Reviving Ganga needs people's participation

The three-phase plan to clean river Ganga that the Union government has put before the Supreme Court provides some clarity on how it proposes to go about this ambitious venture.

 The plan lays out a time-line in which short-term goals will be achieved in three years, medium-term goals in five years and long-term goals in 10 years. To this end, the government has identified 1,649 gram panchayats on the Ganga’s banks where measures will be put in place to end open defecation. Besides, sewage treatment infrastructure will be set up in 118 towns. This will involve an investment of Rs 51,000 crore. Over the long-term, a Ganga Basin Management Plan being prepared by a consortium of seven IITs, will be put into effect to ensure a nirmal (pollution-free) and aviral (uninterrupted) flow of the river. Since coming to power in May, BJP leaders have made grand promises on rejuvenating the Ganga. These were more in the nature of random announcements that were rich in rhetoric but parsimonious on concrete details. The rap on the knuckles that the Supreme Court dealt the government for its vague plans for the Ganga prompted it to come up with a blueprint.

However, the Centre’s plan has little that is new. Back in the mid-1980s when then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi came up with the Ganga Action Plan, large funds were allocated for sewage treatment plants (STPs). Several decades thereon, the Ganga is filthier. Clearly, the STP route to cleaning the Ganga wasn’t fruitful. Many of the STPs rarely functioned because of power cuts. Why then is the NDA government pouring more money down the drain?

Environmentalists point out that rivers have a natural capacity to clean themselves by diluting and assimilating waste but this requires flowing waters. In the case of the Ganga, such self-cleaning isn’t possible as its flow has been restricted by numerous dams.  It is said that around a 100 small dams are being planned in the upper reaches of the Ganga. The NDA plan is silent on this. It may need to rethink pressing ahead with so many dams if it is serious about cleaning this river. There are polluting industries too and the government must enforce rules to ensure they do not discharge their wastes into the Ganga. Importantly, rejuvenating the river requires participation of the people. A top-down project that is conceived, drawn-up and implemented from above will not work. A made-in-Delhi plan will require the Centre to get on board the governments of all riparian states. 

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