Showing high-level political will to cleaning the Ganga the Modi Government is determined to ensure the free flow of the Ganga, as most of the 221 projects under Namami Gange Mission are at advanced stages of completion
Dr Seema Singh
The Ganga occupies a unique position in the cultural ethos of Bharat. She is the life line of northern Bharat and is flowing from times immemorial. This trans-boundary River of Indian sub-continent travels 2,525 km from Western Himalayas to the Ganga Sagar and provides livelihood to millions of people living along its course. Ganga, who has imbibed the aura of seers for centuries, has also been satisfying the spiritual needs of the devotees all across the globe. Maa Ganga is not just a legend; she is a life-support system for the people of Bharat. Around 40 per cent of India’s population inhabits in Ganga basin and 47 per cent of the total irrigated area is located in its basin alone. In Northern India, life without Ganga is next to impossible.
Threat to Ganga
For centuries the purity of Maa Ganga remained intact and she kept flowing in “Aviral and Niramal” form. The independent Bharat adopted the developmental model of West and the eco-centric ‘Bharat’ turned into anthropocentric ‘India’ and Maa Ganga started paying the cost of development. The result is in the urban areas the river Ganga has substantially lost its ecology. The principal sources of pollution into the Ganga is domestic and industrial waste, solid garbage thrown directly into the river, agricultural run-off containing residues of harmful pesticides and fertilizers, animal carcasses and half-burned and unburned human corpses thrown into the river and defecation on the banks by the low-income people. The increasing pollution of the Ganges threatens not only humans, but also more than 140 fish species, 90 amphibian species and the endangered Ganges river dolphin. The levels of fecal coliform bacteria from human waste in the waters of the river near Varanasi are more than 100 times the Indian government's official limit.
Ganga Action Plan
To save the Ganga, the Ganga Action Plan, commonly known as GAP, was launched in Varanasi on June 14, 1985, by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who promised, 'We shall see that the waters of the Ganga become clean once again’. He stated that the task was to improve water quality all along the 2,525 kilometres from the Ganga's origin in the Himalayas to the end in the Bay of Bengal. With the GAP's Phase II, three important tributaries—Damodar, Gomati and Yamuna—were added to the plan. Between 1985 and 2000, Rs 10 billion were spent on the Ganga
Although, some improvements have been made to the quality of the Ganga water, many people claim that the GAP has been a major failure. According to environmental lawyer M.C. Mehta, "The GAP has been a colossal failure, and many argue that the River is more polluted now than it was in 1985." Rampant corruption, lack of will on behalf of the government agencies and its bureaucracy, lack of technical expertise and poor environmental planning were the major reasons for this failure.
The government has sanctioned 254 projects for the rejuvenation of River Ganga, Union Water Resources Minister Nitin Gadkari said Wednesday, adding Prime Minister Narendra Modi had suggested to clean the river first and then focus on its continuous flow — Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister
In December 2009, the World Bank agreed to loan India US$1 billion over the next five years to help save the river. According to 2010 Planning Commission estimates, an investment of almost Rs 70 billion was needed to clean up the river. In November 2008, the Ganga, alone among India's rivers, was declared a "National River", facilitating the formation of a National Ganga River Basin Authority that would have greater powers to plan, implement and monitor measures aimed at protecting the river. The overall attempts of the government did not yield fruitful results and in more than 20 year, $100 million Ganga Action Plan remained inert without giving effective results.
Even after spending so much of money, 10 per cent Ganga could not be cleaned. After coming to power in 2014, the NDA government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, kept the target of clean Ganga. In July 2014, the Government of India announced an integrated Ganga development project titled ‘Namami Gange’ and allocated Rs 2,037 crore for this purpose. Lessons from failure of Ganga Action Plans were already there, so a new strategy was derived to clean the Ganga. The biggest challenge was to treat the untreated sewage, which is the biggest reason of killing the Ganga.
According to officials of National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), nearly 81 per cent of the total sewage of 2,953 MLD (million litres per day) discharged daily into the Ganga comes from 10 cities. While Kolkata, Kanpur, Patna and Varanasi top the list, they are closely followed by Allahabad, Howrah, Haridwar, Bhagalpur, Farrukhabad and Barelly—discharging 2,392 MLD into the 2,525-km-long river.
In Namami Gamge project, sewage treatment is the centre of action. Presently, on 95 projects across the Ganga basin in five states through which the river flows, work is going on. Most of these are construction of new sewage treatment plants (STPs) which will ensure that direct flow of sewage is checked. According to Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, in addition to the ongoing 95 projects, 55 other projects are supposed to take of soon. Government has earmarked a budget of Rs 12,728 crore for the Mission’s new initiatives, the majority which is—approximately 8,000—has been sanctioned for sewage treatment.
Besides sewage infrastructure, the government is also focusing on other factors, including sanitation, solid waste management, afforestation, ghat cleaning, river front and surface cleaning. The Ministry has set up a renewed deadline of December 2018 for all pending projects to take off, failing which stakeholders will be punished. Considering the difficulties faced in acquiring land for setting up of STPs, the Ministry had also said that regular meetings between different state government officials must take place to identify problem areas and discuss with the Centre on potential solutions.
Along with STP construction, the Modi government is also involving local municipalities and NGOs to ensure that waste disposal in the river in these 10 cities is kept under check. Considering its prime agenda, the Modi government has created The Territorial Army (TA), which is a part of Indian Army, to deal with clean Ganga Mission with a Composite Ecological Task Force (CETF). The deadline for the clean-up for this task force is 2020. The government has also allocated about Rs. 167 crore to the battalion under National Mission for Clean Ganga.
The battalion will not just work to monitor environmental projects related to the resurrection of the river, but will also raise awareness among people to keep the river clean, patrol sensitive river areas for the protection of biodiversity, keep a tab on the pollution levels and assist the government in implementing pollution control measures.
The Union government has also formally launched ‘Ganga Gram’ project as part of its clean Ganga mission, for holistic sanitation development in villages on the banks of river Ganga. In August 2017, the Centre declared all 4,470 villages on the banks of river Ganga, located in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, as open defecation-free (ODF). Of these villages, the Centre and the state governments have identified 24 villages to be taken up under a pilot project to transform them into ‘Ganga Grams’.
In a major boost to Clean Ganga mission, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently inaugurated a sewage treatment plant in Dinapur, Varanasi. Built at a cost of Rs 235.35 crore, the project will treat 14 crore litres of wastewater every day. The project is located approximately 7 km from Varanasi. On the effective line of Varanasi, Mirzapur, Gazipur, Prayagraj, Kanpur, Naraura, Garh Mukteshwar, Rudraprayag, Rishikesh, Haridwar and other parts of States through which Ganga flows cleanliness mission is going on.
The treatment plant employs activated sludge process and is powered by biogas, significantly reducing the carbon footprint apart from lowering operational cost. This is in line with PM Modi's vision to power India through green energy. The project funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is the first and the largest sewage treatment project implemented under the "Namami Gange" mission.
The Varanasi project is designed and built by Indian company Wabag, which deals in water treatment sector globally and which is also working on an order worth Rs 147 crore by Bihar Urban Infrastructure Development Corporation towards designing, building and operating a sewage treatment plant at Pahari, Patna. The project will be jointly financed by World Bank and National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG).
In this ‘yajna’ of cleaning the Ganga, the Modi Government is taking help from some other countries also. In 2015, Germany had pledged India an interest subsidised loan of upto euro 120 million through German Development Bank KfW to finance the construction of sewerage network and treatment plants. Germany has also announced to provide a soft loan of euro 120 million to India to help clean the holy river Ganga.
Since 2011, the World Bank has been providing financial and technical assistance to the Government of India through National Ganga River Basin Project. The recent ground support for rejuvenation of this great river and the global experience fill us with hope that a rejuvenated Ganga programme can be achieved in real results.
Life without Ganga is impossible. Cleaning the Ganga will require high-level of political will. Modi Governement is determined to make Ganga ‘Aviral and Nirmal’. According to Shri Nitin Gadkari most of the 221 projects under the Namami Gange Mission worth Rs 22,238 crore are at advanced stages of completion and considering the pace at which the works are awarded and getting completed by March 2020, the river Ganga will be completely clean. The way Modi government has worked and still working in Varanasi the dream of Clean Ganga doesn’t seems impossible.
(The writer is Assistant Professor at CLC, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi)