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Experts who cleaned up the Thames in London will help India’s new government to clean the river Ganges of decades of accumulated toxic pollution and waste, The Sunday Times reported..

Varanasi

Restoring the river to its former beauty was one of the first public pledges made by the newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It emerged last week that the British government, sensing an opportunity, had already approached Uma Bharti, the new water minister, to offer assistance.

Almost 3bn litres of sewage is discharged every day into the Ganges alone. This means that India’s holiest river, which flows for 1,600 miles from the Himalayas into the Bay of Bengal, had the dubious honour of being named one of the world’s five most polluted rivers in 2007. About 800 tons of ashes from the 33,000 Hindu pilgrims who choose to be cremated on the banks of the river every year add to its ecological woes. More than 3,000 floating bodies and some 300 tons of half-burnt human flesh from funeral pyres add to the mess.

The Thames was declared dead by the Natural History Museum in 1957. But tough environmental measures have made it a breeding ground for fish and bird life once more.

“The high commissioner, [Sir] James Bevan, told minister Bharti that we are keen to support her on the Ganga [Ganges] clean-up and had a lot of good experience to share on how we had cleaned up the Thames,” said a Delhi-based diplomat. “The minister welcomed this and we agreed to work together.”

Nowhere is the task more daunting than in Varanasi, the holiest city for Hindus, where ecological concerns must tiptoe around deeply ingrained religious sensitivities.

Every day thousands of devotees negotiate the city’s grubby alleyways as they make their way to bathe from the banks of the murky, polluted river. They are just a few hundred yards downstream from the funeral pyres that discharge the ashes of the dead and some body parts into the water.

For millions of Indians, to die in Varanasi and have their ashes scattered in the waters of Mother Gangesliberates their soul from the endless cycle of death and reincarnated life.

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