Cleansing Ganga

There are periodic attempts to cleanse the Ganga and the latest was announced last week, with no less a person than the prime minister taking the initiative to launch a new programme. The river, which the devout believe is the ultimate purifier of the body and the soul, is now a repository of impurities and is choking on human waste and garbage. It is among the 10 most endangered rivers in the world. Millions of people use the water every day for drinking, washing and other purposes. But the water poses serious risk to the health of people as it is highly polluted. The sewage from the towns on the banks and industrial effluents are dumped into the river along its entire length. The 10-year project, which was formulated last week, plans to rejuvenate the river with an expenditure of Rs 15,000 crore. It seeks to ensure that no untreated waste and effluents go into the river by the year 2020. At present only a small part of them are treated.

Considering the huge challenge of cleansing the river, even the allocation of Rs 15,000 crore may not be sufficient. But the Ganga action plans of the past have seen much money misused and swallowed by politicians and officials. Rs 916 crore was spent on the river between 1985, when the first plan was drawn up, and 2009. But the period saw the water quality worsening. The new plan, according to the government, will be more effective as it adopts a holistic basin-centric approach as different from the town-centric approach earlier plans had. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has, however, expressed doubts about the proposed institutional framework of the river basin authority. A centralised authority will not be able to effectively undertake the project and make it a success. Since there are thousands of towns on the banks of the river, a decentralised system would be most effective. The success of the programme will depend on the use of best technology, improving the civic sense of the people, proper utilisation of funds and efficient management.

The Ganga can be an economic lifeline for the entire North India as it can serve as a waterway to connect many states, including the national capital, to the sea. A rejuvenated river can also promote fisheries and allied activities along its entire length. The new mission, if implemented effectively, will also help to tap the full potential of the river.

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