Ganga Action Plan: In deep waters

Ganga Action Plan: In deep waters

However, the fact remains that despite an astronomical amount spent in the last two decades, the 2,500-km long river remains one of the most polluted one in the world.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who is a member of the newly-constituted National Ganga River Basin Authority, along with four other chief ministers of states through which the Ganga flows, rightly pointed out at the first meeting held under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that such a move will not effectively serve the purpose as far as cleaning the river is concerned. The project was launched in 1985.

“I have no hesitation to say that the Ganga Action Plans I and II have almost failed and a large amount of untreated sewage is being discharged into the river. Patna requires a fresh look into sewerage system and their discharge into the river for satisfactory control of pollution from domestic sources. Therefore, a comprehensive and detailed project report of sewerage and drainage schemes is under preparation to cover the total population of Patna. I hope that this project will be funded by NGRBA at top priority,” he argued.

The prime minister constituted NGRBA in February shortly after designating Ganga as the national river. The chief ministers of five states, including Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal are members of the authority.

The Ganga river basin is the largest in India, constituting 26 per cent of the country’s land mass and supporting 43 per cent of its population. It has an average population density of 523 persons per square kilometre, making it one of the most congested river basins in the world. The basin covers 230 cities and towns.

Pointing out that currently there was a sewage treatment capacity of only about 1,000 million litres per day (mld) as against 3,000 mld sewage being generated in the towns along the Ganga, Union Minister for Environment Jairam Ramesh said that no untreated industrial effluent and municipal sewage would be allowed to flow in the river after 2020. “While a comprehensive river basin management plan will be ready by December 2010, ongoing sewage treatment projects will be put on fast track and states will be told to formulate detailed project reports in critical pollution hotspots and major towns along the Ganga and its main tributaries by the end of next month,” he said.

Treaty unfair to Bihar
Later, Nitish objected to the signing of the Indo-Bangladesh water sharing treaty without consulting Bihar and charged the Centre with leaving disproportionately less share of Ganga water for Bihar. Arguing that water was a state subject, but the Bihar government was not consulted by the Centre while formulating the treaty, Nitish said, “A disproportionate load is sought to be thrust upon Bihar in terms of minimum river flow almost to the point of Bihar having to bear the sole responsibility for honouring the treaty.”

To buttress his point he said the Centre had not yet approved power project proposals from Bihar citing the obligations of sharing water under the Indo-Bangladesh treaty even though the lean season flow at Buxar, where Ganga enters Bihar, was about 400 cusecs and rose steeply to about 1,500 cusecs at the point of leaving the state. “It is also noteworthy that while on the one hand those rivers adding substantial water flows to the Ganga originate in Nepal and cause extensive damage during the annual floods in Bihar, on the other, power projects critical for Bihar’s development are not being cleared by the Centre citing treaty obligations. It’s unfortunate and unfair. A mechanism needs to be worked out to fix the contribution of each co-basin state for maintaining the minimum flow under the treaty obligation,” averred Nitish.