India's main environmental agency Thursday banned the dumping of any kind of waste within 500 meters (yards) of the most polluted parts of the Ganges, a river considered sacred by devout Hindus.

The National Green Tribunal also asked the governments of the northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to establish clear guidelines for religious activities performed on the banks of the river.

Even though hundreds of millions of Hindus worship the Ganges, millions of tons of garbage, chemicals and sewage make their way into the river, which emerges from a glacier in the Himalayas and makes its way through the plains of India before draining into the Bay of Bengal.

The ban on dumping garbage concerns the most polluted stretch of the river that runs from the town of Haridwar in Uttarakhand state to Unnao town in Uttar Pradesh.

The watchdog asked the state governments to impose a fine of 50,000 rupees ($775) for dumping waste on the river stretch. It also asked that the area within 100 meters (yards) from the edge of the Ganges along the same stretch be off-limits for development projects.

India has struggled for decades to clean and rejuvenate the river. Millions of dollars have been allocated for a slew of action plans since the 1980s, but little has changed on the ground.