New Ganga law will define cleanliness levels, make polluters pay
The Union government plans to bring a new legislation to keep the Ganga, Hinduism’s holiest river, clean and pollution-free. A draft of the proposed law is currently being vetted by multiple authorities before it will be sent for the Cabinet’s approval, people familiar with the matter said.
The government started the Namami Gange campaign to clean the Ganga, one of the world’s most polluted rivers with sewage and industrial waste discharged into it for decades.
Millions of Hindus worship the 1,560-mile (2510 km) river. The Ganga basin supports over 400 million of India’s 1.3 billion people.
Efforts to rid the river of pollutants go back to 1980s, marked by two successive programmes known as Ganga Action Plans.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Namami Gange Programme in June 2014, when it first took charge, as a project of national importance.
The proposed law now being drafted will set down legal obligations to prevent pollution, fix biological and effluent parameters to be maintained at all times at key geographical points and cities through which the river flows, an official said.
The eight states of the Ganga basin. where the proposed law will be especially applicable are Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Delhi, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh.
Cleaning the Ganga is a gargantuan task requiring multiple authorities to coordinate between states and the Centre. It requires massive engineering solutions, including sewerage infrastructure, sewage treatment plants, rural sanitation systems, industrial pollution abatement, river-surface cleaning and re-construction of ghats, or river-front steps.
A consortium of Indian Institutes of Technology and international partner nations, including Germany, Israel, European Union and Japan, have helped prepare the main technical plan to clean the Ganga.
The proposed law will have a ‘polluters-pay’ approach, which means illegal factories will be shut down -- many have already been closed-- and permitted ones will be required to treat their sewage. Certain types of polluting factories will be banned from discharging any sewage into the river.
However, the government is not in favour of imposing a wider “Pigouvian tax” on polluters affecting the Ganga, a second official said. Named after the English economist Arthur Pigou, a Pigouvan tax is a cost imposed on “externalities”, or simply, pollution due to economic activities.
The Namami Gange project aims to ensure that no untreated municipal sewage or industrial runoff enters the river. According to a 2010 study by the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, treatment plants processed only 45% of the 11 billion litres of sewage generated by 181 cities and towns along the Ganga in that year.
“Under the flagship programme of Namami Gange, a total 310 projects to prevent pollution at the cost of Rs 28790.66 crore have been sanctioned so far,” the second official said on condition of anonymity.
Nearly 704 industries along the Ganga’s banks were inspected by the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA). Three-fifths of them have been shut down. Nearly 500 massive sewage trapping devices have been installed so far.
Of the 29 major nullahs (storm drains) flowing into the river in Varanasi, 27 now have systems to capture waste. The government has stopped pollution fully from Kanpur’s biggest drain, Sisamau, the biggest polluter of the Ganga. Of Kanpur’s 48 drains, eight still have no devices to stop effluents. All drains in Rishikesh and Haridwar have been fitted with anti-pollution systems. In all, 80 drains still need to be plugged.
Under the “subject” of water in the Constitution, the Union has extensive powers to bring laws to protect rivers from pollution, according to the second official.
The second official said the proposed law would lay down scientific reference limits for the river’s “health”. For instance, it would set the legal limits of BOD or biological oxygen demand load — a key pollution indicator. It would also lay down the minimum necessary flow rate and dissolved oxygen, two key parameters of a flowing river’s health.
Kanpur, a large industrial city in Uttar Pradesh, was the biggest pollution generator before the launch of Namami Gange.
“The Ganga’s length is almost 1,000 km in Uttar Pradesh, the stretch most polluted. Uttar Pradesh had two stretches that still pollutes the river, apart from five critical pollution points in West Bengal,” said Gyanendra Shukla, former professor of environmental engineering at Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee. At these places, the dissolved oxygen is below the desired level in the Ganga.