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Namami Gange: 2 years of systemic failure

Namami Gange: 2 years of systemic failure
On July 7, 2016, the Centre announced the commencement of the much-delayed Namami Gange project across all five basin states of the River Ganga. Namami Gange or the integrated Ganga conservation mission has been a sore point for the Modi government as the flagship programme had failed to take off even two years after it was announced.

In July 2014, Rs 2,037 crore was announced for the purpose; a separate department under the Union water resources ministry was created for the river rejuvenation programme and a year later, the Union Cabinet approved an outlay of Rs 20,000 crore for the next five years. However, any significant impact remained elusive.

Inauguration of Namami Gange project

Out of the 300 projects ideated in the first phase, foundation stones were laid for 231 National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) projects at various locations in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal. In Uttarakhand alone, 47 such projects were inaugurated at various locations, including Dehradun, Garhwal, Tehri garhwal, Rudraprayag, Haridwar, and Chamoli districts.
Projects were launched simultaneously in over 104 locations, including Delhi and Haryana.

What took the government so long?

Justifying the prolonged delay in announcement of the projects, Minister for Road Transport and Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari said that they were being launched after conducting detailed scientific study, deciding on the best technologies and taking concerned states on board. “I am rather surprised that the projects are being launched within such a short span notwithstanding the complexity involved,” Gadkari said.

What does the Namami Gange programme involve?

Apart from modernisation and redevelopment of Ghats and crematoriums, the programme involves development of sewage infrastructure and treatment, afforestation, deployment of trash skimmers and conservation of biodiversity.

Under this programme, 1,242 ghats and drains in 411 villages have been identified and the work is likely to begin soon.Twenty trash skimmers will be put in operation along the entire stretch of the River Ganga in addition to the five skimmers in operation.

Trees will be planted in 2700 hectare areas along the River Ganga in the current financial year.
Apart from the existing 62 monitoring stations (57 manual and five real-time), 113 more real-time stations will be set up by March 2017. Eight biodiversity centres will be developed along the Ganga for conservation of dolphins, turtles, and different varieties of fish. 

These centres will be developed at Rishikesh, Narora, Dehradun, Allahabad, Bhagalpur, Varanasi, Sahibganj, and Barrackpore.Under Ganga Gram Yojana, 400 villages along the river will be developed as Ganga Gram in the first phase. Thirteen IITs have adopted five villages each.
Break-up of proposed project expenditure:
 
Forty-three projects initiated for Uttarakhand are worth Rs 250 crore.Rs 200 crore has been earmarked for Bihar and Rs 250 crore for Jharkhand.Projects in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh are worth Rs 200 crore and Rs 600 crore respectively.The government will spend another Rs 7,000 crore on the unfinished projects.

New law to expedite Namami Gange project

The Centre has decided to have an exclusive central law to speed up the process of its rejuvenation. If enacted, the law will not only help the Centre to negotiate works that require inter-state coordination, but also give more power to the existing National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA). A draft act is expected to be prepared by a committee, headed by justice (retired) Giridhar Malaviya.

No progress on sewage treatment plants

Despite sanctioning Rs 6,000 crore on more than 100 projects, including building and operationalising sewage treatment plants (STP) in all five basin states, hardly any work on the ground is visible. Till March 2016, only six projects were cleared under Namami Gange, out of which only two relate to STPs.

A parliamentary committee on Ganga rejuvenation took note of the fact that lack of support from states on disbursing funds to run existing STPs and problem in allocating land and manpower for the new ones are adding to the government’s woes.

 The situation looks even more dismal when you know that about 30 percent of STPs are not operational in four states—Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and West Bengal—and 94 percent were not meeting pollution norms.

The parliamentary committee noted on May 11, 2016, that despite allocation of projects, lack of “effective coordination and good synergy between multiple authorities” is causing delays in completion of the projects. 

It took cognizance of “cost escalation” and “time overruns” and also recommended setting up of an overarching authority headed by Modi to cut down on red tape.

Technical bids were invited for surface and ghat cleaning. In an interview with Down To Earth, Uma Bharti had said that the results of the first phase of Ganga cleaning would be seen in October 2016. However, our analysis suggests that cleaning the surface of the river and ghats is not enough.

Expenditure already incurred

The sanctioned cost of Ganga Action Plans I and II was approximately Rs 2,747 crore. However, only Rs 967 crore was actually spent on GAP I and II. It is just 35 percent of the sanctioned budget. The project failed to achieve its target. Against the targeted sewage treatment capacity of 3,000 million litres of sewage per day, in three decades the project achieved just one-third of the target.

 According to Bharti, Rs 4000 crore had been spent on various clean-up projects during the past 29 years.India can’t afford another failure of gigantic proportions because 7,300 million litres of sewage is flowing directly or indirectly into the river every day and effluents from 764 polluting industries on the banks of the river are continuing to add to the problem.

(The views expressed are those of Down To Earth.)
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