Union minister Nitin Gadkari may probably have underestimated the sum when he said at the Ganga Manthan that Rs 80,000 crore was required to clean up the river.
The inter-ministerial committee, which Mr Gadkari heads, has come up with the idea of meeting the cost through viability-gap funding, with the Centre meeting 30% of the needs and the rest coming through public-private partnerships. But the solutions that one encounters to the problems that are coming up seem almost insubstantial.
For example, the cleanliness of the river comes into conflict with the issue of navigability, which Mr Gadkari has to contend with in his capacity as minister for surface transport. Barrages and bridges along with the Ganga have always impeded the free flow of the river and allowed for silting and pollutants to accumulate.
A recent parliamentary committee report said in all Rs 2.2 lakh crore had been spent over the past 32 years on purifying the river, which takes in more than 2,000 million litres of waste a day, discharged by factories, not to speak of human waste, which accounts for about 80% of the pollutants.
Of the amount spent on cleaning up the river, more than 95% had been expended on building the sewage system and yet that seems to have met just one-third of the requirement.
On average it costs Rs 5 crore to treat one million litres of waste. In many districts of Uttar Pradesh large parts are not connected to any sewage system, which means untreated waste is being dumped in the river.
Throughout its stretch the Ganga irrigates about 500,000 square km of agricultural land and meets the water requirements of many big cities such as Meerut, Kanpur and Varanasi.
Now hope for the river lies in the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is an MP from Varanasi, seems to have taken up the matter on a priority basis. And the issue is not part of any Hindutva design as Congress leader Jairam Ramesh has alleged.
Being the longest river in the country (the Brahmaputra is longer, but a large part of it is outside India), the river deserves better treatment. Can we bring the river to the stage in which Eric Newby found it when he wrote Slowly Down the Ganges?