Q. Despite many efforts made to clean the River Ganga, the funds and time spent on cleaning it up have not yielded desired results. Critically examine why and explain if the newly launched scheme to clean River Ganga is suitably designed to address past mistakes and clean the river efficiently? Also suggest your ideas to clean the river and address the issue of pollution along its bank. (200 Words) (IAS Mains - 2015)
According to a new report from the CAG, this new push to clean the Ganga is not delivering results. The audit team sampled 87 projects (73 ongoing, 13 completed, and one abandoned). These projects included the 11 institutional, five afforestation, and one biodiversity. 50 projects were sanctioned after April 1, 2014.
The auditors’ findings are quite startling. The Government had only used $260 million of the $1.05 billion earmarked for the flagship programme between April 2015 and March 2017. All of these projects had a consistent list of problems: unused funds, an absence of a long-term plan, and delays in taking concrete action.
This is not the first policy to end up in this predicament, and not for a lack of prioritisation. India has strong environmental laws: the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977; and the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
There is also a large enforcement apparatus. Water quality is monitored and regulated by the environment ministry, the CPCB, and the associated State Pollution Control Boards.
And there have been many well-funded programs to combat pollution. In 1985, the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was launched to fund the establishment of sewage treatment plants and other large-scale pollution mitigation technologies. The plan was ultimately extended to other rivers through the National River Conservation Programme (NRCP).
The Ganga river basin is the largest in India in terms of catchment area and constitutes 26% of the country's land mass. The river, which has the basin spread across eleven Staes viz., Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Delhi, plays a central role in the economic, social and cultural life of Indians.
The river Ganga is also the largest river in India and a lifeline for millions of people in the northern plains and supports about 43% of the population of the country.
Pollution threat to Ganga
Rapidly increasing population, rising standards of living and exponential growth of industrialization and urbanization have exposed water resources, in general, and rivers, in particular, to various forms of degradation. The mighty Ganga is no exception.
As per an official estimate, approximately 12,000 million litres per day (mld) sewage is generated in the Ganga basin; however, the treatment capacity is of only around 4,000 mld and approximately 3000 mld of sewage is discharged into the main stem of the river Ganga from the Class I & II towns located along the banks.
The industrial pockets in the catchments of Ramganga and Kali rivers and in Kanpur city are significant sources of industrial pollution. The major contributors are tanneries in Kanpur, distilleries, paper mills and sugar mills in the Kosi, Ramganga and Kali river catchments.
Policy response - The important initiatives launched to clean Ganga are given below.
For the first time, cleaning of the River Ganga was initiated by the Rajiv Gandhi Government in 1985 under Ganga Action Plan (GAP). The GAP had two phases and the second phase was launched after a gap of eight years in 1993. The primary objective of the GAP is to protect the river from the urban wastes.
In 2008, after 23-years of existence of GAP, the Manmohan Singh Government declared the Ganga as the national river and announced the formation of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA). These decisions were announced to broad-base the river management efforts. Besides the pollution control, the NGRBA is responsible for flood management and sustainable use of the river water. Compared to the GAP, the NGRBA was inclusive and had much more legitimacy as it was headed by Prime Minister and involved the Chief Ministers’ of Ganga river flowing States. To implement the schemes and programmes, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) under the GRBA.
In 2016, under the Narendra Modi-led Government, the Ganga cleaning program had got a new push with the establishment of National Council for Rejuvenation, Protection and Management of River Ganga. The National Ganga Council as it is called, replaced the GRBA and headed by the Prime Minister. The mandate of the council is to plan and oversee the implementation of the Namami Gange Programme. The programme tries to integrate the efforts to clean and protect the Ganga river in a comprehensive manner. The programme is expected to result in socio-economic benefits in terms of job creation, improved livelihoods and health benefits to the vast population that is dependent on the river. The implementation period of the Namami Gange is 2015-20 and over Rs 20,000 crore will be spent duirng this period through NMCG, which continue to be the implementation arm of the National Ganga Council.
Namami Gange Programme has eight pillars viz., sewage treatment infrastructure, river-surface cleaning, afforestation, industrial effluent monitoring, river-front development, bio-diversity, public awareness and Ganga Gram.
Besides, to deploy best available knowledge and resources across the world for Ganga rejuvenation, India signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with countries like Australia, United Kingdom, Germany, Finland, Israel, etc. and also the multilateral agencies as the World Bank Group.
Some of the achievements of the Namami Gange Programme are given below.
Infrastructure development: As part of the Namami Gange Programme, 163 projects for various activities such as sewage infrastructure, river-front development, ghat and crematoria, ghat cleaning, rural sanitation, etc. has been sanctioned. Out of these 163 projects, 41 numbers of projects have been completed so far. While trash skimmers have been deployed in 11 cities to collect all kinds of floating waste materials to clean the Ganga river surface, 34 sewage treatment plants (STPs) were inaugurated recently at a cost of over Rs 900 crore. Though the results of these projects in the urban areas are not many significant, Namami Gange Program succeeds well in rural areas. Household and community toilets were built in large scale and as a result all the villages near Ganga have been declared Open Defecation free.
Decentralization: Unlike the top-down approach of the GAP, the State governments and the Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) have been accorded a prominent role in the planning and execution of the projects under the Namami Gange Programme. For instance, as part of the Ganga Grams initiative, comprehensive rural sanitation, development of water bodies and river ghats, construction and modernization of crematoria were taken up in the villages located along the main stem of river Ganga and have historic, cultural, and religious and tourist importance.
Mobilization of resources: Apart from the allocation of the funds from the government, financial and technological resource mobilization from the private sector is given priority. For instance, captains of Indian trade and industry have committed a support of nearly Rs 500 crores for the development of amenities like ghats, river fronts, crematoria and parks in various places along River Ganga as part of the Namami Gange Program. The Hybrid Annuity-PPP model, which is so far prevalent in large scale projects, is adopted for the sewage sector also. The first such project was launched recently in Varanasi by PM Narendra Modi at an estimated cost of Rs 153.16 crore.
Knowledge dissemination and awareness building: A river basin with the complexity of the Ganga cannot be purified without having adequate knowledge base, analytical tools, research and awareness building. To address these issues, the Ganga Knowledge Centre (GKC) was established as a premiere and autonomous knowledge based institution to enhance the quality of the implementation of the Namai Ganga Programme. Besides, Ganga Vichar Manch and Ganga Manthan were launched to facilitate the participation of stakeholders, including policy makers and implementers, academicians, environmentalists, saints and spiritual leaders from all faiths and NGOs for the cause of Ganga Rejuvenation.
Despite the above mentioned initiatives and positive narratives, the Clean Ganga Mission is still an unfulfilled dream and beset with the many drawbacks. The recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on the Namami Gange Programme pointed out the following shortcomings in the implementation of the programme. The report is based on the progress made between April 2014 and March 2017.
• Out of the Rs 198.48 crore sanctioned to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to monitor the progress of three projects as part of the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMGC), only Rs 14.77 crore utilized so far.
• The report also pointed out delays, lapses or complete non-implementation in areas like cleaning of the river, installation of sewage treatment plants, and construction of household toilets.
• The government failed to come out with a detailed action plan for cleaning and rejuvenating Ganga even 16 months after the submission of the Ganga River Basin Management Plan-2015 by the consortium of seven IITs, which was formed seven years ago to prepare a plan on making the holy river pollution free.
• In the four key States – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, the river conservation zones were not identified.
• Out of the 5,016 checks the CPCB was mandated to conduct on grossly polluting industries between 2011 and 2017, only 3,163 were made so far.
• To monitor the quality of the river in 113 sites along the river, only 36 Automatic Water Quality Monitoring Systems were deployed so far.
In a nutshell, poor planning, negligence in the utilization of allotted funds, lack of coordination among various authorities are among the primary reasons that hampering the implementation of the programmes.
As a result of these shortcomings, the water quality in the river is still poor as revealed through the high presence of coliform bacteria, which is often used as an indicator of disease-causing pathogens. As per the CAG, total coliform bacteria levels in all the cities of UP, Bihar and West Bengal are between 6 to 334 times higher than prescribed levels.
What Went Wrong?
The answer to this question is unlikely to be found in the details of individual cases. Instead, it makes sense to look closely at the political, economic, and social contexts in which the policies are made.
In India’s electoral democracy, there is little space for environmental policy. Pollution has rarely been an electoral issue. Employment, economic growth, and poverty alleviation are more urgent. Elected leaders have few incentives to take on either the big polluters (which include the government’s own companies and power stations) or the small-scale firms in industrial clusters that serve as vote-banks.
Moreover, high levels of regulation have created an elaborate system of rent-seeking at the local level. Instead of challenging the status-quo, the typical politician seeks a visible “white-elephant” environmental project, typically in collaboration with a multilateral organisation, which can be inaugurated just before an election. In industrial clusters for example, the emphasis has been on building Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs).
These are “end-of-pipe” technologies that combat pollution by treating effluent from multiple sources prior to release into a river. Small firms are required by law to pre-treat and then route the remaining still-toxic waste to a CETP. This system doesn’t always work. CETPs require a high level of coordination, they are expensive to build and maintain, they generate significant volumes of toxic sludge, and they contaminate the air by burning pollutants.
There are similar efforts to build sewage treatment plants (STPs), even though vast segments of the population along the Ganga does not yet have access to sanitation.
To address the shortcomings in the implementation of the existing programmes to clean the Ganga, the proposed National River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Bill, 2017 should considered by the Parliament on a priority basis. The bill addresses the critical issues pertaining to River Ganga on its cleanliness (Nirmalta) and un-interrupted e-flow (Aviralta) and provides corresponding penalty provisions thereof. Besides, as recommended by the CAG, the authorities should prepare an Annual Action Plan, align its budget estimates based on such a plan and regularly review expenditure.
Policy makers should realize the fact that the sustenance of more than 50% of the country’s population is intertwined with the quality of water flowing in the river Ganga. And, Swachh Bharat can’t be realized without Swachh Ganga.