Allahabad: A woman takes a dip in the muddy water of River Ganga, in Allahabad, Wednesday, Sept 26, 2018.
Allahabad: A woman takes a dip in the muddy water of River Ganga, in Allahabad, Wednesday, Sept 26, 2018. Image Credit: PTI

Toxic waste is killing India's river Ganges. Nearly 4,400 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of waste are released into the river daily.

Bloomberg’s @tictoc on Monday tweeted: “India's Prime Minister Modi promised to clean up the Ganges river in his 2014 election run. Now, 4,400 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of waste are released into the river daily.”

How big is an Olympic competition pool?

An Olympic-size swimming pool is 50 meters (164 feet) long, 25 meters (82 feet) wide, and has a minimum depth of 2 meters (7 feet). It usually contains about 500,000 gallons of water. To put this into perspective, an average modern backyard pool has about 10,000-20,000 gallons of water.

What India's PM promised for the Ganges 

Today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today addressed at the 14th Conference of Parties (COP14) to United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification on Monday and discussed land degradation, water scarcity and other environmental issues.

However, his first act on taking charge as prime minister in 2014 was to worship India’s holiest (and arguably its most polluted) river.

Modi had then declared: “Mother Ganga needs someone to take her out of this dirt… and she’s chosen me for the job,” a May 2019 article on Bloomberg highlights.

According to Indian news site The Wire, Modi promised 200 billion rupees to clean the Ganges, to be supplied from state funds and donations from devout Hindus worldwide. As of December, less than 20 percent of the 2.4 billion rupees received in donations had been spent.

Recent data from India’s Central Pollution Control Board, out of the 86 monitoring stations on Ganga, only seven sites have been found to be fit for drinking after disinfection process, while only 18 spots have been found to be fit for bathing.

Bloomberg reported that Dams on the Ganges generate 4,900 megawatts of power, enough to supply New Delhi, while 97 cities and towns use its water. Some 11 billion liters of industrial waste and effluent is discharged back into the river each day, the equivalent of 4,400 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Social media  users have also discusses the condition of the river.

The significance of the Ganges River

The Ganges River, also called Ganga, is located in northern India. It is the longest river in India and flows for around 2,525 km from the Himalayan Mountains to the Bay of Bengal. The river has the second greatest water discharge in the world, and its basin is the most heavily populated in the world with over 400 million people living in the basin.

The Ganges River is extremely important to the people of India as most of the people living on its banks use it for daily needs such as bathing and fishing. Aside from providing drinking water and irrigating fields, the Ganges River is extremely important to India's Hindu population for religious reasons as well. The Ganges River is considered their most sacred river, and it is worshiped as the goddess Ganga Ma or "Mother Ganges."

According to mythology the goddess Ganga descended from heaven to dwell in the waters of this river to protect, purify and bring to heaven those who touch it. Devout Hindus visit the river often to offer flowers and food to Ganga. They also drink the water and bathe in the river to cleanse and purify their sins. Also, Hindus believe that upon death the waters of the Ganges River are needed to reach the world of the ancestors or Pitr-loka. As a result, Hindus bring their dead to the river for cremation along its banks and afterward their ashes are spread in the river. In some cases, corpses are also thrown into the river.

The city of Varanasi is the holiest of cities along the Ganges River and many Hindus travel there to place ashes of their dead relatives in the river.

There are also religious festivals throughout the year where millions of people travel to the river to bathe so that they can be purified of their sins.

Pollution of the Ganges River

Despite the religious significance, it is one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Pollution of the Ganges is caused by both human and industrial waste.

High contamination

More than 1 billion litres of raw sewage flow into the river every day. In places, the water’s bacteria count reaches 3,000 times the limit declared safe for bathing by the World Health Organization.

Plastic and Industrial waste

Plastic and industrial waste, such as waste water from the leather tanneries that sit on the banks of the Ganges, are another cause of pollution.

But perhaps the most worrying problem facing the river is its increasing lack of water. Water for irrigation is being removed faster than the rainy season can replenish it.

Dolphin population

Large schools of freshwater dolphins, known as Ganges River dolphins, were once found along the river. Now they swim in small groups or alone. In 2016, reports showed that they have become endangered due to pollution, dams, irrigation projects and the dredging of new shipping channels. However, a state-funded research by the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) said the situation was getting better. According to several Indian media reports, Deputy Director Gopal Sharma said: “we have found about 1,150 dolphins in these rivers during our extensive survey which lasted about a month and we think the population is stable.”

Namami Gange and other projects

The Indian government has sanctioned sufficient budget for implementation of these projects, but to facilitate wider public participation, Clean Ganga Fund was established for Public Sector Undertakings, NRIs and other individuals to make their contribution. According to an article on, Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, Director General of National Mission for Clean Ganga said in an interview: “Many people want to do something and contribute for Ganga like we keep on getting request. So, this actually enables them to contribute in some way. Small amount, big amount – depends on their interest. So, people can contribute money. Last year was very good because as the projects are also getting completed – Namami Gange projects.”

The article said that donations from Public and Private sector undertakings have been on the rise, and more individuals too have joined the cause. From merely 580 individuals donating in 2014-15, the number increased to 5,218 in 2018-19. The money collected via the Clean Ganga Fund is spent on various projects.

Projects worth Rs203.14 crores have been sanctioned in the last four years, including afforestation interventions in five Ganga basin states, treatment of nalas (or drains) though in-situ bioremediation process and redevelopment of ghats and crematoria among others.