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In photos: India’s holy river flows toward a toxic death

A Hindu devotee holds up his clothes after taking a dip in the river Ganges in Devprayag, India.
A Hindu devotee holds up his clothes after taking a dip in the river Ganges in Devprayag, India.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
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One of India’s holiest rivers, the 2,525km-long Ganga, is said to have mysterious self-purifying properties. Ironically, today, the water body ranks among the filthiest in India and the world.

Sewage, industrial chemicals, and pilgrims’ ritual bathing have destroyed it.

The Indian government has often tried to reverse or contain the pollution levels in the river as it also serves as a water source to 400 million people. In mid-2016, it spent Rs2,958 crore (nearly $460 million) for this but with no success. In fact, earlier this year, the National Green Tribunal said that “not a single drop of river Ganga has been cleaned so far.” It accused the government agencies of “only wasting public money.” A month later, the government pumped another Rs1,900 crore ($291 million) into 20 projects—13 of them in the state of Uttarakhand—to build new sewage treatment plants and upgrade existing ones.

In March, the Uttarakhand high court declared Ganga, along with its tributary Yamuna, a “living entity.” It was hoped that this would deter people from polluting them. It didn’t. The Supreme court rolled back the ruling earlier this month.

In a series of photos by Reuters, the river’s journey is depicted, starting as a crystal clear stream up in the icy Himalayas and ending in a toxic mess.

Devprayag, Uttarakhand

The Wider Image: Dying "Mother Ganges": holy river succumbs to pollution
Hindu priests inside a cave, performing evening prayers on the Ganga’s banks.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
The Wider Image: Dying "Mother Ganges": holy river succumbs to pollution
Lokesh Sharma, 19, a Hindu priest, performs evening prayers.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Haridwar, Uttarakhand

The Wider Image: Dying "Mother Ganges": holy river succumbs to pollution
A damaged idol of Hindu goddess Kali in Haridwar.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Mirzapur, Uttarakhand

The Wider Image: Dying "Mother Ganges": holy river succumbs to pollution
Untreated sewage from a residential area flows into the river.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
The Wider Image: Dying "Mother Ganges": holy river succumbs to pollution
Untreated sewage flows from an open drain into the river.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
The Wider Image: Dying "Mother Ganges": holy river succumbs to pollution
A pile of garbage along the river.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh

The Wider Image: Dying "Mother Ganges": holy river succumbs to pollution
Layers of foam float in a sewage drain flowing into the river.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
The Wider Image: Dying "Mother Ganges": holy river succumbs to pollution
Dyed leather pieces left to dry near the banks of the river.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
The Wider Image: Dying "Mother Ganges": holy river succumbs to pollution
A leather tannery in an industrial area along the Ganga.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
The Wider Image: Dying "Mother Ganges": holy river succumbs to pollution
Untreated sewage flows from an open drain into the river.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

The Wider Image: Dying "Mother Ganges": holy river succumbs to pollution
Relatives immerse a body in the river Ganges prior to cremation.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Kolkata, West Bengal

The Wider Image: Dying "Mother Ganges": holy river succumbs to pollution
A man cleans garbage along the banks of the river.
Image: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui