Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who during the 2014 General Elections had called himself ‘son of Ganga’ and vouched to clean Ganga before the next elections, is likely to eat his own words, if the first performance audit of the Ganga mission by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India is to be believed.
The CAG report tabled on Tuesday in the Parliament highlights the gross irregularities plaguing the project. According to the report, in the Prime Minister’s constituency, Varanasi, the rehabilitation and capacity enhancement work is much behind schedule.
To clean the Varanasi segment of the river Ganga, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) had approved a loan of ₹496.9 crore to the Indian government to implement the phase II project at Varanasi. The Administrative Approval and Expenditure Sanction (AA&ES) for the project was given in in July 2010. The work had to be completed in 60 months, by July 31, 2015.
The Phase II of the Ganga Action Plan project for the city of Varanasi includes the construction of a new 140,000m³/d sewage treatment plant (STP), laying of 34kms of sewers, rehabilitation of existing sewerage systems, and construction of three new pumping stations at Phulwaria, Chaukaghat and Saria to improve water quality.
However, the work could not be completed till date and the project cost has escalated by ₹137.46 crore. A revised estimate of ₹571.92 crore was sent to the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) for approval, but until June 2017, it wasn’t approved, stated the CAG report.
Even after seven years from the date of sanctioning of the project, the progress was only 35 per cent. The inordinate delay of 48 months in awarding the work resulted in a cost overrun of ₹3.74 crore due to price rise. The report notes that the possibility of completion of the project within the revised time frame seems remote.
The integrated Ganga Conservation Mission, Namami Gange, is to be implemented by 2020, with a total outlay of ₹20,000 crore, but the NMCG has not been able to finalise the long-term action plans even after more than six and half years of signing of agreement with the consortium of Indian Institutes of Technology. As a result, National Mission for Clean Ganga does not have a river basin management plan even after a lapse of more than eight years of National Ganga River Basin Authority notification. “So, the NMCG is working without a river basin management plan or a long-term action plan,” pointed out Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People.
The Clean Ganga Fund has around ₹198.14 crore (as of March 31, 2017) lying idle because NCMG did not finalise any action plan. This is with the CGF alone; with the NCMG around ₹2,133.76 crore was lying unutilised. This was because NMCG prepared its budget without any Annual Action Plan (AAP) and even the budget plan did not have the details of the planned activities or their estimated cost.
In what seems to be another disastrous finding by the CAG, river conservation zones were not identified in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal and in Uttarakhand, it was underway as late as May 2017.
The Namami Gange programme was to target sanitation of all anthropogenic activities, waste management of all industrial units and reduction of water pollution level, but even the awarding of works and finalisation of detailed project reports was yet to be completed even as late as August 2017.
Out of the 46 sewage treatment plants, diversion projects and canal works costing ₹5,11.36 crore, there have been delays in 26 projects and it has cost an additional ₹2.710 crore.
Of the many industries discharging effluents into river Ganga, Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali, Kent Industries, Gujarat Ambuja Exports, ITC, Jindal Research Labs, Parle Biscuits, Britannia Industries, the Country Club, Country Inn and the Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd are the most prominent.
To improve rural sanitation along the river Ganga, the NMCG had released ₹951.11 crore for construction of individual household latrines, solid liquid waste management (SLWM), education and communication, but all the five states — Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal — could utilise only ₹490.15 crore only. Except for Uttarakhand, none of the other states were able to complete the building of latrines, SLWMs by April 2017, the target date. In all these four states, 2,85, 334 latrines have to be built.
“The CAG report shows that this programme provides no real hope for better future of Ganga and Modi and his government will have a lot to answer when they go to polls in less than 1.5 years. It’s a serious indictment for the govt in general and Modi in particular since he has said right from the beginning that Ganga is their priority and all that they have tried is audited here,” added Thakkar.
“I feel the CAG performance audit is also lacking: It did not asses if lessons from past failures have been learnt, corrections done, independent scrutiny institutionalised, participatory governance achieved, and if this business as usual approach is going to achieve any better results even if all the money were spent, all the DPRs were sanctioned, all the meetings happened, all the manpower available and all the STPs constructed? I do not think, even then there would be big change in the state of affairs. CAG performance audit should have tried to address these issues. Can the state of Ganga improve without improving the state of tributaries? CAG does not even look at this issue,” elaborates Thakkar.