Ahead of next years’s Lok Sabha elections, the Centre has set March 2019 as the new deadline to clean river Ganga, and ensure a “70 to 80 percent” improvement in its water quality. Union Water Resources Minister Nitin Gadkari Thursday said that the government’s spending this fiscal will witness a spike as more projects under the flagship Namami Gange scheme will be completed.
The cleaning of the Ganga was one of the major poll promises of the BJP ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Gadkari said that efforts will be made to clean the river completely by December 2019.
The Union Minister said that he had written to President Ram Nath Kovind requesting him to donate one-month salary to the Clean Ganga Fund (CGF) — set up by the Union government to aid efforts to rid the river of pollutants. He also plans to urge Prime Minister Narendra Modi, other ministers, MPs and MLAs, and the public to donate their one-month salary to the CGF.
The Minister said that the CFG has received Rs 250 crore since it was approved by the Union Cabinet in September 2014. He added that all people should join the cause by donating whatever they can through digital transfer. “Some people have donated even Rs 300 per month in the CGF. People can share Rs 500, Rs 1,000 or whatever amount,” the minister said.
Since 2015, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), which is implementing the project, has spent only 20 per cent of the Rs 20,000 crore sanctioned by the government. “20 per cent of the amount was spent till March (2018). This year, there will be lot of expenditure… as per my assessment, we will be able to spend 60 to 70 per cent of the funds,” Gadkari told reporters.
Under the Namami Gange programme, a total of 195 projects worth Rs. 20,959.54 crore have been sanctioned. This includes building sewage infrastructure, ghats, crematoriums and riverfront development, river surface cleaning, institutional development, rural sanitation, officials said. The Minister claimed that of the total 1,109 industry units grossly polluting the river, 358 units have been closed down. These include distilleries, sugar factories, paper mills and tanneries, he said.
“But it is not 100 per cent as yet… I have only claimed that we will try to ensure improvement in the river’s water quality by 70 to 80 per cent till March 2019,” Gadkari said.
Union Minister for Drinking Water and Sanitation Uma Bharti said that all the 1,662 gram panchayats and 4,465 villages in the five basin states — Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal — have become open defecation free (ODF). She said efforts will be made to turn the ODF villages into ODF Plus and polythene-free areas. “We are making efforts to convert the Ganga villages into ODF Plus by managing solid and liquid waste there, by planting trees which will ensure cleanliness and increase the river’s catchment area,” Bharti said.