Kumbh Mela-2021 held amidst pandemic and extreme pollution issues in Ganga water

Holy Dip in Ganga, the essence of Kumbh Mela

This massive event is taking place surrounding two major aspects: the pandemic and the bad water conditions of the river Ganga are posing a big threat to human health.

Kumbh Mela or the Maha Kumbh is planned to be conducted in the months of January 2021, amidst the pandemic itself. Kumbh is one of the most sacred pilgrimages for Hindus celebrated once every 12 years. The last Kumbh Mela was held in the year 2010 in Haridwar. It is celebrated a year early this time due to special auspicious dates. It is also said that the event shall boost the religious tourism which is the backbone Uttarakhand’s economy.

However, the questions here is, the pandemic and the recent reports of the dip in the water quality level of the river Ganga. The major event in Kumbh is people gathering in large numbers and taking a dip in the waters of the river ganga. Both the aspects pose a huge threat to the pilgrims. The huge gatherings may serve as a reason for massive COVID-19 spread if proper measures not maintained, followed by the holy dip at the river Ganga, remining holy just by namesake as the pollution is making the situation worse by each passing day.

Planning amidst the Pandemic:

The pandemic has obviously changed the preparation process for the event. Provisions have been made to manage crowd differently this time. In-order to take a holy dip in the river Ganga, there is a new process wherein the pilgrims will have to get themselves registered on a website and select a specific ghat to bathe. Each of them will be allotted a time in which they are expected to visit the ghat for the holy dip. They will be provided with an e-pass which shall have the route map of the selected ghat on it. A person will only be permitted to bathe in the river for only 15 minutes according to the new guidelines.

All the 107 ghats in the mela area will be divided and marked into red, green and yellow zones, along with GIS mapping of the entire area. Provisions have also been made wherein if there is overcrowding at any particular place, the control room will immediately get alerted. The administration has also increased the time duration to take baths in the morning and forenoon in-order to avoid stampedes.

The pilgrims will also have to produce their negative covid test reports to be allowed in the ghats. These are the guidelines so far that the entire administration and the people making arrangements for the event are trying to accomplish. Any further changes in the guidelines will entirely depend on the situational necessity.

The degrading  Ganga water conditions ahead of Maha Kumbh:

Earlier, it was expected that the pilgrims will have an access to carry out their holy dip in cleaner Ganga waters this year since the pollution levels of the river had completely dropped during the months of lockdown. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also said that the visitors to Haridwar Kumbh would experience clean and pure Ganga water in Uttarakhand, during a video conferencing at the inauguration of various projects related to Namami Gange mission.

The Uttarakhand Environment Protection and Pollution Control Board(UEPPCB) has released a report stating that the Ganga waters lately have shifter to category B, which was category A during the month of lockdown. Despite spending tons of money in several projects by the government to clean the water of river Ganga, environmentalist say that the government has still failed to check the pollution levels. Thus, ahead of Kumbh, the water quality of the river Ganga takes a huge dip.

SS Pal, chief environment officer at UEPPCB said, “The reason the river had entered ‘A’ category was minimum human intervention. All big hotels and industries were shut during the lockdown, which is why the river became so clean. But since May, pollution started increasing.”

According to Anil Prakash, an environmentalist and founder of a Dehradun-based organization which makes technologies for the agricultural sector says that sewage is a major pollutant causing pollution in the entire country. It is the responsibility of each state to ensure that they do not throw their untreated sewage in the river Ganga if they call it sacred and regard it as their mother. Fines and penalties shall be imposed to if people found violation such norms.

The sewage discharge has caused total coliforms, a type of bacteria to rise from 50 MPN/100 ml, which is categorized as ‘A’ category water to 80 MPN/100 ml which is category ‘B’. The bacteria, with very few exceptions are not harmful to humans, however certain other bacteria, parasites and pathogens that are introduced into the water due to pollution can cause severe health problems if ingested by humans.

Thus, Kumbh being held amidst such extreme water pollution is definitely posing lot of threats for all the pilgrims taking their holy dips in Ganga and the pandemic condition just ads on to the health threats.


Report by: Subarna Mukherjee