Mission Ganga rejuvenation

Two decades after the Ganga Action Plan, the Central government has once again initiated a mega clean up programme for the Ganga, one of the country’s most polluted rivers. Notwithstanding the limited success of the Ganga Action Plan, there is no denial of the fact that past efforts were too patchy to cleanse the mighty river. The government’s failure in cleaning the Ganga attracted the ire of the Supreme Court. The push from the apex court compelled the government to launch a new Ganga rejuvenation scheme named Namami Gange, for which a budget of Rs 20,000 crore has now been approved for the next five years. A Clean Ganga Fund has also been set up with a start up capital of Rs 2,037 crore. Industries and individuals are being encouraged to contribute to create a big corpus.

The Narendra Modi government should be credited for creating the basic administrative structure, preparing a road map, obtaining the financial approvals and sensitising the states in the first year itself. Those tasks, however, were the easier ones. Numerous problems will come up at the implementation stage, which can’t be surmounted if the states don’t own up the programme. Political support in the states is a must because politically sensitive livelihood issues are associated with many polluting industries. Strict monitoring is also required to check if the industries and all the 118 urban local bodies on the banks are following the anti-pollution norms. As the best equipped investigators are from the state pollution control board, another critical test for the programme is to ensure that the mission is not crippled by turf war. Namami Gange should not end up as a scheme to benefit the pollution meter manufacturing companies or civil contractors who would only clean up the river surface and beautify the banks. Adequate electricity is another key issue as most of the effluent treatment plant will not work without power. The plan currently is to establish public-private partnership to operate and maintain the treatment plants for the next 15 years. But awarding the contracts in a non-partisan and transparent manner to the deserving agencies would be key to the success.
Namami Ganga’s own assessment suggests that expanding the coverage of sewerage infrastructure in 118 urban habitations on the banks of Ganga would cost around Rs 51,000 crore. This is way above the approved allocation. Finding the money for the project would be a tough task ahead for the government. Maintaining good relations with the governments in
Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh is also essential for the programme’s success.

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