The Ganga occupies a dear spot in the Modi government’s heart, while cleaning the river has been often announced as among its top priorities. Going by organisations tasked with the exercise of cleaning the Ganga and other rivers though, that wouldn’t seem the case.
The National Mission on Clean Ganga (NMCG), the main executing agency for cleaning the river, has just three permanent operational staff, against a sanctioned strength of 27. The National River Conservation Directorate (NRCD), which is responsible for developing all rivers other than those in the Ganga basin, is only slightly better off, functioning with about 50 per cent of its sanctioned staff strength.
The NMCG is particularly depleted. It has a mission director in the form of Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, who is also a joint secretary in the Ministry of Water Resources, and a director-level officer in Puskal Upadhyay. Recently, an under-secretary level officer joined from the Central Water Commission on deputation.
The other 25-odd people currently working in the mission are all on contract, many of them for three years, working on various projects. Some others are working as advisors and consultants.
The NMCG was moved in August from the newly-renamed Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, to the Ministry of Water Resources, River Conservation and Ganga Rejuvenation (another ministry with a new name). At that time too, 17 of the sanctioned posts were vacant. Of the seven posts that were occupied, only four peons moved from the Environment Ministry to Water Resources Ministry. The three remaining staff, all in senior positions, are yet to join work.
The staff crunch is hampering the efficiency of the NMCG, whose workload has increased manifold in recent times. The Mission, which is the executive body of the National Ganga River Basin Authority and was operationalised only last year, was earlier responsible only for cleaning the Ganga river. Its mandate has now been expanded to include all rivers in the Ganga basin — in other words, the Yamuna as well as the tributaries and rivers flowing into the Ganga. These rivers were earlier the responsibility of the NRCD.
Sources in the Water Resources Ministry said the process to fill up the vacant posts had already been initiated and people would be recruited soon. Anuj Kumar Bishnoi, appointed last month as Secretary in the ministry, has reportedly issued instructions to this effect. But there are no plans to augment the staff strength of the NMCG to equip it to deal with the additional tasks that have come its way.
Though relieved of many of its earlier responsibilities, the NRCD is also facing shortage of manpower. Against about 100 sanctioned posts, less than 50 are staffed. Though hired for the NRCD, many of them are often found performing other tasks, like for the Impact Assessment Division of the Environment Ministry.