Ganga clean-up a non-starter – Ashok Kumar Upadhyay


Ganga at Varanasi

Ashok Kumar UpadhyayThe Ganga is a nullah being worshipped. This is the PM’s constituency. But there’s nothing that suggests a clean-up – Varanasi Resident

As the boat cruises along the banks, slurries gurgle dark black sewage into the Ganga, littered with plastic, carcasses and trash. An indescribable stink kicks up from this toxic cocktail that also hides germs passed through human and animal excrements.

Along Varanasi’s ghats, lab tests have found bacterial contamination is now higher than the levels recorded back in 2014—when the Modi government launched its most ambitious Namami Gange initiative to clean up the river.

In its reply to India Today’s RTI application, the Ganga Rejuvenation Ministry has reported a 58 per cent increase in contamination from faecal coliform bacteria in the city’s waterway.

More than 2,500 coliform microorganisms in 100 millilitres are considered unsafe for bathing.

But Ganga samples collected from Varanasi’s Malviya Bridge showed bacterial contamination almost 20 times higher than the official standards.

According to experts, faecal coliform bacteria indicate sewage contamination and possible presence of other pathogenic organisms in a waterway.

“There are five priority drains having flow more than one million litres per day, which are joining into river Ganga in Varanasi,” said the ministry in its RTI reply, citing data from the Central Pollution Control Board.

Dead aquatic life is another eyesore along the banks of the ancient city. That may be because the Ganga is losing its oxygen there.

A tangible evidence of this trend emerged in the ministry’s reply that admitted that dissolved oxygen at the Assi Ghat has dropped from 8.6 milligram per litre in 2014 to 7.5 milligram in 2017, on the edge of the recommended 5mg/l limit.

This area, however, reported no change in bacterial contamination that stayed at 2,200 per 100 ml in the 2014-17 period.

India Today’s status check of Namami Gange found that the 2,500-km holy river remains trapped in pollution at many locations.

Remember, the river passes through a hundred towns and cities and thousands of villages before it spills into the Bay of Bengal.

According to the government, it’s still absorbing waste everyday from 144 drains in five Ganga states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

Authorities have only been able to shut 10 new drains that might have come up in the interim, the government’s response suggests.

In Kanpur, once called the Manchester of the East, India Today caught on camera blackish-grey sludge on the city’s riverside.

Dirty drains were also found to be merging unabatedly into the waterways near the Parmat neighbourhood.

“The Ganga cannot be cleaned only by the initiatives taken by the government,” said Amit Dixit, a local resident. “People must also be aware and actively participate in the cleanliness drive.”

The river pollution in Kanpur has largely been blamed on discharge from the city’s tanneries.

In the past few years, authorities have closed a number of unauthorised leather factories at Kanpur’s Jajmau area.

Many leather units have also been shifted out, but many others still continue to operate in the city.

In Bihar, sewage was found to be cascading into the river in Patna, garbage riddling its banks.

Contamination in the Ganga’s last lap in West Bengal is higher. It’s a state that’s home to 222 big and small drains that flow into the river.

“The Ganga in the northern part of Bengal is the most polluted part of the river, with a very high count of coliform of over 160,000 per litre,” said

Dr. Sugata Hazra, a professor and director at the Jadavpur university’s school of oceanographic studies.

“Even the amount of untreated sewage of 1,800 litre per day is disposed to this river. Now, this water is not suitable for drinking or even bathing as there is heavy metal contamination,” Dr Hazra warned.

Namani Gange was launched in June 2014 with a total budgetary outlay of Rs 20,000 crore for a period till December 2020.

Since 2011, around Rs 8,454 crore has been released by the central government and Rs 4,095 crore by the National Mission for Clean Ganga to rid the river of pollutants, official records show.

In its comments, the water resources and Ganga rejuvenation ministry listed a number of initiatives aimed at the river cleanup in a time-bound manner.

New sewer treatment projects (STPs) on public private partnership, the first of their kind in India, are under way at Varanasi, the ministry said.

Two of the STPs with a capacity to treat 362 MLD of sewage would be complete by October, it added. Another plant is expected to be ready before March next year.

Senior ministry officials insisted the new STPs would help tackle Ganga pollution considerably in the prime minister’s constituency.

In January 2016, the central government launched what is referred to as a hybrid annuity-PPP model for sewage treatment with 100 percent central funding.

Under this model, the development, operation and maintenance of the sewage treatment STPs is assigned to a special purpose vehicle to be created by the winning bidder at the local level.

One of the most important features of this model is that payments are linked to performance of STPs.

According to the ministry, authorities were also building Ganga Vatikas at eleven cities along the river course in order to raise awareness about environment and cleanliness.

These Vatikas, said officials, would exhibit films on the Ganga and medicinal herbs linked to the river.

A Rs 76-crore STP project at Uttar Pradesh’s Anupshahr would also be complete by October, officials insisted. Work on several other sewage treatment plants was also underway, they said. India Today, 3 July 2018

» Ashok Kumar Upadhyay is an editor at India Today in New Delhi. With inputs from Nelanshu Shukla, Rohit Kumar Singh, Manogya Loiwal. 

Ganga (2018)


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2 Responses

  1. Modi does Ganga Puja (May 17, 2014)
    RTI reply reveals the depths of failures around the Namami Gange mission – Ashok Upadhyay – Daily-O, 24 August 2018

    The cleaning of the Ganga was one of the major poll promises the BJP made before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. On April 24, 2014, the day Narendra Modi filed his nomination papers in Varanasi, the-then PM candidate had said, “I don’t think anyone has sent me here, or I have come here. I feel Mother Ganga has called me to Varanasi.”

    On the same day, Modi wrote in his blog about how he had “transformed” Sabarmati as the chief minister of Gujarat and how, “With the blessings of Baba Bholenath, this is what we intend to replicate in Varanasi.”

    After the BJP came to power, the Modi government’s much-hyped “Namami Gange” project was launched in Uttarakhand in 2014.

    India Today has been keeping track of the work done by the government on this promise. In July, our report, based on a RTI response from the government, showed that the pollution levels of the Ganga at Varanasi’s ghats were higher than the levels recorded back in 2014, before Namami Gange was launched.

    To know more about it, we filed another RTI with the National Mission for the Clean Ganga. The focus of our questions was the new projects started to clean the river, the money allocated to them, their completion date and their likely impact. The government’s first response was to tell us that this information was available on its website.

    When we filed an appeal, the Government of India said, “A total of Rs 20,000 crore has been allocated for this project, to be spent over the next five years (2020)”. It further said: “till date, under Namami Gange programme, a total 221 projects have been sanctioned for various activities such as treatment of municipal sewage, treatment of industrial effluent, river surface cleaning etc., at a total cost of Rs 22,238.73 crores, out of which 58 projects have been completed”.

    This suggests that an additional Rs 2,238.73 crore has been allocated, with a year and a half to go. The government also admits that so far, only 26 per cent of the sanctioned projects have been completed.

    Talking about sewage treatment plants, the RTI response says: “Till date, a total 105 sewerage infrastructures and STP projects have been sanctioned, which will prevent 3293.68 MLD of untreated sewage discharging directly into river Ganga. Total 26 projects have been completed so far”.

    Here too, only around 25 per cent of the sanctioned projects have been completed. The government further says that “the projects taken up so far will take care of all the interventions required in respect of sewage treatment requirement till year 2035 on the main stem of river Ganga”.

    In May this year, Union water resources minister Nitin Gadkari set March 2019 as the new deadline to clean up the Ganga, and ensure a “70 to 80 per cent” improvement in its water quality. With just one-fourth of the sanctioned projects completed so far, how does the government plan to achieve a miracle in the next 6-7 months?

    Going by the government’s own status report, it looks very unlikely that it will be able to fulfil its promise.

    Govt report on Ganga pollution

  2. To clean Ganga the sankalpa has to come in the mind of each sanatani. We have no minds of our own nor are we sanaatanis . If we put muck into Ganga and then talk big of cleaning, it shames the word hypocracy.

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