The Government has vowed to clean Ganga and yet the river’s load of filth and dirt is far from showing any signs to offer any respite, writes Pulse Environment Correspondent
'The Ganga will be cleaned in next few years. It will be like Thames in twenty years, claims Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar. The Government "is planning to give contracts to private players to clean up the river who will also maintain the river for ten years," says Javadekar. The Government claims that to check industrial waste they have installed online effluent monitoring systems and out of 764 industries over 500 have installed the system. Around 150 units which didn't comply have been ordered to be shut down, claims the Government. Though many experts say it's one step in the right direction but will it be enough to clean up the river? What about individual responsibility?
In fact, after a Government babu from Uttar Pradesh donning a clean Ganga tee-shirt was caught on camera urinating at the confluence of three rivers - Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati - known as Triveni Sangam, the State and especially the Centre which has been promoting clean Ganga and Swatchh Bharat campaigns have been left red faced.
The video much to the disgust and amusement of many has gone viral on social media. But it has also raised some serious concerns about the fact if it's even possible to clean up Ganga as people continue dumping as much waste into it as they were doing earlier.
Though the NDA Govt is hopeful as the Prime Minister who created a separate Ministry for cleaning up the holy river and gave its charge to the firebrand Uma Bharti, who had spearheaded the save Ganga campaign, but the ground realities paint quite a different picture altogether.
One of the first decisions which she took was that anyone found spitting in the river could be slapped with a fine of Rs 10000. This puts the onus on people to keep the river clean. But the action of an indifferent public servant mentioned above shows that the Government hasn't reached far vis-a-vis generating awareness and improving public sensibility about the importance to keep the river clean. Anytime you go to Varanasi, you can see scores of people chewing and throwing the remnants of the betel leaf or Paan in the river quite unmindfully.
But what is it that's plaguing the holy river for so many years? Is it enough to ask people to be responsible? From 1986 attempts have been made to clean up the river but without haven't gotten anywhere. It was in 1986 that the Government had first launched the Ganga action plan or GAP as it is known now. In 2009 the Government gave Ganga the status of national river but almost seven years later pollution levels still remain pretty high. Human settlements near the banks of the river and sewerage flow from it is a major factor. A report by the Central Pollution Control Board showed very high level of human defecation in the mainstream of the river. The 2013 report by CPCB, or Central Pollution Control Board says “every day 2723 million litres of domestic sewage is discharged by cities into the river”.
Though the Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti, who has been given the charge to clean up Ganga, said in a Press conference early this year that “the Centre will implement a four-pronged programme under which as many as 1600 villages would be made filth free. The first stage would be over by October whereas the second phase would be completed in four years in which over six thousand villages would be covered.”
The Minister claimed that she plans to initiate organic farming and build medicinal plants near the river. But the big question to which the Government still hasn't given a clear answer is that where will all the sewerage which is dumped in the river go? The biggest challenge is waste treatment, as almost half of the waste discharged into the river is from residential areas. And most of the sewerage treatment plants to treat the waste flowing into the river are not functional.
Out of the 64 treatment plants the CPCB checked, it found that over thirty percent weren't working and those which were functional they were using just 60 percent of the plant's total capacity. Several governments have tried earlier to clean the river and failed. If the NDA wants to seriously clean the river, it needs to have a robust plan for implantation of sewerage treatment.
Promises to start cleaning and MOUs signed by with ministries sound great but if we look at on the ground implementation of the plan ever since the Modi Government approved a whopping Rs 20000 crore for the next five years to clean up Ganga, not much has been achieved. Sewerage treatment which is one of biggest challenges in cleaning up the river is still a neglected area. Projects with a capacity to treat nine hundred million tonnes of waste are yet to be approved. While two projects have been cleared, work hasn't started on any of them yet. In fact, till now the Government doesn't seem to have gone beyond cleaning the Ghats and creating some bio-toilets. The Government's announcements are big, they plan to rejuvenate the river but the first step must be to just clean the river and especially take care of the sewerage as currently just over five cities discharge over seven thousand million litres of sewage everyday which is flown directly into the river.
If we speak of industries, over 700 industries are located near the main stretch of the river. They insert over five hundred million litres of waste every day into the river. Pollution carried from over 400 tanneries situated across the bank of the river is also a huge source of pollution. In 2011 the High court had ordered the closure of polluting tanneries but that hasn't helped much. The NGT or National Green Tribunal had also given an ultimatum to these companies to either clean up or shut down but the enforcement has been lax. And that's what the Government needs to focus on.
A report presented by the Centre for Science and Environment suggests that untreated water should not be allowed to enter the river at all and the Government should build sewerage plants to treat all the waste entering into the water. Fresh water needs to be added to dilute the waste as river can also dilute the waste only when it has enough water. Yes, it is important to educate people as many of them throw garlands, polythene, ashes and even dead bodies into the water in name of religion. There needs to be more awareness among the people to ensure that the river or its waters are not abused.
Many would agree that as far as carrying a great PR campaign to keep the river clean the Modi Government which is known for its PR skills has done well. But it needs to go beyond the plans to clean Ganga by pumping crores of rupees. This may sound great but it is the ground implementation which matters. There is an urgent need to let the river which provides livelihoods to crores of people in the country to flow and breathe freely without the dirt and filth that are being heaped upon it now for decades.