of solid wastes which even include garbage, unclaimed human dead bodies, half-burnt bodies, plastic bag and animal carcasses.

REJUVENATION OF THE GHATS
Under the program of “Namami Gange”, a wide approach has been laid out to stop the pollution flowing into the river and ensuring cleaner Ghats. From sewage treatment plants, Ghat improvement to river surface cleaning, many other steps are being taken in Varanasi by National Mission for “Clean Ganga” to save the city from rising river pollution levels.
In addition to building the sewage plants, there has been major development on the river Assi and Varuna. Many policies has been laid out in rehabilitation of old sewers and management of the entire sewage management infrastructure in Varanasi.
A cleaner Ganga is incomplete without equally clean surroundings. A Delhi-based Company – Environmental Infrastructure signed up with the Urban Development Dept. of Varanasi Nagar Nigam to provide door-to-door garbage collection and street cleaning services in the historic city. The cleaning sectors cover the Ghats, which are densely populated and receive a significant amount of floating population. The tie-up can be called successful, with their end-to-end approach to the waste collection system. The Government of India too is working towards cleaning 84 heritage Ghats under Namami Gange Program, which has shown positive results.