Catchphrase or ideal bluff
Rivers sustain civilisations. Civilisations weave stories of their sustenance around those rivers. It is how myths are made. It is how larger than life images get painted. Such is the aura of river Ganga in India. The river, originating in the majestic Himalayas, traverses a distance of more than 5000 kilometres, gurgling and meandering, giving birth to the great Indian plains, and finally submerging into the Bay of Bengal.
In its course, there are towns and cities, industries and agricultural fields, men and women, hymns and temples (and mosques too) – all peppered along, creating the meta-narrative of an India which breaths across the Ganges. And that is where the 21st-century Indian politics breathes too. In an age of right-wing political dominance, where the ballots and EVM machines seem to have become enchanted under the spell of one man charismatic leadership, under the hyper-jingoistic clamors of development supplemented by the shrewd undertones of communal divide – no wonder the Ganges, too, plays a great role in shaping up the conservative rhetoric of restoring the ancient pride of our glorious India.
That the river has faced the wrath of over polluting industries carelessly guzzling their effluents in it was a long established fact. It is alarming. Cutting across party lines and ideological differences, no one can deny the fact that the Ganges demanded immediate attention. In the greatest of adversities lies the greatest of opportunity – who might have known it better that Narendra Modi – the son of the soil – contending for the post of PM. Duly acknowledging the plight of the river and the people living along the banks, he carefully orchestrated his agenda and declared the cleansing of the Ganges to be his priority. Riding the great Indian wave of Hindu resurgence, he stormed into the corridors of powers.
The sheer buzz around him being a go-getter and no-nonsense administrator of high credentials, one who had changed the dynamics of his home state Gujarat, it was natural for all of us to imagine a cataclysmic shift in the approach towards tackling the issue of Ganges revival.
And the beginning, like all the fairy tale stories, was fabulous. Taking cognizance of the special place that the river Ganges enjoys in the collective conscience of this country, setting aside a whopping sum of Rs 2037 crores, an Integrated Ganga Conservation Mission called 'Namami Gange' was proposed with much fanfare. Also, a sum of Rs 100 crores had been allocated for the development of ghats and beautification of river fronts at different cities.
Cut to 2017, after another series of high voltage political battles, Ganga remains as polluted as ever. The follow up to this much-hyped program has been shoddy and a complete waste of the taxpayer's money. Recently, in February, a special bench of National Green Tribunal headed by NGT Chairperson Swatanter Kumar bluntly took the government agencies to task. Blaming the fault on CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) and other government agencies for not doing their duties properly, the NGT claimed that not a single drop of Ganga has been cleaned so far.
The much-hyped program has become a victim of inter-ministerial frictions as it comes under the joint ambit of the main ministries comprising of Water Resources, Environment, Forests and Climate change, shipping, tourism, urban development, drinking water and sanitation, rural development. While the initial idea behind this was to ensure the multi-dimensional approach in tackling the problem, it seems that the multi-ministerial approach has become the Achilles heel.
Three years down the line, the program is marred by a lack of policy consensus, the constant bickering between the ministries associated. In the absence of a clear roadmap, the Namami Gange project seems to be heading for a sorry failure. All the fairy tales promised by the great kings do not materialise into pleasant truths, for fiction is the fuel of politics.
(The author is a freelance journalist. Views here are strictly personal.)