The central government’s appeal to companies, spiritual organisations and rich Indians abroad to partake of the cleaning up of the Ganga, the river that is the life giver for the largest number of Indians, is appreciable.
In his budget speech this year, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley had proposed that donations other than contributions under corporate social responsibility to the Clean Ganga Fund by resident Indians shall be eligible for 100% deduction. This arrangement has to be taken to the next level by getting companies to involve themselves in project work.
At the Ganga Manthan last year, Union minister Nitin Gadkari had said that Rs 80,000 crore was required to clean up the river. Some experts were surprised at this and considered the amount too little. The inter-ministerial committee, which Mr Gadkari heads, had then come up with the idea of viability-gap funding — something similar to road projects — with the Centre meeting 30% of the needs and the rest coming through public-private partnerships.
And it is here that the Centre’s current thinking comes across as most useful.
But the problems are far bigger than the proposed solutions. As is well known, the Ganga Action Plan, started in 1986, was not very successful and withdrawn in 2000. A recent parliamentary committee report said in all Rs 2.2 lakh crore had been expended over 32 years on cleaning up the river, which takes in more than 2,000 million litres of dirt a day, discharged by factories.
In addition to this, there is the factor of human waste. Of the amount spent on cleaning up the river, more than 95% went in building the sewage system but just about 33% of the requirement has been met. On average, it costs Rs 5 crore to treat one million litres of waste. Many parts of Uttar Pradesh do not have a sewage system, which means a lot of untreated waste goes into the river.
As a partial solution perhaps in next year’s budget, contributions to the Clean Ganga Fund may be treated as part of corporate social responsibility, which has been made mandatory for companies with a turnover of Rs 1,000 crore or net profit of Rs 5 crore.