Ganga pollution: ‘Just building sewage treatment plants is not enough to clean the river’

Long-term action plan has by necessity to do with ensuring ‘aviralta’ in our rivers. The report of the IIT consortium did suggest a workable way forward but since it was a creation of a previous regime its report was consigned to the dust bin. There is lot of hard work and good analysis in that report. Between the Ganga Authorities Notification (a good initiative of the present regime) and the IIT consortium report there is good road map for Ganga rejuvenation in place. But is there real political will for the cause over and above the slogans?

opinion Updated: Dec 26, 2017 15:49 IST
KumKum Dasgupta
KumKum Dasgupta
Hindustan Times
Ganga Pollution,Ganga Action Plan,CAG
On December 20, a Comptroller and Auditor General report said unused funds, the absence of a long-term plan and the lack of pollution abatement works are hampering the rejuvenation of the Ganga. The National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), the nodal body for cleaning the Ganga, the report added, “could not utilise any amount out of the Clean Ganga Fund”, which meant that the amount of Rs198.14 crore (as of March 31, 2017) was lying in banks.(HT)

On December 20, a Comptroller and Auditor General report said unused funds, the absence of a long-term plan and the lack of pollution abatement works are hampering the rejuvenation of the Ganga. The National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), the nodal body for cleaning the Ganga, the report added, “could not utilise any amount out of the Clean Ganga Fund”, which meant that the amount of Rs198.14 crore (as of March 31, 2017) was lying in banks.

In an interview with HT, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan’s Manoj Misra explains what has gone wrong and what needs to be done to clean the river.

KD: The CAG has slammed the government for failing to utilise funds for Ganga rejuvenation. What is the problem?

MM: Non-utilisation of funds could be due to either poor decision-making or long gestation period of concerned projects. Or it could also be due to uncertainty within the establishment about the best way forward. It is not funds but true understanding about what a river needs for its revival that is at the root of river ills in our country. It is well known that both Ganga and Yamuna Action Plans (with primary focus on pollution abatement through laying of sewers and construction of STPs) have failed and thus should we not look for learnings and lessons from these failures rather try and take the same route just because funds have to be spent.

This government began with talking about ensuring ‘aviate’ (unfettered flow) and ‘nirmalta’ (wholesomeness of water) in our rivers. But soon enough all talks of ‘aviralta’ was forgotten and only nirmalta became the focus without realising that there cannot be a sustained ‘nirmalta’ without first ensuring ‘aviralta’. Here lies the crux and difference between success and failure in the river rejuvenation efforts. ‘Aviralta’ shall cost little except policy change and some compromise with net hydro-power generation to ensure e flows downstream of all our dams and barrages.

KD: Slamming the central government for inaction, the CAG report said that NMCG “could not finalise the long-term action plans even after more than six-and-a-half years of signing of agreement with the consortium of Indian Institutes of Technology”. What should a long-term plan involve?

MM: Long term action plan has by necessity to do with ensuring ‘aviralta’ in our rivers. The report of the IIT consortium did suggest a workable way forward but since it was a creation of a previous regime its report was consigned to the dust bin. There is lot of hard work and good analysis in that report. Between the Ganga Authorities Notification (a good initiative by the present regime) and the IIT consortium report there is good road map for Ganga rejuvenation in place. But is there real political will for the cause over and above the slogans?

KD: Is the focus on sewage treatment plants the main problem? People also don’t seem to be involved.

MM: Focus on STP as a river solution is the problem. Technologies like the STP as we understand is an issue related with runaway urbanisation and a municipal challenge. It is an issue squarely within the ambit of ministry of urban development. To link it and offer it as a silver bullet for river rejuvenation is a folly and takes away focus from the real ills facing our rivers. Which is dwindling flows. Yes, a total lack of people’s say or involvement in running of STPs is another problem. Sewage is created by people, so why should they not be involved in finding a lasting solution for it?

KD: Governments/experts often cite the example of Thames and Danube clean up. But is it right to draw parallels?

MM: No two rivers anywhere, least of all in different continents are similar. European rivers like the Thames and Danube had primary issues of pollution and floodplain conversions and flow wasn’t as much an issue as their climate ensured steady flows. But for us in India flow is the key concern as our rivers get their flow primarily during the three monsoon months and then remain dependent on aquifer-fed base flows which in the current scenario of monsoonal flows is held captive in reservoirs behind dams and barrages compounded with large scale ground water extraction has left our rivers waterless and lifeless. Clearly such examples and comparisons are misplaced.

KD: The government is promoting inland waterways. Is it good for the river?

MM: Inland waterways are not a new concept. With good flows our rivers always catered to the use of waterways for transportation. But then there was natural flows in our rivers and transportation was non-invasive.

But what is now planned in low flow rivers will be a double whammy for them since this is being promoted on alien (read western) concepts and practices. Large-scale and continuous dredging as planned shall sound a death knell to whatever little life exists in our rivers. The already disturbed aquatic ecology of our rivers shall be further adversely impacted and it is anyone’s guess given how the tremendous silt load that our rivers like Ganga carry whether such commercial transportation use of our rivers is even sustainable on a long-term basis and that we shall not be left with large number of non-performing assets littered all along the river.

KD: There are so many faith-based organisations that are rallying for rivers. Are their plans scientifically and environmentally sound?

Not to our understanding.

First Published: Dec 26, 2017 15:31 IST