The Namami Ganga initiative must build on what has been achieved. And go beyond involving organisations of the ruling dispensation’s extended ideological brotherhood.
The finance minister announced the high-profile “Namami Ganga” project in his recent budget speech with an allocation of Rs 2,037 crore, but no other details. But what is really new about it, and is the hype justified? Rajiv Gandhi, in his very first address to the nation as prime minister on January 6, 1985, announced a major programme to clean the Ganga. In February 2009, Manmohan Singh declared the Ganga our national river and announced the establishment of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) under his chairmanship, comprising the chief ministers of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal and well-known activists and professionals. The NGRBA is supported by similar authorities in the basin states, chaired by the respective chief ministers.
The NGRBA was created after a detailed evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of earlier Ganga action plans (GAP), on which some Rs 900 crore has been spent. They were successful in preventing further deterioration in water quality and, in fact, in improving it in some places, despite ever increasing population and other pressures. The GAPs ensured that dissolved oxygen was largely within acceptable limits. But variation in biochemical oxygen demand values was much higher as compared to dissolved oxygen and faecal coliform counts frequently exceeded stipulated limits, particularly at Kannauj, Kanpur, Allahabad and Varanasi.
Between February 2009 and March 2014, the NGRBA implemented Mission Clean Ganga, whose main objective was to ensure that by 2020, no untreated municipal sewage or industrial effluents would be let into the river. The mission had two anchors — nirmal dhara (clean flow) and aviral dhara (minimum continuous flow). To fulfil both goals, the NGRBA took five far-reaching decisions. First, it sanctioned 81 projects worth Rs 6,400 crore for sewage control and treatment in Uttar Pradesh (Rs 2,700 crore), Bihar (Rs 1,400 crore), West Bengal (Rs 1,200 crore), Uttarakhand (Rs 250 crore) and Jharkhand (Rs 100 crore). This was to create a sewer network of over 3,600 km and a sewage treatment capacity of over 700 million litres per day. A special Rs 500 crore project had been sanctioned for Varanasi alone. Second, it got a consortium of IITs led by IIT-Kanpur to prepare a comprehensive Ganga River Basin Management Plan along with enabling legislation to give effect to the provisions of the plan. Third, it declared the Gangetic Dolphin as the national aquatic animal to make it the symbol of the restoration of the cleanliness of the river. Fourth, notices were issued by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) continued…