Ganga clean-up, unmet mission

A woman worships in the waters of River Ganga on the occasion of Karthik Purnima. REUTERS

Almost five years after the Narendra Modi government made grand promises to clean up river Ganga, the pledge remains a mission unaccomplished. Three rounds of testing for biological water quality at different locations of the river from its source to the sea that were undertaken between 2014 and 2018 reveal no improvement. So polluted and filthy is the water of Ganga that it is unfit for bathing, let alone for drinking. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), in March, at only 13 of the 61 live monitoring stations was Ganga’s water found fit for bathing. The Modi government accorded top priority to the Namami Gange Mission. It set aside a whopping Rs 28,000 crore for cleaning the Ganga. Indeed, the prime minister described this as a special spiritual mission. However, five years down the line, notwithstanding all the hype and hoopla over Ganga’s newfound ‘pristine purity,’ the river remains among the world’s most polluted. It appears that little work was done on the ground to implement projects. Consider this: of the 100 sewage infrastructure projects that the BJP-led NDA government commissioned in 2015 under the Namami Gange mission, only 10 have been completed. Most of the completed projects are those that were commissioned under the Ganga Action Plan-I and the Ganga Action Plan-II, which began in 1987 and 1996, respectively.  Over the past five years, just Rs 6,700 crore of the total outlay was utilised.

The Modi government has claimed that all the villages and towns along the Ganga are now open-defecation free. The ghats along the Ganga’s banks at Varanasi have been cleaned too. However, these improvements are at best cosmetic changes. Untreated sewage of cities and toxic effluents from factories continue to pour into the Ganga. Experts have been pointing out that power shutdowns have rendered useless many of the sewage treatment plants along the Ganga.

Cleaning any river is not easy. Water is a state subject and rivers flow through multiple states. Besides, water-related issues concern several ministries, which often work at cross-purposes. It was to overcome this problem that the Modi government set up the National Ganga Council to oversee and co-ordinate the cleaning of the river. The NGC comprises an array of political heavyweights including the prime minister, several cabinet ministers and chief ministers of the five states through which the Ganga flows. So why did the Namami Gange Mission fail to take off? One reason was that political will and commitment dried up soon after it was set up. The NGC did not meet even once
since it was established. 

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