The civilization and the cultural life of North and Eastern India flowered and flourished in the basin of the Ganga. The Ganga or the Ganges is the longest river in India. River Ganga originates from the Gangotri in the Himalayas, flows through the major areas of Northern India and Bengal. The river traverses a long distance of 2525 km, and it covers 861404 sq km areas of its basin. Apart from having immense natural and economical values, the river is also a marker of India’s 5,000-year-old civilisation. It signifies the synthesis of different religions, races and castes. It sustains nearly one-third of the country’s population. Despite this, Ganga is considered one of the most polluted water bodies. Years of negligence, industrial waste and reckless use of the river has caused it to become toxic and polluted. Certain steps have been taken in the direction towards making the river pollution free and improving the situation. A major project started by the Government of India to clean Ganga is the Namami Gange programme which was launched in 2014. Apart from this, the Ganga Action Plan is the oldest project launched in 1986 to clean the Ganges.
What is the Namami Gange Mission?
In 2014, government launched an integrated Ganga conservation mission called ‘Namami Gange’ to arrest the pollution of Ganga River and revive the river. The Union Cabinet approved the action plan proposed by Centre to spend Rs 20,000 Crores till 2019-2020 on cleaning the river, increasing the budget by four-fold and with 100% central share – a central sector scheme.The mission was launched to accomplish the twin objectives of
·effective abatement of pollution.
·conservation and rejuvenation of the national river Ganga. .
Objective of the Project is to generate High Resolution DEM and GIS ready database for the part of River Ganga with latest technology. The mapping of main stream of river Ganga in 5 major states namely Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal was proposed, covering major towns and cities along the river Ganga and its tributaries in these states with an area of 250,000 square km.
It is being operated under the Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Ministry of Jal Shakti. The program is being implemented by the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), and its state counterparts i.e., State Program Management Groups (SPMGs).
The implementation of the program has been divided into:
·Entry-level activities (for immediate, visible impact) - includes river surface cleaning to address the floating solid wastes; rural sanitation to arrest the pollution entering through rural sewage drains and construction of toilets; renovation, modernization, & construction of crematoria that prevents the disposal of un-burnt/ partially burnt bodies in the river; repair, modernization & construction of ghats to improvise the human-river connect.
·Medium term activities (to be implemented within 5 years of time frame) - arresting the municipal and industrial pollution entering into the river. Major financial reforms are underway to make the program efficient, accountable, and sustainable in the long term.
·Long-term activities (to be implemented within 10 years) - providing adequate flow to the river is envisioned through determination of e-flow, increased water-use efficiency, and improved efficiency of surface irrigation.
What are the recent developments?
In 2020, the World Bank approved a 5 year loan (for the second phase) to the NMCG or Namami Gange Project worth Rs. 3,000 crore to help stem pollution in the Ganga river basin. So far, 313 projects worth Rs. 25,000 crore have been sanctioned under the mission.
In September 2021, the mission signed a Memorandum of Understanding with South Asian Institute for Advanced Research and Development (SAIARD) to develop capacity building on river basin management and Geospatial technology. The initiative will give an opportunity to young students to work on river basin management and suggest solutions for the river management based on Geospatial technology.
Also, as of June 30 2021, 1,040.63 crore was available with NMCG under Programme, from which Uttar Pradesh, at 3,535 crore, has received the maximum funds, followed by Bihar (â‚¹2,631 crore), Bengal (â‚¹1,030 cr) and Uttarakhand (â‚¹1001 cr).
Progress so far
A major advantage enjoyed by the Namami Gange programme is that it’s headed by the National Mission For Clean Ganga (NMCG), an institutional body which has been given financial and administrative powers as per the River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Authorities Order, 2016. A singular institutional structure makes it easier for decision making. Namami Gange has also brought the states onboard, something the previous programmes were unable to. The Mission has also equally stressed on eradicating the practice of open defecation across the banks of Ganga and has been largely successful in that aspect, unlike previous plans. More than 90% villages across river Ganga were declared open defecation free in 2017. The programme has also successfully renovated over 180 ghats and built 112 new crematoriums.
Ever since the programme was launched 155 new sewage treatment projects have been approved and 963 more will be approved soon. Not only will these treat sewage but also assist in composting. Namami Gange Programme has 8 pillars:
1. sewage treatment infrastructure
2. river-surface cleaning
4. industrial effluent monitoring
5. river-front development
7. public awareness
8. Ganga Gram.
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.
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.
Over years, many shortcomings of the programme have been identified. There have been several reports of delays, lapses or complete non-implementation in areas like cleaning of the river, installation of sewage treatment plants, and construction of household toilets. Most of the Ganga is polluted and it is due to presence of five states on the river’s main stem i.e. Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal. Industrial pollution
from tanneries in Kanpur, distilleries, paper and sugar mills in the Kosi, Ramganga and Kali river catchments are major contributors. The problem of illegal construction near river beds has become a major hurdle in cleaning the river. Moreover,
less utilisation of funds allotted under the programmes has appeared due to lack of monitoring and supervision.
Massive parts of its banks are protected with trees and forests, but the remaining area is battered by erosion. Several cities are located at the Ganga stream banks and pollute its waters by disposing of various substances in the waters of the Ganga river. Industrial complexes occupy huge areas within the Ganga basin. Factories such as textile, leather, plastic, and rubber are disposing of their toxic effluents in the Ganga. Therefore the waste product disposals of the chemical plants are contributing to polluting our holy river.
Way forward – conclusion
Policy makers should realize that the sustenance of more than 50% of the country’s population is intertwined with the quality of water flowing in the river Ganga. The Namami Gange initiative has achieved a lot but there is a longer way to go and many steps can be taken in that direction:
·Creating annual action plans for better resource allocation
·Immediately address the issue of under utilisation of funds
·Mass awareness campaigns
·Strategic blueprint to assess the ongoing progress and take further decisions
·Reusing and recovery of used water as well as other water saving practices to be promoted.