It is a matter of national shame that even after spending Rs 1,500 crore over 28 years for cleaning Ganga, the government on Tuesday had to declare the river a national river and come up with yet another body to do exactly what the earlier plans were supposed to do: clean the river. Saying that the river has a special place in the hearts of Indians, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also announced the setting up of a separate Ganga River Basin Authority as an “empowered planning, implementing and monitoring authority” to monitor the river’s cleanliness in the states through which it flows. Instead of ‘piecemeal’ cleaning efforts taken up in a fragmented manner by the basin states, this over-arching authority would enable the central government to play a more active role. Such executive intent is a welcome move, especially because for the first time the government is looking at the river as a single ecological entity and not from the pollution angle only. However, another centralised authority does not exactly raise high hopes in our minds.
Instead of setting up a new authority and centralising the administrative structure, the government should have first solved the problems that plague the existing ‘action plans’. In the last Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s report on the Ganga Action Plan (GAP), the apex authority had mentioned what the niggling problems were: misuse of funds, inflated reporting of expenditure, parking of funds, loss of interest of implementing agencies, lax monitoring mechanism and unutilised funds. At the state levels, the governments were supposed to constitute Citizen Monitoring Committees to monitor the progress but three out of the four basin states had failed to do so. The Supreme Court also pulled up the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for the tardy implementation of the GAP resulting in further deterioration of the water quality on all parameters, saying that the ministry’s attitude had been ‘callous’ and ‘casual’.
Instead of another body and few more babus to slow down the process of work, it would have been better if the government had looked into the real needs: improved governance, better accountability and involvement of the civil society in the process. If these problems are not weeded out, the promise of a clean, free-flowing river will only remain a dream.