New Delhi: Emperor Akbar drank pure Ganga water since the Mughals were aware of its healing effects, the Union water resources ministry said.

The ministry -- now called the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation -- made the claim in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court on 31 May, as part of its efforts to prevent dams from coming up in the upper reaches of the river.

“If its water remains clear and pure, it has strength to fight many diseases. The Mughals also accepted this special quality of Ganga River and reportedly, Emperor Akbar used to drink either pure Ganga water or water mixed with Ganga water," said the affidavit submitted by the ministry on 31 May.

The affidavit, though, does not mention the source of this information.

After the June 2013 floods in Uttarakhand killed nearly 6,000 people, the apex court ordered the formation of a committee, which in April 2014 recommended scrapping at least 23 hydropower projects on the river to save the ecologically fragile region. While the environment ministry claims that all hydropower projects in the upper reaches of Ganga and its tributaries—Mandakini, Bhagirathi and Alaknanda—have environmental clearance, the water resources ministry wants no more of them.

Ganga, sometimes called India’s lifeline, is the country’s national river and has significant economic, environmental and cultural value attached to it. However, it is heavily polluted, and efforts are under way to save the river considered holy by millions of people in the country.

Besides calling for detailed studies for conservation of river and stopping any new project on Ganga, the water ministry affidavit suggested, “Certain valleys must be let untouched and pristine in consideration of the impacts of climate change, loss of biodiversity and for the purpose of the conservation of the origin of the river Ganga."

The affidavit also noted that “existing dams and river water diversion have caused significant damage to the river length and have depleted and deprived the river with its original content thereby compromising the quality of the water downstream".

It observed that the Ganga water which was famous for its self-purifying properties is now highly polluted due to discharge of untreated municipal and industrial waste and effluents directly into the river.

The case is scheduled to come up for hearing some time next month.

The affidavit called for comprehensive hydrological and hydro-geological studies to understand how dams would change the flow of the river. It said a detailed study is required for conservation of the three tributaries.

“The three rivers, Alaknanda, Bhagirathi and Mandakini, and Ganga river from Devprayag onwards till Ganga Sagar, should remain in their current condition without any further disruption, interruption or diversion in order to improve water quality of the Ganga river and restore its unique healing and self purifying properties that are essentially required for rejuvenation of this holy and the national river," the ministry added.

Ganga river basin sustains around 25% of India’s landmass and supports nearly 50 crore people directly or indirectly. Nearly half of India’s 1.2 billion population, around 600 million, bathe in it every year.

Originating in the Himalayas in Uttarakhand and flowing into the Bay of Bengal in the east, it travels for more than 2,500km through the plains of northern and eastern India. It passes through 29 major cities, 23 small cities and 48 towns across four other states - Uttarakhand Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal - before finally merging in Bay of Bengal at Gangasagar.

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