One of the most revered rivers in the country, along whose banks lie some of the world’s oldest cities such as Varanasi and Patna, the Ganga is in an extremely polluted state. Industrial effluents, human waste, waste from religious events have all been major contributing factors to the pollution. The river has also been affected by deforestation and soil erosion, along with the rampant construction which has taken place illegally around the river. According to a report in the Reuters quoting officials from the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), over three-quarters of the sewage that is generated from the country’s northern towns and cities flows untreated into the Ganga.
While there have been numerous efforts to clean up the River in the past, such as the Ganga Mahasabha, Ganga Action Plan (launched in 1985 by Rajeev Gandhi) and the National River Ganga Basin Authority (NRGBA), which was established in January 2009, and which declared the Ganga as the ‘National River of India’, none have seen much progress.
Hoping to get its act together and clean up the river, in June 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the NMCG, also called the Namami Gange, with an outlay of Rs. 20,000 crores. The ambitious attempt to revive the river, which is dying a slow death, has been Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project, launched shortly after coming to power. A deadline of 2020 was announced to clean up the holy river and its tributaries, with sewerage treatment, river front development, afforestation, industrial effluent monitoring, river surface cleaning, and public awareness and biodiversity conservation as its main pillars.
The Government of India had notified 11 states (Bihar, Chhatisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh) for abatement of pollution, rejuvenation, protection and management of the River.
Wrought with delays
In May 2017, former Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti promised a clean Ganga by October 2018, though she had added that ensuring that the river attains an ecological flow will take time. However, in September 2017, she was stripped of her portfolio during the cabinet reshuffle, due to poor performance and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari was given the additional responsibility of ensuring that the project is completed within the time frame. However, with the slow progress of the work, completion by the deadline is a daunting task.
A report prepared by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that was presented before the Parliament in December, last year, accused the government of underutilisation of funds and delaying projects. The report stated that around Rs 2,500 crores of the Namami Gange project funds have been lying unused in the banks till March 31, 2017. In many cases, unavailability of land and the time taken in getting clearances have hampered projects, further delaying them.
According to the audit, there were deficiencies in almost all stages of the project, including financial management, planning, implementation and monitoring, along with a shortage of human resources and these led to delays in achieving the milestones laid down in the project. While there were shortfalls in the conservation of ecology, even the main objective of Rural Sanitation programme to make all Ganga river basin villages ‘Open Defecation Free’, could not be achieved.
Out of the total Rs 951.11 crore released by NMCG and state governments for the construction of Individual Household Latrines, Information, Education and Communication and Solid-Liquid Waste Management, the riparian states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal utilised only half of the funds – Rs 490.15 crore. Uttarakhand is the only riparian state which has been declared ODF.
Delays in getting clearances, non-availability of land and the slow progress of work done by contractors have led to hike in costs. While the date for completing sewage treatment plants was September 2017, as per the latest data (January 2018) from the Ministry of Water Resources, out of a total of 97 projects sanctioned in sewage infrastructure, only 20 have been completed so far, while 42 are under progress and 20 are under tendering. In a meeting with officials in October, last year, Gadkari had slammed officials for the slow progress of some of the projects.
Moreover, as per a report in the Hindustan Times, the maximum values of faecal coliform (bacteria found in the faecal material of humans and other warm-blooded animals) levels exceeded the norms in 60 percent of the stations in UP, while in West Bengal all 10 stations failed to meet the norms.
While the bodies and committees set up to monitor the progress of the Project, including the Governing Body, High-Level Task Force and Governing Council did not meet as frequently as required, the River Ganga Monitoring Centres, which were meant for monitoring continuous flow of water and pollution levels in the River Ganga Basin, was still under conceptualisation and planning phase in July 2017. According to the NMCG, the establishment of the Ganga Monitoring Centres in five riparian states has been approved at an estimated cost of Rs 46.69 crores.
A race against the deadline
Budget 2018 saw a nearly Rs 2,000 crore hike in its allocation for the Water Resources Ministry. The funds will be used for irrigation purposes and for cleaning up the Ganges under the Namami Gange project. The allocation for the financial year 2018-19 is Rs 8,860 crores, as opposed to Rs 6,887 in 2017-18. While 187 projects have been sanctioned so far under the Namami Gange, 47 have been completed, while the remaining are at different stages of execution. As per Gadkari, the government will be issuing work orders for the remaining projects under the Namami Gange.
The NMCG has approved a number of projects which are worth nearly Rs 4,000 crores for cities across West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – some of the most polluted stretches of the Ganges.
This also includes two projects in Kanpur, which accounts for the maximum pollution, worth nearly Rs 1,600 crore. This will include a Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) for a tannery cluster and is a major step towards arresting the pollution which emanates from the industrial city of Kanpur.
Considering the Herculean task that is ahead of it, the government has revised its deadline and is targeting to make 80 percent of the Ganga clean by 2019 and to complete all projects by 2020. However, with 140 projects still remaining, out of the total 187 projects, it remains to be seen if the Government will be able to complete the mammoth task of cleaning up the Ganga by 2020.