The holy river Ganga is more polluted today than when the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was first initiated by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1986. The quick shrinking glaciers, dams, barrages and canals, alarmingly high volume of pollution all create an ever-increasing threat to the health and life of the river. Flowing for 2,500 km across northern India and Bangladesh, the Ganga is revered as immortal with thousands of pilgrims thronging its banks on a daily basis to require a holy dip. Yet, very little has been done to salvage India’s holiest and longest river from severe pollution.
Cleaning of Ganga has been mentioned in the declaration of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the cultural heritage sections. They created sure changes within the administration to perform the task. Recently, the Supreme Court asked the Government whether or not it would be ready to complete the cleanup of the river during this term or within the next, of the Government. This was the second time within the last six months that the apex court criticised the state of progress of cleanup of the Ganga.
Different phases of GAP
The objectives of the first phase of GAP were to abate pollution and improve water quality, to preserve biodiversity and develop an integrated river basin management approach, to conduct comprehensive analysis and to realize expertise for implementing river cleanup programmes in different polluted rivers in India.
A plan of action was developed so as to attain these objectives. The direct causes of pollution constituted the focus of the core sector schemes, and other common issues of a lower impact were clubbed as non-core sector. The core sector schemes included interception and diversion of domestic sewage water as well as the development and rehabilitation of sewers whereas non-core sector schemes consisted of the installation of crematoria, stream front development and aesthetic improvement, implementation of low value sanitation systems, and miscellaneous activities like water quality observation, analysis programmes, and identification and management of waste from grossly polluting industries.
The GAP I was extended as GAP II from 1993 forwards covering four major tributaries of Ganga, such as, Gomti, Mahananda, Damodar and Yamuna. The programme was further implemented in 1995 with the inclusion of different rivers and renamed as National River Conservation Plan (NRCP). Ganga couldn’t be cleansed. Thirty four rivers were taken up for cleanup, with the unsuccessful model of GAP.
After severe criticism concerning the failure of the plan, in 2009, the Government re-launched it with a reconstituted National Ganga River Basin Authority. At this time the river Ganga also got the status of a national river. Despite these efforts, and wasting Rs 900 crore, environmentalists now warn that the river’s condition has indeed deteriorated.
In 1985, GAP I was started, as a 100% Centrally-sponsored scheme. In this phase pollution abatement works were taken up in 25 category I cities. So far, 259 schemes in 25 cities of UP, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Bihar are completed and Rs 451.70 crore spent under GAP I. A sewage treatment capacity of 8 65 MLD has been created under the first phase and it has been declared complete on March 31, 2000.
National Ganga River Basin Authority
With World Bank assistance a project under the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) was conceived for abatement of pollution of river Ganga at an estimated cost of Rs 7,000 crore and it has been approved in April 2011 by the Government of India. For this project, the World Bank was to provide financial assistance of US $ 1 billion.
The principal objective of the project is to fund creation of pollution abatement infrastructure for conservation and restoration of water quality of the river. The assistance would be as loan of $801 million from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and a credit of $199 million from the International Development Association (IDA).
This action plan of GAP II covers pollution abatement works in 95 cities in seven States on the impure stretches of other four rivers. The entire approved value of the plan is Rs 1,498.86 crore, it was initially approved on 50:50 value sharing basis between the Central and State Governments.
Later, GAP II was incorporated with NRCP in December, 1996. NRCP was converted into a 100 per cent Centrally-funded scheme on the pattern of GAP I in November, 1998.
When Ganga is going to be clean?
GAP needs examination, a thorough review and a complete overhaul. It has become so infamous and stale that it needs to be done away with completely. A new plan with concrete action plan is needed to restore the health of the river Ganga. A committed, visionary, dynamic and sensible man must lead the charge of cleanup and restoring of the ecological health of Ganga. The casual approach and cosmetic efforts can worsen the condition of the river.
The claims that 35 percent of the pollution load were tackled under phase I and 30 per cent is being tackled under Phase II are unfounded.
Can we recognize specifically what quantity waste and industrial effluents are coming into the river Ganga these days? Are we aware of the performance of the GAP assets? What’s the bottom reality in cities wherever GAP I has been completed and GAP II is in progress?
Earlier, the Central Government funded all the costs of setting up and running effluent treatment plants along the Ganga. Now, for the National Mission for Clean Ganga, the Central Government has decided to fund the plants only for the initial five years, after that the State Governments are to take the responsibility of fund issue. In any case, just tackling the financial issues will not be enough to save the river.