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Govt now plans to clean the Ganga — differently — with a little help from the corporates

One of serious problem with the Ganga Action Plan was that while a lot of sewage treatment infrastructure was created, there wasn't enough emphasis on operation and maintenance of this infrastructure.

Written by Amitabh Sinha | New Delhi | January 12, 2016 5:26:48 pm
Allahabad: Hindu devotees take holy bath in the Sangam of rivers, the Ganga, the Yamuna and mythical Saraswati early in the morning in Allahabad on Friday. PTI Photo (PTI1_8_2016_000070A) Allahabad: Hindu devotees take holy bath in the Sangam of rivers, the Ganga, the Yamuna and mythical Saraswati early in the morning in Allahabad on Friday. (Source: PTI Photo)

By inviting corporate companies to take up the work of urban sewage management in the towns and cities along the Ganga, the government hopes that its renewed effort to clean the river does not meet the same fate as the previous attempts of several decades.

Over the last 30 years through the Ganga Action plan, the government has spent more than Rs 4,000 crore on cleaning the river without any visible improvement in its condition. Pollution has only worsened in all these years.

Not surprisingly, the government wants to do things differently this time. A couple of reasons for the failure of the Ganga Action Plan have been very evident. Almost the entire emphasis was on sewage treatment, and the sewage treatment plans were centered around specific cities. So there was a plan for Varanasi, another one for Kanpur and yet another one for Allahabad, and so on. These were executed with different timelines and in different phases. A holistic plan for the entire stretch on Ganga was missing.

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The other serious problem with the Ganga Action Plan was that while a lot of sewage treatment infrastructure was created, there wasn’t enough emphasis on operation and maintenance of this infrastructure. As a result, many sewage treatment plants (STPs) became non-functional after some time or were being run well below their capacities. Lack of reliable power supply was one of the major problems ailing the STPs.

The corporate intervention in urban sewage management, in the manner that has been designed, is expected to take care of these two very obvious problems. First, sewage along the Ganga river will be treated not just in the big towns and cities. So the corporates have been invited to bid for each of the 118 urban centres along the Ganga and set up and operate STPs.

Secondly, the corporates will be mandated to maintain and operate the STPs for a minimum of 15 years. The government will pay them only in annual installments, because of which it is hoped, that the corporate will not exit midway. If the corporates are also able to create a market for the treated water, as is envisaged, there can be added incentive for them to keep the project going even beyond the 15-year period.

In fact, the market-based mechanism is something that the government hopes will transform the manner in which the water resources are managed in the country. The long-term desire is to ensure that except for drinking purposes, water usage should be charged, as is done in most other countries. There should also be restrictions on the use of fresh water. The government wants to move in the direction in which fresh water would not be allowed to be used for industrial purposes, or even for bathing, gardening or cleaning.

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