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PROGRESS ON drafting a new law to protect the Ganga from pollution has run into a hurdle due to lack of consensus over what could be considered an offence and who should be held guilty of polluting the river. Water Resources Minister Uma Bharati told The Indian Express that the proposed Ganga law would not be enacted “in a hurry” because that can put a large number of people in trouble.
“Everyone agrees that a law on Ganga is needed. But the draft as we have now is not complete… the question is who should be held guilty (of polluting the river)? About 20 lakh people bathe in the Ganga every day. Now, it shouldn’t be the case that anyone is picked up by police for leaving flowers or leaves in the river. So who should be held responsible? Who has to ensure that pollutants are not left in the river? These things have to be made very clear,” Bharati said.
Last month, a five-member committee headed by Justice (retd) Girdhar Malviya, constituted to frame a draft law on the Ganga, submitted its report to the Water Resources Ministry. The report has not been made public. Bharati said more consultations were being carried out. “We have referred the draft to experts. It is possible that more aspects will be added to the draft. The exercise is still incomplete,” she said.
Work on the legislation has been going on for more than three years. It began during the Manmohan Singh government, which had constituted an inter-ministerial committee in February 2014 for this purpose. Former Chief Vigilance Commissioner N Vittal, a member of the National Ganga River Basin Authority, was also asked to prepare a draft law. Another draft was being prepared by Ganga Mahasabha, a “pan-India organisation dedicated to nature and culture”.
The law seeks to make it illegal to pollute the Ganga. It would also make it a duty of the state governments to ensure that adequate flows are maintained in the river throughout its length.
The minister said that the proposed structural changes in the water management institutions will go ahead as planned. A committee had last year suggested that the Central Water Commission and Central Ground Water Board, two of the biggest water management institutions, be disbanded and replaced with a new multi-disciplinary National Water Commission. The committee had emphasised the need to move away from engineering solutions of water management towards a multi-disciplinary approach. The proposal met stiff resistance from the Central Water Commission.
“Of course, the (proposed) changes will be implemented. I fully support the recommendations of the committee. They (those opposing the move) will have to accept the changes… They have some anxieties… We are trying to sort these things out. But it would be wrong to say that the changes would make engineers redundant. Engineering expertise will continue to play an important role in water management. But there is a role for other disciplines as well. The changes will ensure that expertise from other fields is taken into account while managing water resources,” Bharati said.