BW Businessworld

3 Years of Modi Government | The Namami Gange Saga

After his landslide victory in the 2014 general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged in Varanasi to clean and rejuvenate river Ganga by 2020

“Not a single drop of river Ganga has been cleaned so far,” said the National Green Tribunal earlier this year, criticizing the National Democratic Alliance-government for wasting public money in the name of ‘Namami Gange’ project.

After his landslide victory in the 2014 general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged in Varanasi (his constituency) to clean and rejuvenate river Ganga by 2020. Three years hence, and nothing much has been done yet. Very few clean bathing ghats and crematoriums have been completed so far.

A senior government official associated with the project told BW Businessworld that the conceptualization stage of the project had been cleared and the funds would be released soon. The official also said that projects worth Rs 11,000 crore were approved on 11 May 2017.

The government had allocated Rs 20,000 crore for the project, but only 18 per cent of it has been released so far and only 9 per cent of the total fund has been used so far, the official confirmed.

“It is a historic moment as for the first time the river is being cleaned with wholesomeness. We will show Phase I of Ganga cleaning in October 2016, while the second phase will be completed two years later,” Union minister for water resources Uma Bharti had said at the launch of the project. Her words seem to stand no ground so far.

Today, Ganga is contaminated with industrial waste, animal waste, human waste and garbage. More than 3,000 million litres of waste water enter Ganga everyday while we have mechanisms to treat only 1,000 million litres of waste water.

Previous governments have also made futile attempts to clean Ganga. In 1985, the then-prime minister Rajiv Gandhi launched the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) Phase I, and Phase II in 1993. According to Press Information Bureau, a sum of Rs 986.34 crore was spent on the two phases till 31 March 2014. However, the impact of it can hardly be seen, which is why Ganga was listed among the top 10 dirtiest rivers in the world by the World Wildlife Fund in 2016.

Many experts believe Ganga cannot be cleaned until the sewage system of big cities along the river are restructured. For instance, Kanpur city in Uttar Pradesh has two sewage treatment plants and only one common effluent treatment plant to treat around 600 million liters per day. The city alone has 470 sewage drains that flow into the Ganga.

Pankaj Mishra, a student of Banaras Hindu University who has made a documentary on Namami Gange, says, “The ghats are much cleaner now as cleaning is done regularly and machines have also been installed to take out carcasses of dead animals from the river. But, nothing much has been done to clean the stream of the river and people still dump wastes into it.”

The decision makers of the project seem optimistic of finishing the work under a deadline but the work hasn’t been going on at a pace that could make it a reality.

The success of the project depends on effective and strategic implementation. Modi promised a clean Ganga by 2020 while the water resource ministry set an even more ambitious deadline of 2018. However, to meet the deadline, the project requires active participation from all the institutions and departments in charge backed by a sound funding policy.

To say the least, active public participation of people is a must for the success of the project because cleaning is a dynamic process and it needs to be maintained.

A source close to the project rightly pointed out that people are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites — worshipping the river and polluting it at the same time.

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