Varanasi (UP), Mar 15 : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh surprised environmentalists on Friday by attending evening prayers on the banks of the River Ganges.
Dr. Singh was accompanied by his wife Gursharan Kaur.
Hindus consider the Ganges the most sacred among rivers and believe that bathing in its waters spiritually cleanses them and liberates them from the cycle of birth and death.
Billions of rupees have been spent on cleaning up the river, but much of it still remains polluted.
Nature lovers said Dr. Singh's visit has boosted their morale and their campaign.
"The visit of Dr. Singh is an achievement and an acknowledgement of our work," said Chandramauli Upadhya, a priest.
Conservative estimates put the effluents flowing into Ganges at 1.7 billion litres each day, out of which 1.4 billion litres is untreated.
Nearly 88 per cent of the pollution originates in the 27 cities that are located along the river's banks and the banks of its tributaries.
Domestic and industrial pollution, combined with deforestation, the use of pesticides and fertilisers and other factors, have rendered the waters of the Ganges unfit for consumption or any other use.
Environmentalists say, one of the major causes of river pollution is the cremation of Hindus on its banks and the practice of immersing flowers and other rubbish after religious rituals.
According to a recent official report, only 39 percent of the primary target of the Ganga Action Plan, which the Central Government had started in 1985, has been met so far.
The Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was originated from the personal intervention and interest of the late Prime Minster Indira Gandhi, who requested a comprehensive survey of the situation in 1979.
After five years, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) published two comprehensive reports, which formed the base from which the action plan to clean up the Ganga, was developed.