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India plans to sell holy water from one of the world’s dirtiest rivers—online

Reuters/Jitendra Prakash
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By Madhura Karnik
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Indians may soon be able to seek salvation online, but it will still be unclean.

The Indian government plans to sell water from River Ganga on the internet. The river is deeply revered by most Hindus—so much so that a dip in its waters is believed to wash away all sins.

“I have directed my department to provide for a network using e-commerce platform so that people of India can get shudh (pure) ganga jal from Haridwar/Rishikesh,” Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s telecom minister, said on May 30. “We assure you all that we will take proactive steps to address the cultural needs of the people of India.”

The water will be delivered through the postal department. Quartz has emailed Amazon India, Flipkart, and Snapdeal about the government’s proposal, but hasn’t received any responses yet.

There is a problem, though. The Ganga today is incredibly polluted.

Polluted Ganga

The 2,525-kilometre-long river flows through five Indian states, its basin covering some 26% of India’s geographical area and housing 40% of the country’s population.

Yet, for all the religious significance attached to it, millions of litres of untreated sewage from the hundreds of settlements along the Ganga flow straight into the river. Lack of proper sanitation has led to high levels (pdf) of fecal coliform, a bacteria that causes a variety of illnesses, in the Ganga.

Untreated industrial waste, too, finds its way extensively into the waterbody. A 2013 assessment report (pdf) by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) said that industries such as tanneries, sugar, distillation, pulp and paper mills are major polluters of the Ganga and its tributaries.

“There is (an) immediate need for firm environment surveillance in order to check their (industry’s) compliance with environmental standards,” the CPCB report said, adding that even 100% treatment of the sewage won’t be able to bring the water to bathing-quality level.

The Ganga today, as a result, is one of the most polluted rivers in the world.

Cleaning up

For three decades, India has been trying to clean up the holy river.

In 1985, the government launched the first phase of the Ganga Action Plan. Its main objective was “to improve the water quality of Ganga to acceptable standards by preventing the pollution load reaching the river.” Since then the government has spent some Rs4,000 crore ($595 million) on the project. But little has changed.

In May 2015, prime minister Narendra Modi announced an ambitious Rs20,000-crore ($2.9 billion), five-year programme to clean and protect the Ganga.

Experts, too, say that nothing much has been done. Instead, some studies suggest that pollution levels have increased in recent years.

“Nobody’s happy with the work on the Ganga,” RK Sinha, a zoology professor at the Patna University told the Financial Times in Nov. 2015. “Probably it’s going to be a failure of the Modi regime… In the last 30 years, not even a single drain in Patna has been completely intercepted and diverted away from the Ganga, and they have spent several crores of rupees.”

But, now there’ll at least be bottled samples of the Ganga’s water available for home delivery.

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