Tired of its dirty Ganga, Kolkata buys out bottled ‘jal’ in a jiffy



In Kolkata you simply have to walk across to GPO to get a neatly labelled bottle of Gangajal
Studies have shown such high bacterial contamination that the Hooghly water is not fit for bathing, forget drinking
The Gangajal from Rishikesh is priced at Rs 15 and Rs 22 (for 200ml and 500ml bottles), the Gangotri water is slightly costlier

An employee sells bottled Gangajal at GPO An employee sells bottled Gangajal at GPO
Kolkata/Jalpaiguri: Rajeev Kapoor’s character in the movie Ram Teri Ganga Maili went all the way to Gangotri to fetch pristine Ganga water for his wheelchair-bound grandmother back at Alipore, Kolkata. On Sunday, businessman Ashok Agarwal simply had to walk across to the Kolkata GPO to get a neatly labelled bottle of Gangajal.

Agarwal, a foodgrain trader from central Kolkata, is the first person in Kolkata to get his hands on bottled Gangajal -perhaps the holiest consignment the postal department has handled. Kolkata’s share of 15 bottles vanished in seconds on Sunday. The same thing happened at Siliguri on Monday. “We were sent five 200ml bottles of Gangajal collected at Rishikesh. They sold out instantly. People left the counter cursing us,” said Abhijit Sarkar, a Jalpaiguri head post office employee.

The same enthusiasm was seen in Kolkata, where Agarwal had turned up early on Sunday morning to be first in line.

He said he will be back in a few days to get the Gangajal that is bottled at Gangotri, the source of the river. The batch that has arrived in Bengal was bottled at Rishikesh, some 300km downstream. “Ganga is the most sacred river and its water is the purest. I am overjoyed at the thought of getting it as easily as sitting back at home,” he said.

What about the Gangajal you can collect along the Hooghly banks in Kolkata? Studies have shown such high bacterial contamination that the Hooghly water is not fit for bathing, forget drinking.”But we still use it for puja. I feel bad every time I dip my fingers in it during puja,” said Surendra Singh, one of the lucky ones to buy a bottle in Kolkata. The feeling echoed in Sili guri. “Every time one of us went to Kolkata, we’d bring back a bottle of Gangajal.But that water is sdirty. Gangajal from Gangotri and Rishikesh is much clearer, and has its sanctity intact,” said Lopamudra Sanyal, a businesswoman, clutching a bottle.

Schoolteacher Sharmila Mukherjee, among the early birds, said: “We had been to Allahabad two years ago and brought back three pots of Gangajal from Triveni Sangam. It swas difficult, but we had to do it for us and our relatives. We are happy that the government has made it easier for us to get Gangajal.”

As news spread that Gangajal was available at the Jalpaiguri head post office, hundreds gathered, but the stock had run out. “The worst part is that the post office could not say when the next Gangajal consignment will arrive. This is unfair,” said Priya Sharma, a homemaker, who had travelled over 40km to fetch a bottle.

Compared to demand, the first batch was a drop in the ocean. “The supply was meagre in Bengal. We got only 280 bottles of 500ml and 245 bottles of 200ml for the entire state,” said Swapan Garai, assistant director (business development), Department of Posts, who manages distribution of Gangajal across Bengal. “We could give only 50 bottles to the Midnapore head post office against the demand of 500,” Garai added.

Top Comment
Where from this bottled GANGA JAL comes? From the very source of the ganga or as usual in India from somewhere in some dirty part of it?Lokanathan Rajan

Apart from GPO, only four of the 46 head post offices -Howrah, Midnapore, Tamluk and Siliguri -were chosen for the first Gangajal consignment. “Once supply stabilizes, we will sell Gangajal through all HPOs and sub-post offices,” said Garai. At GPO, Polly Sarkar, deputy director, Philatelic Zone, had a hard time managing the queue. “There is great sentiment associated with Ganga water from Rishikesh and Gangotri,” she said.

The Gangajal from Rishikesh is priced at Rs 15 and Rs 22 (for 200ml and 500ml bottles). The Gangotri water is slightly costlier -Rs 25 and Rs 35. The postal department has created a beautiful box to send Gangajal bought online. “The charges will be the same as Speed Post.In Bengal, it may vary from Rs 17 to Rs 40, depending on the distance,” said a postal department official.