To clean the Ganga, take a holistic approach | HT editorial
One of the flagship projects of the Narendra Modi government is the cleaning of the river Ganga. After coming to power in 2014, it set up the National Mission for Cleaning Ganga and launched the Namami Gange programme (2015) with a budget outlay of Rs 20,000 crore. It has also framed a draft National River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Bill, 2019, which could be introduced in the winter session of Parliament. While the government’s efforts are commendable, it should be alive to the reasons why the earlier river-cleaning efforts, which have been in place since the mid-1980s, failed to deliver. A key reason for the failure of the river cleaning projects (Ganga and Yamuna action plans), says a recently-released citizen’s report, Rejuvenating Ganga,by the India Rivers Week, a consortium of seven NGOs, was their single-point focus on the main stem of the river, while the Ganga basin actually has eight major rivers (Yamuna, Son, Ramganga, Gomti, Ghaghra, Gandak, Kosi and Damodar). The majority of the funds were spent on pollution-abatement measures on the main stem of the Ganga and on the upper Yamuna basin, which constitute just 20% of the Ganga basin.
This means that the other tributaries of the river, which feed the river, were overlooked. Some other issues that have been affecting the health of the river system include: there are at least 1,000 dams in the Ganga basin, which obstruct the natural flow of the tributaries; diversion of water for various purposes; ruthless sand and boulder mining; indiscriminate extraction of groundwater and loss of flood plains and wetlands.
If the Centre is keen to rejuvenate the river, it’s important to see it as a holistic system and not just focus on the main stem, escalate planning and decision-making to the basin level, stop all further construction on the rivers, implement strict regulation of sand and boulder removal, and define “river space” so that its banks are free from encroachment. Last, but not the least, the Namami Gange programme must define the desired flows in the Ganga main stem and its tributaries to allow the rejuvenation of the river.