Ganga continues to flow dirty

The National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) observation that not a drop of the Ganga has been cleaned so far is a telling comment on the working of the Central government’s much-trumpeted Namami Gange programme. The tribunal also did not mince words when it said that all government agencies were only wasting money in the name of cleaning the river. The NGT made the comments when it was hearing a petition about the lack of effective government action in cleaning the river. The Supreme Court had referred the decades-old petition to the tribunal. It is more than two years since the NDA government came up with its programme for the restoration of the Ganga. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti and the entire NDA government were committed to the rejuvenation of the river for all reasons. The prime minister was personally committed to it because the river ran through his constituency. Reviving it was a key point in his 2014 election campaign. The river also has a key place in the BJP’s politics. It affects the lives of millions of people.

The programme was shifted from the environment ministry to the water resources ministry for better execution but it has not made any difference. As the tribunal said, none of the agencies including the Central Pollution Control Board has done its work properly. It also said there was the drama of differences between the Centre and the UP government. The failure of the agencies means the failure of the government to give them directions and to make them implement the programme. The acclaimed administrative skills of the prime minister were expected to achieve what earlier governments had failed to do. There is no dearth of funds for the Ganga programme. A sum of Rs 2,000 crore was allotted under the Namami Gange plan. It is not known how much of it was used, misused or unused. But it is almost certain that the programme is going the way of the previous programmes. The first Ganga action plan was launched in 1985 when Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister. Every government since then has spent thousands of crores of rupees on it. And still dirty flows the Ganga.

Minister Uma Bharti has said that the river will be clean by July 2018 and its famed dolphins and goldfish will come back by then. No one would take the word seriously when not a drop has been cleaned in the past two years and in the three decades before that. What can the Supreme Court and the NGT do, too? Their orders do not clean rivers.

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