Namami Gange: Why it is a failure     

Officially launched by the Prime Minister in 2015, the scheme has however failed to take off, despite tall claims and promises

Namami Gange: Why it is a failure      

Dhairya Maheshwari

A “flagship” programme of the Narendra Modi government, the Rs-20,000-crore Namami Gange Mission aspires to achieve “the twin objectives of effective abatement of pollution, conservation and rejuvenation” of the Ganga. Officially launched by the Prime Minister in 2015, the scheme has however failed to take off, despite tall claims and promises. In July this year, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) gave a dressing down to the Centre over the failing state of the river, as the top green court of the country also demanded answers from the Centre as to how efficiently it had utilised Rs 7,000 crore over two years that has reportedly gone into the river rejuvenation process.

A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in December last year blamed “unused funds,” “the absence of a long-term plan” and “lack of pollution abatement works” for obstructing the Ganga cleaning process.

Environmental activists also remain unimpressed with the progress of the Namami Gange Mission. Says the head of SANDRP, Himanshu Thakkar, a critic of the Namami Gange, “The main issue with the Ganga is that of governance. If the river is governed well from the top, it will take care of many of the existential issues that it faces.”

Another Ganga-watcher, Arun Tiwari, questions the usefulness of the projects under the Namami Gange Programme to “uplift the water quality.”

Various awareness activities through rallies, campaigns, exhibitions, shram daan, cleanliness drives, competitions, plantation drives and development and distribution of resource materials are being organised, besides various advertisement campaigns in mainstream and regional media.

The main projects under the Namami Gange Mission include:

Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs): Domestic sewage contributes up to 85 per cent of the river’s pollution load, according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). According to official data, 1.3 billion litres of sewage flows into the Ganga every day, from around 50 cities located along the river’s stretch. In Haridwar alone, 35 million litres of sewer was dumped into the river untreated as of last year.

Around 100 STPs have been sanctioned under the Namami Gange programme since 2014, with at least 16 of them in Uttarakhand. Only 50 per cent of the sewage flowing into the river is treated at present. “16 out of the 31 sanctioned STP projects in Uttarakhand are complete and work is in progress on the remaining 15 STPs. Projected sewerage generation in the year 2035 in Uttarakhand is 122 MLD while the existing treatment capacity is 97.6 MLD. The projects under implementation will create a capacity for treating 131.7 MLD sewage after completion,” as per the Ministry of Water Resources and Ganga Rejuventation.

Officials from the Germany’s International Devlopment Agency, also involved in the Namami Gange Programme, have also expressed hope that once all the STPs are up and running in Uttarakhand, most of the sewer will be treated.

However, water activists say “only building STPs is not the answer to Ganga’s pollution woes.” “STPs are like liquid gold for private players. The volume of discharged sewage will double over the coming years. We can’t keep building them on a PPP model, and continue to ignore the concept of aviral dhara,” says waterman Rajendra Singh.

“Why take the sewer to the STP through pipes, when it could be treated by traditional concepts of septic tanks, which are built at the point of sewer discharge,” opines Arun Tiwari.

Even the design of the upcoming STPs have been questioned by the court. The NGT last year pulled up the state-run Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam (UPJN) over gross irregularities and furnishing incorrect data on the STPs near Garhmukteshwar in Hapur district.

River Front Development: “While the river front development will serve an aesthetic purpose, what will it do for the Ganga,” asks Singh.

At least 28 river-front development projects and 33 entry-level projects for construction, modernisation and renovation of 182 Ghats and 118 crematoria have been initiated under the Namami Gange Programme.

Industrial Effluents Monitoring Stations: Real Time Effluent Monitoring Stations (EMS) has been installed in 572 out of 760 Grossly Polluting Industries (GPIs), as per the Namami Gange Programme. It has been well documented that the tanneries in Kanpur are a major source of pollution in the river, several of which have been issued notices by successive authorities.

However, industrial effluents monitoring has done little to check rising presence of harmful elements in the river, including chromium, evidenced in rising cases of cancer being witnessed among communities living along the stretch.

River Surface Cleaning: Around 11 locations have been selected for collection of floating solid waste from the Ganga, as per the Namami Gange Mission.

“That is fine. But till the river achieves its e-flow, the solid waste on the river will keep accumulating. Rapid urbanisation, as envisaged under the Smart Cities programme, will even exacerbate the situation in coming years. How much would the government take care of, without addressing the root causes,” asks Singh.

Public Awareness: The government is reaching out to the communities along the banks of the river to make them environmentally more conscious and teach them about the importance of the Ganga.

Various awareness activities through rallies, campaigns, exhibitions, shram daan, cleanliness drives, competitions, plantation drives and development and distribution of resource materials are being organised, besides various advertisement campaigns in mainstream and regional media.

However, activists say that this programme insults the intelligence of people living along the Ganga who have been living in harmony with the river for centuries now.

“The share of pollution that local communities generate is minuscule, when compared to other causes. The riverside communities know the river better than the government,” says Haryana-based Ganga watcher Ibrahim Khan.

Ganga Gram: The government has identified 1674 gram panchayats situated on the bank of River Ganga in five states (Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal). At least Rs 578 crore has been released so far for construction of toilets in these villages and make them Open Defecation Free (ODF).

But, will making villages ODF help the Ganga?

“Again, the government is assuming that human waste contributes majorly to rising water pollution levels in the river. And the new toilets being built will transport the sewer to the STPs,” remarks Singh.

He adds that the ground water quality in villages that have been going ODF has been degrading, a fact he reckons is lost on the government but is well-realised within local communities.

Afforestation and Biodiversity: As the government dilutes the 2012 notification on the Bhagirathi Ecosensitive Zone, ever more dams come up on the tributaries and Ganga’s fauna gets displaced due to the Ganga Jal Marg, it remains to be seen what the government actually means by afforestation and conserving Ganga’s biodiversity.

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