If the nation is to achieve the desired results in terms of cleanliness associated with its sacred River Ganga, the government of the day must not only identify and attempt to reverse what has gone wrong, but it ought understand and create a framework on how we can collectively achieve new gains. Huge challenges remain un-addressed and rising to them requires a hard look at all of us -- all the stake holders - the Government of India, the state governments, PSUs and the citizens, commoners.
The challenge before the Modi government thus is to achieve 'success' and return Ganga its pristine grandeur is more than mere physical and infrastructural works. There’s a matter of life and death in this endeavour.
For instance, many aquatic animals like golden Mahaseer fish is critically endangered. Ghariyals are threatened species while Sundarbans delta may simply disappear. The greater challenge is to ensure enhanced participation of citizens in understanding River Ganga as a part of life. There must an effort to enforce certain discipline about Dos and Donots. The bigger challenge is to create a unanimity of opinion on how River Ganga, its basin and its tributaries need to be protected.
A cursory look at the union Water Resource Ministry’s works during last 18-19 months under Modi-Uma Bharati duo suggests things are moving. The Water Resources Minister Uma Bharati is herself an enthusiast about activities around Ganga.
In her own words, “It is the God’s grace and my party leadership’s confidence that they think I can deliver on Ganga. I am most grateful to the Prime Minister for this. Mr Narendra Modi is himself committed to Ganga cleanliness and tap all its potentials for the people of the region and the country as a whole. River Ganga is always associated with the ‘atma’ (soul) of our people. Prime Minister himself said these before contesting elections from Varanasi”.
Thus the centre now has drawn out a list of lessons from the experience of works in last three decades and chalked out the New Roadmap. Officials say to start with the emphasis on two basic elements: “paradigm shift” to focus on sustainable and innovative models and “holistic intervention” and involvement of all stake holders.
Now according to the Water Resources Secretary, Shashi Shekhar, in order to give a major thrust to the involvement of states and adequate protection of river water as a wholesome ecological unit, the central government is likely to come up with a new comprehensive legislation.
"The new law will be a comprehensive one.....but things are at preliminary stage
and intra-departmental consultation is on to draft a Bill for this purpose," he says.
According to mandarins in the ministry, the move to draft a new draft Bill is in tune with the policy statement made by Uma Bharati soon after she took over the portfolio in May 2014 and had said, “Ganga protection works could involve tougher laws”.
Decades back a Brazilian politician had said rather eloquently that while the Food Ministers have changed frequently they could hardly produce food and even less food for thought. In circa 2016 – it would not be erroneous to put the statement in the context of Water Resources Ministers of India – especially in the context of anti-pollution and cleanliness drive for River Ganga. Ministers have come and gone but nothing much happened on ground.
Is Uma Bharati trying to be a different mettle? Is Narendra Modi government on a new path-breaking track to reverse gears along Gangetic planes?
The Ganga cleaning venture was initially planned in 1980s. But candid observation about the functioning is that wasteful plans and extravagant administration and largely indifference of the state governments and citizenry in general have brought in today’s situation. Here’s a checklist of agonies and challenges associated with Ganga:
- We have 3535 Million tonnes sewage generated everyday and at least 144 rivers discharge in Ganga.
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There are at least 765 grossly polluting industries – highly toxic.
- As a sample, Sisamau Nala in Kanpur discharge 11,920 Bio-chemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) load daily.
- More than 50 per cent household along Ganga banks do not have toilets.
- Around 28,000 metric tonnes of solid waste generated daily from 5 basins.
The list could go on.
The adverse impact on health, economy and ecology is also beyond measures often with arsenic threats being attributed as a factor for growing cancer disease.
The Secretary Water Resources Ministry, Shashi Shekhar, sums up the paradox well. "The problems about cleanliness drive around river Ganges is unique and unlike anywhere in the world as the river originates from glaciers unlike natural springs in western countries and contain maximum silt and also face maximum public utility pressure. Thus it will require adequate time and sincere efforts of all stake holders including the states," he says. But given the public sentiment and craze for populism is concerned, patience is a dying art in today’s politico-administration more so with the incumbent regime headed by Prime Minister Modi. One reason is people’s expectations from the present regime are too high.
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“People have lost patience and they want quick results. But this may not be easily achievable in terms of Ganga cleaning,” says an insider in the ministry.
He further adds - no thoughtful person doubts that in popular government an informed public is essential to sound policy. It is in this context, we find Secretary Shekhar’s observations relevant when he says “Moreover, in India, the task is most often left with the centre while the truth is we need cooperation of all stake holders including the concerned state governments, citizens and industry".
Therefore, Involvement of states and their purposeful and effective participation has become all the more relevant. The last 3-decades work experience vis-à-vis Ganga projects suggest in India, the task is most often left singularly with the centre while the truth is there’s need for cooperation of all stake holders including the concerned state governments, citizens and industry. Keeping this in mind, the government envisages to undertake several projects are being taken up under the PPP model.
“The NDA government is determined to put the Namami Ganga projects on fast track. It is in this context, he said two empowered ministerial committees - one headed by the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and the other headed by Infrastructure Minister Nitin Gadkari have been set up,” sources say.
Over 100 crematoriums will be renovated/modernize/constructed by November next year. The Modi government has now ear-marked a total sum of Rs 20,000 crore for the period 2015-2020 making it a four-fold quantum leap over the expenditure in the past 30 years. In broad sense the works would include: sewage management, river surface cleaning, biodiversity conservation, water quality monitoring, checking industrial pollution and device means for local population and rural challenges.
Effluents Management measures are also being taken up by and Real Time Effluent Monitoring Stations have been installed in 508 out of 764 Grossly Polluting Industries. Over 100 new Real-time monitoring stations with display boards at selected location will be set up next year to monitor water quality of river Ganga on hourly basis.
For solid waste management, hi-tech Truxor machines are being used at Varanasi already while global tenders are being floated for procuring more such Netherland-based machines.
There will be 100 per cent sewage treatment infrastructure for as many as 118 towns.