UBC-Based IC-IMPACTS Deepens Canada-India Ties with Water Research in Iconic Varanasi City

Clockwise left to right: Dr. Banthia meets with representatives from DBT and DST, the location of Varanasi on the Ganges river, the river rejuvination scoping workshop held in Varanasi (Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s riding).

Organization led by UBC Civil Engineering Professor taps into National River Ganges Rejuvenation

The Ganges River is a lifeline for over 500 million people in the Indian sub-continent and revered by over 1 billion people in India and 16 million in the Indian diaspora worldwide. Over a million of them are Canadians, residing largely in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.

The river is the focus of a new collaboration between IC-IMPACTS and India’s Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Department of Biotechnology (DBT), in close association with highly respected Indian Institute of Technology (BHU), Varanasi. Working together, the three organizations have identified sites in the city of Varanasi where research and remediation will have maximum impact in cleaning the Ganges River at the best possible cost. 

At more than 2,500 kilometers in length, the Ganges is the longest river in India, and one of the most polluted in the world. Water pollution affects humans and countless animal species, including the endangered susu, or Ganges River dolphin. The long-term impact of daily human activities and industrial waste dumping have created an ecological threat and presents a serious challenge to scientists worldwide to find a cost-efficient way to clean the river.

The UBC-hosted National Centre of Excellence IC-IMPACTS, or the India-Canada Centre for Innovative Multidisciplinary Partnerships to Accelerate Community Transformation and Sustainability, is one of the Pan-Canadian Centres of Excellence, and is dedicated to fostering research collaborations between India and Canada. Led by UBC Civil Engineering Professor Dr. Nemkumar Banthia, IC-IMPACTS brings together researchers, industry professionals and leadership from India and Canada to address infrastructure, water, and public health challenges facing both nations. Dr. Banthia is the Centre’s Scientific Director, bringing his extensive and award-winning expertise in concrete materials and structures to this bilateral research organization.

During Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India in February 2018, Dr. Banthia met with the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Canada’s Minister of Innovation Science and Economic Development, in New Delhi, and also signed a work plan with the DBT and DST.

At the same time, IC-IMPACTS Chief Operating Officer Shapoor Marfatia was downstream at Varanasi, facilitating a workshop. Working with IIT (BHU) and DBT, IC-IMPACTS co-organized a two-day workshop to determine the scope of the Ganges rejuvenation project. The workshop brought together expertise from Canada and India and resulted in a forthcoming call for research proposals focused at a site in Varanasi. 

Situated on the banks of the Ganges, the city of Varanasi is considered to be the cultural heart and spiritual capital of the country and is often referred to as the “Holy City of India.” Varanasi is also thought to be the oldest living city in the world and the location of the Buddha’s first sermon. The city is famous for its ghats, stone steps where bathers, worshipers and mourners seek access to heaven for their loved ones in the waters of the Ganges.

IC-IMPACTS’ call for proposals will identify cost and space-effective onsite solutions at Varanasi that are scalable and can then be applied to large bodies of water in India and Canada affected by extensive pollution. The research will also lead to reducing the boil water advisories that many First Nations communities in Canada face.

Varanasi was strategically chosen because it is located at the confluence of research, economic and political opportunity. Varanasi is also the parliamentary riding of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has made cleaning the Ganges a national priority, investing more than $3 billion in a new strategy for this massive infrastructure challenge. Since IC-IMPACTS’ workshop in Varanasi, the city has garnered greater international attention. In March, French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron visited Varanasi ghats with Prime Minister Modi, touring the Ganges and bolstering international recognition of the city and the river’s importance.

Cleaning a river like the Ganges is expensive, and no country has attempted it at India’s level of per capita GDP. As a point of reference, from 1970 to 1990, five of the six European countries that share the Rhine spent $50 billion on communal and industrial waste-water treatment plants. In 2007, China vowed to spend more than $14 billion on Lake Tai, its third-largest freshwater lake.

Shapoor explains, “IC-IMPACTS is opening a gateway to the heartland of India’s large and growing economy. Ganges Rejuvenation will be a tipping point and a testimony to Canadian technologies. The project brings together IC-IMPACTS’ three areas of focus—large-scale infrastructure, water management and public health—making the project a significant multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral opportunity for Canada and India partnerships.”

IC-IMPACTS also recently implemented other new collaborations that encourage scientific and economic cooperation between the two nations:

  • An agreement with IT giant Tata Consultancy Services will foster research opportunities for Canadian graduate students in India.
  • A partnership with SenseIndia will see high-tech sensors installed on aging bridges and other infrastructure across the country.
  • A collaboration with major infrastructure provider Starmass, and the Government of Telengana will develop construction codes and regulatory bodies for the newly formed state in South India.
  • A joint call for research proposals with India’s Department of Science and Technology will pursue improved building fire safety through structural engineering, materials science and cyber-physical interfaces.
  • A collaboration between IC-IMPACTS, the Rick Hansen Foundation and the India Spinal Injuries Centre that will address unmet needs in spinal cord injury care.

IC-IMPACTS will also play a facilitating role in the recent agreement between UBC and a giant incubator, T-Hub, who will work together to create a “market access bridge” for startups in both countries.  

“From its humble beginnings in 2012-13, IC-IMPACTS is now recognized as a very successful model for international research collaborations, innovative HQP training, respectful community engagement and creation of technologies that promote international trade.”
  — Dr. Nemkumar (Nemy) Banthia, CEO and Scientific Director, IC-IMPACTS

More information about IC-IMPACTS projects can be found at ic-impacts.com, including information about the forthcoming call for proposals for the Ganges River rejuvenation at Varanasi.