While it would be wrong to grade Union ministries on a scale of importance (each ministry is a vital cog in the government machinery), one can safely say that the ministry for water resources — which is now known as the ministry for water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation — should figure quite high up on such a list. The reasons are not far to seek: It deals with a super critical resource that affects the life of people and has the ability to make or break any government’s growth and development agenda. So when Uma Bharti took over the ministry, one expected her to focus her energies on the water-related challenges that India has been facing for years: Drinking water crisis, river pollution and lack of overall long-term availability of replenishable water resources, to name just a view. Then there is the question of internal and external riparian disputes and also flood control in rivers like Kosi in Bihar. Instead of tackling these challenges, which would only increase thanks to climate change, the minister is spending her time on trying to verify the existence of the mythical river Saraswati.
Though efforts in the past by geologists and the scientific community to trace the river had come to a naught, the minister seems convinced that it can be found. Ms Bharti also informed the Lok Sabha that she has asked the Central Ground Water Board “to test the water of a well located inside the Allahabad fort” in order to trace the source and route of the lost river. The motion was moved in the House by BJP MP Ratan Lal Kataria who wanted the government to set up a ‘Saraswati Research Institute’.
As the minister, her team of officials and MPs like Mr Kataria resume their over-enthusiastic search for the Sarawati, here’s a bucket list of challenges that they have to tackle without losing precious time: The mammoth task of cleaning up of the Ganga (the Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up the government for not doing enough), providing safe drinking water to citizens (60% have no access), implementing water harvesting laws and recycling waste water. There are hundreds more, but for now it seems the minister is fixated on only one, which should not even figure on any priority list.