The World Bank is giving India at least $1.3 billion over the next five years to help clean up the Ganges, one of the most polluted rivers in the world.
The 2,500km river has been badly polluted by industrial chemicals, farm pesticides and other sewage, the BBC reports.
The Ganges is also considered holy by millions of Hindus, who believe that cremation rituals on the river banks lead to salvation; consequently, floating corpses are a common sight.
Speaking in Delhi, World Bank chief Robert Zoellick said the clean- up would target the whole Ganges basin. Plans involve building sewage treatment plants,upgrading drains and taking other measures to improve the water quality.
The Indian government has said it wants to end the discharge of untreated waste into the Ganges by 2020.
Whole river network being looked at
Environmentalists say the river supports more than 400 million people, and if the unabated pollution is not controlled, it will be the end of communities living along the banks.
Earlier attempts to clean the river failed, including a plan to make its water drinkable by 1989. But Mr Zoellick said he was confident the new plan would work.
"In the past, [efforts] focused too much on individual aspects such as sewage emissions and not enough on the basin as a whole," he said.
"What really distinguishes this project is to try to look at the whole river network and try to deal with all the aspects."