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The devout have never demanded proof; they believe that the water from the river is holy and use it for “purification,” in religious rituals and other things.
But now, several credible scientific institutions have joined hands to unravel whether a mysterious substance indeed imparts to the water of the Ganga the property of not turning putrid. And the Health Ministry and the Water Resources Ministry of the Centre have launched a Rs. 150-crore study to discover what is being called the mystery X-factor.
In six months time we will present a paper on the health effects of Ganga water,” said Uma Bharti, Union Minister for Water Resources, who is also tasked with a massive “Ganga rejuvenation” project.
About 200 scientists gathered at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences today to understand the mystery. “Whenever someone visited Haridwar, people would request them to get Gangajal and the water would be stored for years, without spoiling. Now we need scientific studies to prove this property,” JP Nadda, Minister for Health and Family Welfare said.
Past studies from the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur and Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur have indicated that water in the Ganga carries a special load of killer viruses that attack bacteria and knock them out.
Soumya Swaminathan, Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in New Delhi said, “There is a high concentration of bacterio-phages, these are viruses that infect bacteria and this may account for the purifying properties of Ganga water. It is the self-purification property.” ICMR is proposing a large study, she added.
The scientific fraternity now hopes that their study will eventually benefit humans as the world runs out of new antibiotics.
“Once identified these can then be used against multi-drug resistance or MDR infections. If so, then yes, Ganga water can be used for medicinal purposes,” said MC Misra, Director, AIIMS.