Down the drain

Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh’s admission that the Ganga and the Yamuna remain as filthy as they were 20 years ago before the implementation of the Ganga and Yamuna Action Plans began is an affirmation of what has been well known for many years. Funds invested to rid the two rivers of sewage and pollutants have simply been money down the drain. Around Rs 1,700 crore has been spent so far to implement the Ganga and Yamuna Action plans. Nothing has come of it. It does seem that either the plans were flawed or were not implemented in the first place. It is also likely that the increase in pollutants far outweighed the effort to clean these rivers.

The Ganga and Yamuna are regarded as sacred rivers by millions of people in this country. Yet this has not prevented us from treating these rivers with utter disregard. Cities and factories that line the banks of these rivers vomit out their sewage and chemical wastes into them. There are hundreds of tanneries that empty out wastes containing animal remains and arsenic, cadmium, mercury and chrome. Animal and human carcasses float down these rivers. Experts have said that the waters of the Ganga and the Yamuna are so contaminated that they are unfit for human interaction let alone consumption.

Under the Ganga and Yamuna Action Plans sewage treatment plants were set up but most of these do not function as they have not paid up their electricity bills. Factories and tanneries were ordered to treat their wastes before disgorging them into the rivers. But thanks to political influence and money power, many of them continue to dirty the rivers. There is a need for change in approach. So far money under the Ganga and Yamuna Action Plans has been allotted to cities. A lot of the pollution takes place between cities. The clean up has been mired in inter-state wrangling. Experts say it is better to approach the clean-up from a more holistic, river perspective. Besides, the approach so far has been top-down, with officials telling people what to do. Instead, we need to involve all stakeholders in all phases of the clean-up from planning and implementation to monitoring of the project. Only a people’s campaign to clean up the Ganga and Yamuna, indeed of all of India’s rivers, will be successful.

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