Less than three weeks after the slow progress of the National Mission for Clean Ganga drew flak from a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report, the Centre has decided to infuse military vigour into the programme. It has sanctioned the raising of a Territorial Army Battalion, which will be responsible for the “tasks and activities related to resurrecting the Ganga”. The battalion comprising ex-servicemen will keep tabs on pollution levels, assist the government in enforcing pollution control measures and support the civil administration and police in managing the ghats. But if the government means business on cleaning up the Ganga on a war footing, it has to do much more than relying on such enforcement measures.
According to the National Mission for Clean Ganga website, nearly 12,000 million litres of sewage is generated every day in the Ganga basin. Barely a third of this waste is treated; the rest flows into the river. The volume of muck might actually be even greater because large parts of cities like Haridwar, Varanasi and Kanpur are not even connected to the sewage network, and their waste remains unaccounted for. Moreover, even sewage treatment plants (STPs) can do so much. The waste cleaned up by these plants has to undergo a final cleansing in the river. But with more than 40 dams, weirs and barrages checking the Ganga’s flow along its 2,500 km journey, not even a martinet’s command can make the river clean sewage. It simply doesn’t have the water for the purpose.
In the past, the Territorial Army has done well in ecological endeavours such as the rejuvenation of forests. Cleaning up the Ganga, however, requires structural interventions, some of which have been highlighted by the CAG report. For example, the report talks of plugging the gaps in sewerage networks. It mentions that more than 50 per cent of the STPs sanctioned under the National Mission for Clean Ganga have been held up by delays in execution. Roping in the Territorial Army is unlikely to remove such snags.