Another shot at keeping Ganga clean

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Another shot at keeping Ganga clean

Tuesday, 19 March 2019 | RC ACHARYA

With an allocation of a dedicated budget for five years and adopting a hybrid annuity-based PPP model, the National Mission for Clean Ganga hopes to achieve the so-far elusive objective of cleaning the holy river. Hopefully, it will emerge victorious

A  renewed effort to cleanse the Ganga was made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi  under the Namami Gange programme, more than three decades after a similar attempt was made by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at Varanasi. Pursuing this seemingly elusive objective, another round of foundation stone-laying ceremony for projects in Bihar, estimated to cost a whopping Rs 700 crore, was taken up with much fanfare, this time in Patna.

National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), under the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, plans to spend Rs 452.24 to prevent flow of 670 mld (million litres per day) of sewage into Ganga while Rs 243.27 has been earmarked for improving the Patna riverfront involving construction of new ghats, promenade and community-cum-cultural centre among others.

The Namami Gange programme, which is undertaking this massive task as an Integrated Conservation Mission, was approved as a flagship programme by the Union Government in June 2014. With a budget outlay of Rs 20,000 crore, it has the twin objectives of effective abatement of pollution, conservation and rejuvenation of the national river, Ganga.

Additionally, under the Ganga Gram project, the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation has identified 1,674 gram panchayats situated on the bank of river Ganga in five States (Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal). A sum of Rs 829 crore has been released to the Ministry for the construction of toilets in 1,674 gram panchayats of five Ganga basin States.

NMCG is developing infrastructure for sewage treatment, surface cleaning, afforestation along the river bank, monitoring industrial effluents, development of river front, saving biodiversity and improving public awareness. With seven thrust areas and 21 action points, it has enough on its plate to qualify as a separate Ministry.

Efforts to clean up Ganga had started as early as in 1979, when the Central Board for the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution was directed to undertake a comprehensive survey, and its report ultimately formed the basis for setting up of the Central Ganga Authority (CGA) in February 1985. The Ganga Project Directorate (GPD) was established as a wing of the Department of Environment, with a budget of Rs 350 crore to administer the cleaning up of Ganga and to restore it to pristine condition, with the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) launched on June 14, 1986, by Rajiv Gandhi in Varanasi.

From 1993 onwards, GAP-1 was extended as GAP-2 to cover four major tributaries of Ganga — the Yamuna, Gomati, Damodar and Mahananda — and further broad-based in 1995 with the inclusion of other rivers and renamed as the National River Conservation Plan (NRCP). Also, 34 other rivers were taken up for cleaning with the same model of GAP.

However, while GAP has managed to spend less than Rs 4,000 crore in three decades, the reconstituted body (NMCG) has already spent Rs 5,650 crore, and for year ending March 31, 2019, projects worth Rs 2,295 crore are expected to be completed. With an outlay of Rs 20,000 crore for the period 2015-20, NMCG is aiming big with 267 projects sanctioned so far costing Rs 26,360 crore, of which 82 have been completed.

A comprehensive management plan for Ganga was the result of a brain storming report by a consortium of seven IITs in January 2015. Adopting a comprehensive approach, NMCG has brought Ganga and its tributaries underone umbrella.

Declared as an authority in October 2016 under the Environment Protection Act of 1986, NMCG has since then taken a collaborative approach, converging multiple agencies at both the Central and State level under one roof with an aim to achieve the goal of clean Ganga within the next decade or so.

With a catchment area of 8,61,494 square km, the Ganga basin covers no less than 11 States, five of them being on the mainstem. The river itself is 2,525 km long with a 1,000 km long stretch in Uttar Pradesh alone. Around 43 per cent of India’s population depends on it while it makes 57 per cent of the nation’s agricultural land fertile.

Ninety seven towns on the main river stem have 155 drains discharging 2,853 mld of sewage into it. In addition, 1,109 gross polluting industries, mainly tanneries, paper, pulp, sugar, textile, dyeing and distilleries are discharging toxic effluents into it. Tributaries such as Ramganga and Kali also contribute to the polluting load. Its elimination is indeed a gargantuan task.

Realising that the scores of interception and diversion drains, sewage treatment plants and sewage pumping stations need to be operated and maintained efficiently — which has been one of the weak links in the efforts made to clean the river over the last three decades — it has opted to award Operation and Maintenance contract for a period of 15 years to SPVs, which involve various stake holders.

With an allocation of a dedicated budget for five years and adopting a hybrid annuity-based PPP model, NMCG hopes to achieve the so far elusive objective, especially as these funds are non-lapsable. NMCG has already attracted notice as one of the four short-listed initiatives — which includes Ofwat of the UK, Water and Electricity Company of Saudi Arabia and Water Services Regulatory Board of Kenya — for the Public Water Agency of the Year Award of 2019. Hopefully it would emerge as the winner.

(The writer is former member, railway board)

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