The plan for the Ganga will get new life on Monday, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh discusses with the chief ministers of four states on ways of rejuvenating the river.
Singh will meet Uttarakhand Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, on this.
Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal are the states through which the river flows.
The WWF (earlier the World Wide Fund for Nature) last year said the river was among the 10 most endangered ones in the world.
The nodal body for rejuvenating the river is the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), of which the Prime Minister is the head.
The items of discussion include imposing a ban on new infrastructure development projects in the river basin, providing additional money for setting up effluent treatment plants, satellite mapping of the river’s length of 1,450 km in India, and a World Bank offer of long-term aid of $1 billion (about Rs 5,000 crore) to clean up the river.
“As the Authority’s decision will be a joint effort of the central and the state governments, it will be strictly enforceable,” said a senior ministry official not willing to be quoted.
“A corpus fund of Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion) is likely to be dedicated to save the river.”
Singh had announced the formation of the Authority in February this year with a commitment to provide a fund for “effective abatement of pollution and conservation of the river” and replace the current “piecemeal effort with a holistic one”.
The river is dirtier now than in 1985, when the plan to clean up the Ganga was operationalised.
Between 1985 and 2009, the central government spent Rs 916 crore (Rs 9.16 billion) to clean up the Ganga, slightly less than the amount needed to build a 250 MW power plant.
The river now has much more bacteria because of the increasing discharge of untreated domestic and industrial effluents.
Also the flow of the river has become sluggish at several locations due to dams and growing habitat pressure.
The ministry of environment and forests has taken six months to work out the framework for the Authority to function in.
“If we have to save the Ganga, we need a strong political will to reduce human activity (around the river),” said Supreme Court lawyer MC Mehta, on whose petition in the Supreme Court the government had initiated the Ganga Action Plan in 1985.