Namami Gange mission: What Nitin Gadkari must do to clean Ganga | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Namami Gange mission: What Nitin Gadkari must do to clean Ganga

To clean Ganga, Nitin Gadkari must start with rejuvenating and cleaning the tributaries that feed the river

editorials Updated: Sep 04, 2017 23:53 IST

In a bid to give a more concerted push to the Centre’s clean Ganga action plan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday gave minister of road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari additional charge of the ministry of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation. While it is too early to debate on whether Mr Gadkari will manage to turn around this critical and difficult project, if critics are to be believed, we now have minister who is a good administrator but with limited understanding of river systems and ecology replacing a colleague (Uma Bharti) who had some understanding of river systems but was not a top-of-the line administrator. The 2,525-km river which flows through Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand is of key electoral importance to the BJP as it accounts for approximately 167 Lok Sabha constituencies. Here’s the challenge that Mr Gadkari has at hand: According to the water resources ministry, a total of 160 projects, worth around Rs 12,500 crore, have been approved under the Namami Gange Mission – the Rs 20,000-crore project for cleaning the river.

Mr Gadkari has his work cut out because the ministry seems still does not have a clear-cut road map on how to go about it. According to the Namami Gange Mission, rejuvenation implies restoring the “wholesomeness” of the river and that includes three things: Aviral dhara (continuous flow), nirmal dhara (unpolluted flow) and ecological and geological integrity. Yet the ministry it seems is overly focused on nirmal dhara but not aviral dhara, forgetting that nirmal dhara is only a subset of aviral dhara, not the other way round.

To ensure that there is aviral dhara, the focus cannot be only on the main river. The ministry really has to work on the smaller rivers, as it mentions in the integrated Ganga mission, since these feed the main river. What needs to be seen also is how Mr Gadkari balances his new job with his existing interest in water highways. To ensure water round the year for the monsoon-fed rivers of India for water highways, the government will have to build barrages etc, and that goes against its other aim of aviral dhara.

The other critical issue is of pollution: The business-as-usual strategy won’t work. The main problem with sewage treatment plants (STPs) was not only that they could not cope with increasing pressure, but also bad maintenance. The Centre built them but the states and municipalities did not have the wherewithal to maintain them and the contractors made a killing. With two ministries on his plate, Mr Gadkari’s hands will be full. But, if he can turn this round, he will be doing not just the BJP but the country a huge service.