Several flagship government programmes and projects in the past three decades have sought to clean the Ganga, including the Ganga Action Plan and the Namami Gange National Mission for Clean Ganga launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015. These projects have sought to tackle pollution and to rejuvenate the river’s waters. Government agencies and research institutions have been tracking the effectiveness of these projects by monitoring data on the river’s water quality.

This joint study by the Tata Centre for Development (TCD) at UChicago and the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) explores the social and economic engagement of the riverine communities on the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. It also enquires about perceptions among the fisher folk regarding the quality of the river water and its suitability for various uses such as drinking, fishing, and bathing.

The researchers from both the teams observed that the fisher folk are socially and economically fragmented, and thus, there is a need to formalise the traditional occupation of riverine fishing by providing proper licensing facilities. This would mitigate the livelihood challenges being faced by it.

The study recommends the need to formally recognise the communities settled on river banks as part of the riverine ecosystem and to synchronise their local ecological knowledge with scientific knowledge for better water monitoring and control techniques. These communities should be integrated into river development and alternative skilling programmes to enhance their livelihood opportunities.