Written By Gopal Krishna on Wednesday, August 13, 2014 | 1:55 AM
First of all there has been a
structural flaw in the conceptual design of initiatives for saving Ganga which is 2,525 kilometres long across northern and eastern India and
neighboring countries from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal.
Once again Supreme Court has
pulled up central government for not showing urgency' in saving Ganga. It has
asked for status report and road map for cleaning Ganga by September 3, 2014.
Like other pillars of our democracy, the court has been involved with the Ganga
issue for several years. This involvement has not altered the current state of
Ganga in anyway. From now onwards, the court should hear the matter on the bank
of Ganga in the polluted and dammed stretch- not in the court premises- to
witness the plight of the river and decipher the true meanings of the
affidavits filed by central government, state governments and other agencies.
On June 6, 2014, four ministries - water
resources, transport, environment and tourism met to discuss the road map for
the river Ganga. This inter-ministerial group (IMG) on the river Ganga has been
given the task of preparing a blueprint for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's
dream project to create anaviralandnirmal(clean and continuous) Ganga within 30 days. The
IMG is headed by Nitin Gadkari with Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar,
Tourism Minister Shripad Naik, Water Resources, River Development and Ganga
Rejuvenation Minister Uma Bharti as its members along with senior ministry
officials. An inter-ministerial committee of secretaries under the chairmanship
of Alok Rawat, Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources has been constituted for
the same. "A Cabinet note on the subject will be prepared thereafter,"
said Gadkari, Union Minister for Road, Transport and Shipping Ministry.
The IMG has proposed to
construct 11 terminals on the banks of the Varanasi-Hoogly stretch on the river
Ganga for freight movement along with barrages at every 100 kilometers. Gadkari
said, "It is proposed to conduct dredging to provide a width of 45 meters
and for a three meters draft (depth) to enable transport of passengers and
goods between Varanasi and Hoogly on the river Ganga in the first stage of its
development." Such proposal without a proper cumulative environment impact
assessment gives birth to serious doubts.
During his election campaign,
Modi claimed that he is contesting from the Varanasi seat because he has been
called to "serve Ma Ganga." After the electoral victory a separate
ministry for the river Ganga has been carved out.
Prior to these proposed
initiatives by the Modi Government, a 110 page report of B K Chaturvedi headed
Inter-Ministerial Group on River Ganga set by Manmohan Singh government dated
March 2013 underlined the need to address three problem areas for a
comprehensive solution to Ganga pollution. These were: “(i) The inadequate flow
of water in the river, needed to dilute and assimilate waste; (ii) The growing
quantum of sewage discharged from cities along the river; (iii) The lack of
enforcement against point source pollution from industries discharging waste
into the river.” The report recorded its assumption stating, “Rivers have a
self-cleansing ability, which allows for assimilation and treatment of biological
waste. But in the current context, where withdrawal from the river is much
higher than the discharge of waste, pollution is inevitable.”
To deal with this situation,
the Inter-Ministerial Group recommended mandatory ecological flow in all
stretches of the river which was 50 % for the lean season flow and 20-30% for
all other seasons contrary to even the pre-existing wisdom that environmental
flow of the river should be at least 75 % in winters and 50 % in summers.
Besides that it recommended
that for urbanized stretches mandatory ecological flow be based on quantum of
wastewater released in the river and calculated using a factor 10 for dilution
and suggested business as usual for power generation by 69 large hydro projects
unmindful of the fact that it contributed to depletion in flow of Ganga and
thereby deteriorating water quality. This was suggested as part of the UPA
Government’s National Mission for Clean Ganga. It is evident that both the
diagnosis of the problem and the remedial action that was suggested failed to
address the root causes that threaten the existence of Ganga itself. The
complicity of several organizations with the report and its recommendations
revealed how environmentalism with regard to protection of Ganga was hijacked
by the government.
In the meanwhile, a 2012
parliamentary committee report revealed that so far Rs 39, 225.95 crore has
been spent on cleaning of the river under various schemes
or projects. As of now it can only be hoped that the initiative of the Modi
government will chart a new course.
The Ganga Action Plan, which
used function under the Ministry of Environment and Forests has been placed
under the supervision of Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti, who is also
in-charge of the Ganga Mission. She convened a the first National Dialogue on
Ganga on July 7 2014 organised by National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) as
part of Ganga Manthan, a national level consultation to facilitate interaction
with various stakeholders including policy makers and implementers,
academicians, environmentalists, saints and spiritual leaders from all faiths
and NGOs on how to save the river.
Each Ministry within the IMG of
the new government has been given specific mandate. Tourism Ministry has been
asked to explore and expedite a tourism plan covering the stretch of the river
starting from Gangotri, and running through Rishikesh, Hardwar and Varanasi.
Power Ministry has been entrusted with the responsibility of looking after ways
to harness hydro-electricity. Environment Ministry has been assigned with the
task of cleaning the river, and the plan to set up a national waterway has been
placed under the stewardship of the Ministry of Surface Transport and Shipping.
Gadkari has been asked to prepare a feasibility study on the proposed
river-route for development in a time-bound manner.
These deliberations need to be
looked at in a context. Citing a World Bank document of 2009, the three volume
and 909-page report titled 'United Nations World Water Development Report 4:
Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risk published by United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) states: "The
National Ganga River Basin Authority in India, with the financial support of
the World Bank, launched a programme in 2009 to clean the Ganges, to ensure
that 'no untreated municipal sewage or industrial effluents would be discharged
into the river by 2020'. Previous action plans did not improve the health of
the river, in which almost 95 percent of the pollution is caused by sewers and
open drains. This time the governmental approach has moved from a town centric
approach to a broader river basin approach..."
But the UNESCO report's
treatment of Ganga Basin, the largest river basin of the country which has
catchment in 11 States leaves a lot to be desired. The report fails to enlist
any achievement of the Ganga River Basin Authority that was set up in February 2009.
It does not scrutinise whether or not the promised 'broader river basin
approach' has indeed been adopted. It does not dwell on the split personality
of the World Bank either.
The Bank has been undertaking
contradictory projects in the Ganga basin without any sense of accountability.
It depletes water quality of Ganga by supporting dams upstream and it provides
loans for improvement of water quality in its downstream. The second volume of
Environmental and Social Management Framework for Bank assisted National Ganga
River Basin Project document says, "The Ganga basin (which also extends
into parts of Nepal, China and Bangladesh) accounts for about 26 percent of
India's landmass, 30 percent of its water resources, and more than 40 percent
of its population."
If the Bank knew that Ganga
basin is an international river basin but it chose to refer to it as 'national'
accepting its faulty description by the government. The UNESCO's report like
the Bank failed to comprehend that Ganga like Mekong are trans-boundary rivers
of the Himalayan watershed.
In such a backdrop when Jim
Yong Kim, World Bank President met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 23,
2014 in New Delhi and promised to help in cleaning up the river Ganga saying,
"If Prime Minister Modi wants this to be a top thing to work on together,
then that's what we will do. It is hard. We happen to have one of the best
water specialist in the world. We will bring our A+ team here and will do
everything we can to help," it did not inspire confidence.
While the commercial benefits
of damming rivers has been talked about a lot, the in-stream and off stream
monetary and non-monetary benefits and advantages of flowing rivers has not
been assessed so far. Does basin approach mean undertaking that assessment?
The declaration of Ganga River
Basin Authority in the aftermath of the acknowledgment by the Prime Minister's
Office during UPA’s regime said, "there is a need to replace the current piecemeal
efforts taken up in a fragmented manner in select cities with an integrated
approach that sees the river as an ecological entity and addresses issues of
quantity in terms of water flows along with issues of quality" merits
attention of the Modi government as well.
One can refer to initiatives
under Ganga River Basin Authority as the Third Phase of Ganga Action Plan
(GAP-III) which promised a river basin approach which could have affected the
quality and quantity of surface water, ground water and the survival of natural
flow of the rivers in the basin. The GAP-I, which was to be completed by March
1990 was extended till March, 2000 when it was declared complete but Phase I of
the Plan is not yet fully complete. GAP-II which was to be completed in 2001
was extended till December 2008. This too remains incomplete. Not surprisingly
GAP-III also failed because it applied only to 79% of Ganga basin, which is in
India. It did not include 13 % of Ganga basin that is in Nepal, 4 % in
Bangaldesh and 4 % in Tibet. It did not factor in its relationship with the
river systems and with the composite Ganga-Brahmputra-Meghna basin and its
The fourth phase for the
protection has been initiated by the Modi Government. The fact remains unless
measures for protection of Ganga is in not situated in the policies of
Industry, Power, Agriculture, Urban Development, Health and Environment by the
central government, the governments of eleven states (Bihar, Chhattisgarh,
Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, NCT of Delhi, Rajasthan,
Uttranchal, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal), the neighboring countries, industry
bodies like CII, FICCI, ASSOCHEM and PHCCI and religious organizations, this
phase too will meet the fate of earlier initiatives.
IMG will have to examine and
deploy the relevance of Ganga River basin approach because the river channels
have been amputated from the flood plains besides the amputation of the river
Given the poor track record of
the National River Conservation Directorate in the past and the new regime
under Gadkari and Uma Bharti, it would be naïve to believe that the threats to
Ganga’s existence will be identified and mitigated.
But if the Ganga basin approach
is indeed adopted then as per Comptroller Auditor General's audit reports there
is a need to strengthen the environmental clearance process emanating which is
being weakened with each passing day. The blind enthusiasm about mega projects
like Ganga Expressway and 'interlinking of rivers' scheme must factor in the
fact that Ganga, an inter-generational heritage of our civilization is more
important than development and the ecological entity of the river basin is
Whether or not the Ganga basin
approach gets the support of concerned states remains to be seen but what can
be done even under current scheme of things is to review and reverse the
policies like the government’s current hydro power policy because they were
formulated when river basin approach was not adopted. Consequently, fragmented
river valley project specific clearances are given without any considered
sensitivity towards the environmental health of the river ecosystem. An
environmental audit of all the industrial activities in the Ganga basin is a
must because auditing and accounting are inextricably interlinked, the
important pre-requisite for effective environmental auditing is sound
Data on environmental costs and
liabilities can be used for better decision making relating to usage of
alternative raw materials, consumption of utilities like water and power,
choice of processing technology based on environmental cost of treating
discharge into water, adverse environmental aspect and impact on flora fauna
and human beings and treatment of byproducts.
In the face of limitations
encountered by National Water Quality Assessment Authority, one of the
immediate needs of the basin is to take urgent steps to restore the water
quality by seeking Zero tolerance towards hazardous chemicals, waste water and
depletion in the natural flow due to uncalled for hydro projects adversely
affects the water quality.
Here is a litmus test for the
new Government vis-à-vis protection of Ganga. Pursuant to the Cabinet note on
Ganga, to begin with by issuing an enforceable order banning discharge of
industrial effluents and domestic sewage into Ganga, its tributaries and the
ground water aquifers of the Ganga basin, it can demonstrate its political will
and its commitment for saving the holy river.
Ganga Bachao Samiti
(Ganga Protection Committee)
P.S:The Ganga basin outspreads in India, Tibet, Nepal and Bangladesh
over an area of 10,86,000 Sq.km.
In India, it covers states of
Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, West Bengal, Uttarakhand,
Jharkhand, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Union Territory of Delhi
draining an area of 8,61,452 Sq.km which is nearly 26% of the total
geographical area of the country.
The basin is bounded by the
Himalayas on the north, by the Aravalli on the west, by the Vindhyas and
Chhotanagpur plateau on the south and by the Brahmaputra Ridge on the
The Ganga originates as
Bhagirathi from the Gangotri glacier in the Himalayas at an elevation of about
7,010 m in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand.
At its source, the river is
called as the Bhagirathi.
It descends down the valley
upto Devprayag where after joining another hill stream Alaknanda, it is called
The total length of river Ganga
(measured along the Bhagirathi and the Hooghly) up to its outfall into Bay of
Bengal is 2,525 km.
The principal tributaries
joining the river from right are the Yamuna and the Son. The Ramganga, the
Ghaghra, the Gandak, the Kosi and the Mahananda join the river from left. The
Chambal and the Betwa are the two other important sub- tributaries.
The major part of basin in
Indian territory is covered with agricultural land accounting to 65.57% of the
total area and 3.47% of the basin is covered by water bodies.
The basin spreads over 239
parliamentary constituencies comprising 80 of Uttar Pradesh, 40 of Bihar, 40 of
West Bengal, 25 of Madhya Pradesh, 16 of Rajasthan, 12 of Jharkhand, 8 of
Haryana, 5 of Uttarakhand, 4 of Chhattisgarh, 2 of Himachal Pradesh and 7 of
Union Territory of Delhi. But these MPs have failed to demonstrate required
political will to set matters right in Ganga basin without pandering to the
interests of polluters, mutilators and dam builders who sponsor their