THE CABINET on Wednesday approved a plan that will give the responsibility of the most important aspect of Ganga cleaning exercise — urban sewage management — to private and public sector companies, instead of municipal agencies and urban local bodies as was done in previous attempts to clean the river.
The government plans to offer bid for sewage treatment projects in all the 118 towns on the Ganga river at one go. The winning bidder will be responsible for running the existing sewage treatment plants, building new ones according to requirement, and maintaining and operating all of them for at least 15 years in line with specified quality standards.
The companies would recover their costs, and would also be ensured of a profit, through government payments that would be spread over 15 years. Up to 40 per cent of the total payment would be made after the construction of the treatment plant, the remaining 60 per cent, which would include operation and maintenance costs and the assured profits, would come in the form of fixed annuities that will be decided at the time of bidding itself.
The government is hoping that the involvement of corporate houses will bring in efficiency in sewage treatment in the towns and cities on the banks of Ganga. The instalment-based payments, which the government is calling ‘hybrid annuity based PPP model’, is expected to keep the companies interested in the project over a long period and not abandon the project midway after taking the payment.
Flow of untreated urban sewage is one of the most important reasons for pollution in Ganga. The previous attempt to clean the river through the Ganga Action Plan that was launched in 1985 and continued for almost 30 years had also focused on setting up sewage treatment plants in these towns. Many of those plants are non-functional now, or are operating at below their capacities. At that time the urban local bodies and the state governments were entrusted with operating the sewage treatment plants. Successive governments spent close to Rs 4,000 crore over 30 years without any significant improvement in the pollution levels in river.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the move as a “paradigm shift” and a “futuristic” step in a series of messages on Twitter after the Cabinet approved the plan. “This decision taken by the Union Cabinet on the ‘Namami Gange’ programme will reform the wastewater sector in India. Marking a paradigm shift, Hybrid Annuity based PPP model will now be adopted to ensure performance, efficiency, viability and sustainability,” he said.
The companies are also expected to create a market of treated water during the 15-year period. It is expected that revenue generated by selling the treated water would be sufficient to keep the sewage treatment plants running beyond the 15-year period. Modi said the Railway Ministry had already agreed to purchase the treated water wherever feasible. The Power Ministry is also said to be expressed an interest while businesses are also being approached.
“This will facilitate faster market development for treated wastewater. This is futuristic step taken by government where market development for treated waste water and structural reforms are complementing projects. Such steps would kick-start process of responsible use of water and go a long way in mitigating projected water shortage in the country,” he said.