The Government of India and the World Bank have recently signed an agreement for cleaning the Ganga (Yes, yet another grand plan and announcement). The eight-year project has an estimated cost of Rs 7,000 crore. Ironically, Swami Nigamanand, a 34-year-old sanyasi from Uttrakhand, who was on a fast for 115 days protesting against the mining mafia illegally quarrying in the river, died just a day before the agreement was announced. Swami Nigamanand was not the only one affected by the severely deteriorating condition of Ganga. The 2,510-kilometre-long river supports over 400 million of India's 1.1 billion population, after all.
New plans. No action?
For years, we have been witnessing grand announcements of action plans aimed at cleaning the Ganga. So what’s the reality? What is the end result of all these highly-touted river cleaning projects? Are they effective?
Ganga Action Plan (GAP), the first major river cleaning project, was approved during the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1985 as a centrally sponsored scheme.
Under the programme, 25 towns located along the river in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal were selected.
In 1993, the first phase of GAP ended and GAP-II began with the same objectives. But this phase included work on the four tributaries of the Ganga—Yamuna, Gomti, Damodar and Mahanadi.
This was also the time when the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) identified 71 polluted stretches in the 14 major river basins in the country.
In 1995, the National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) was launched to clean these stretches.
The judiciary and the government have set several targets and deadlines for pollution mitigation in the Ganga as well as other rivers, including the Yamuna. What is the state of monitoring systems in the towns they flow by? How credible are they? And what measures have been taken to handle these deadlines? Do we need to re-think and re-engineer?
Over the past 20 years of the GAP, evaluations have been few, analysis even weaker and as a result, corrections have never been made.It is business as usual in river cleaning programmes and the usual does not lead to cleaning.
Clearly, the current investment is not leading to river cleaning. It amounts to a few drops of treated water in a sea of sewage. It requires reworking of the plans for cleaning rivers. Let’s just hope action takes place before another Swami Nigamanand is born and lost.
We will be addressing the grave and giant Ganga issue in a detailed and in-depth manner in our next issue. Watch out for the story.