The Centre is conducting a study to assess the presence of SARS-CoV-2, or novel coronavirus, in the Ganga as corpses were found dumped in the river during the second Covid-19 wave, and were fished out from districts in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, officials said Monday. The study is being conducted in phases and the first set of samples have already been collected from 13 locations, from Kannauj and Patna, said Saroj Batik, the Director of Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow. During the virological study, RNA of viruses of interest present in the water will be extracted and subjected to an RT-PCR test to determine the presence of novel coronavirus in it, Batik said. The IITR is an institute under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), he said.
The study will also include checking the biological characteristics of the river. The process of taking samples for the next phase began on Monday, officials said. The decision to conduct such a study was taken by the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) after bodies were found dumped in the river when the second wave of coronavirus was at its peak in April-May. Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat last week tweeted, "We are making use of existing technologies, doing regular studies and monitoring the situation closely to prevent contamination of the river water, as there were reports of consigning dead bodies in some parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar into river #Ganga." Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were among the states badly hit by the second wave of coronavirus. There was also fear whether bodies, possibly of Covid-19 patients, had led to contamination of the river water, a major source of drinking in the districts along it.
Experts had dismissed that there could be any possibility of presence of the virus in the river. "The virus does not survive in these conditions (that are in the river). However, we decided to have an evidence-based study," D P Mathuria, Executive Director of the NMCG, said. An official added that the SARS-CoV2 does not survive outside the host for a long time and so it is unlikely that the virus will stay in the river. Mathuria said the study is being conducted in collaboration with the CSIR, the Central Pollution Control Board, and the state pollution control boards of UP and Bihar. Mathuria added that they have also asked the Uttar Pradesh Health Department to nominate an officer with whom the findings of the study could be shared. The NMCG is an arm of the Jal Shakti ministry that is executing the Namami Gange project to rejuvenate the river and its tributaries. After the bodies were found to have been dumped in the river, the NMCG directed the states to take necessary precautions to ensure that mortal remains are not consigned to the river.