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From cleaning Ganga, linking rivers to Digital India — govt gets busy

The Narendra Modi government has a considerable amount of work in progress. HT takes a look at some of them.

india Updated: Nov 26, 2014 13:54 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times
PM Modi,modi govt

The Narendra Modi government has a considerable amount of work in progress. HT takes a look at some of them.

Ganga clean-up

The NDA government’s plan to clean the Ganga is rife with complex challenges, especially bringing on board all the 11 states through which the river flows. From redesigning existing plans for quicker results, a key aim of the current government, to coordinating a top-down response, “Namami Gange” — the branding for Ganga rejuvenation — will require fixing of many issues.

Besides, at least 20 agencies will have to be made to work in tandem. The effort begins right where the government would first like to publicly “demonstrate” the impact of its efforts a year ahead: spots along the “main stem” of the river, or Ganga proper.

But pollution control boards in the 11 states, which have a frontline role to play, have yet to prepare a roadmap for zero-liquid discharge. They aren’t being able to mount real time monitoring of pollution, a first step, because of “techno-economic difficulties”. The hurdles include “major variations” in laboratory results from instruments calibrated differently and the lack of standardised protocols.

These boards also require powers to make over 700 grossly-polluting industries fall in line.

High speed rail

Prime Minister Modi’s pet project, a “diamond quadrilateral” of high-speed trains, has been keeping the railways abuzz of late. But actual execution of work, as can be expected in long-haul projects, is yet to begin.

A token amount of Rs100 crore — where the total project cost is Rs 65,000 crore — was sanctioned in this year’s rail budget to conduct preliminary civil work and to firm up alignments of India’s first high-speed rail project to connect Mumbai with Ahmedabad.

France’s national railway SNCF has submitted a business development report and the Japan International Cooperation Agency might submit its final feasibility report next month. It is expected that the project will gather pace next fiscal. Several other high-speed lines, including Mumbai-Chennai, Chennai-Kolkata and Mumbai-Delhi, have been on the drawing board.

The most ambitious and exciting one is a Delhi-Chennai corridor — one of the world’s longest, and possibly the most expensive, high-speed line — to be built with Chinese help. Marking its entry in India’s rail sector for the first time, the China Railway Corporation is conducting a feasibility study to enhance speed limits on the existing Chennai-Mysore and Bangalore tracks.

“Building high-speed lines are capital intensive and technologically challenging too.

Their gestation period is long. But what is of consequence is that a beginning in this regard has finally been made,” an official in the railway ministry said.

Linking rivers

The Modi government has revived and taken forward former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s dream of interlinking major rivers in the country, a project that the previous UPA administration had tossed into the bin.

Soon after assuming power in June, the NDA government swiftly breathed life back into the project to link at least 30 rivers. Work on interlinking the Ken and Betwa rivers, the first of its kind, have already started. Two more are in the works.

Critics, however, argue that the concept of a “national water grid” to manage water flow is fraught with danger and may lead to environmental disasters because artificially-networked rivers aren’t engineered for two-way traffic, unlike an electricity grid where direction can be reversed.

Digital India

The next big push is Digital India, a massive online project that has bureaucracy, education and almost all things under the sun within its ambit.

It carries a mammoth price tag of Rs 13,000 crore. Quite simply, it is the world’s most ambitious broadband project, but one that will have to overcome countless hurdles. The government’s blueprint, which HT has gone through, says Digital India will work to provide all its citizens, including the rural population, the elderly and the poor, equal digital opportunity.

Global evidence suggests that simply providing computers or cheap broadband will not automatically lead to greater usage. What is most cost-effective in one place may not be the same at another place.

The scary part, according to the blueprint, the main driver of the programme, the National Informatics Centre, is not capable of undertaking a fraction of the task required. Experts say the country will need a smart payment system that works for government services. According to a 2012 report, 25% of attempts to book a ticket on the railway site end in failures.

Some of the more difficult challenges are cultural: one-fifth of those who have a smartphone don’t think it is a reliable way for transactions.

First Published: Nov 25, 2014 22:44 IST