CLEAN GANGA PROJECT PROVES A NON – STARTER

UNMESH GUJARATHI
SPROUTS BRAND STORY

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project that envisages curbing the environmental pollution of the Ganges waters, besides conserving and rejuvenating the river that seemed to have gathered steam in early 2015 has virtually drawn a naught despite the passage of more than half a decade. Speaking to the Sprouts Special Investigation Team (SIT), both media and political observers from the northern belt say in one accord that the scheme has failed to take off despite tall promises and claims made by the authorities.

The pet project was christened as Namami Gange mission, when initiated in 2015, with a sum of INR 20,000 crores earmarked for its completion. However, the government has failed on two counts, firstly a large chunk of the money remains unused and secondly there are no visible signs of fructification of efforts even after the spending of INR 7,000 crores towards this endeavor. It was the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that called the government’s bluff and said the work undertaken so far is far from satisfactory. The NGT has also sought an answer from the Centre to account for how efficiently it has managed the money spent on the project so far. The NGT call came in July this year and was related to the expenses incurred on rejuvenation of the river.

Earlier, in December last, the government had come in for sharp criticism from the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on three counts that namely comprised unused funds, lack of proper long-term planning and inadequate focus on curbing pollution. The CAG further stated these factors acted as a hindrance in implementing the cleaning process of the river. Environmental activists speaking to our SIT stated, “Lack of appropriate governance has caused this state of affairs and it needs to be adequately remedied to ensure the timely completion of this project.”

The current move made by the Prime Minister, of appointing the Indian comic book character, Chacha Chaudhary as Namami Gange mission’s brand ambassador, expressing the hope that it will create adequate awareness among the children and young people is viewed by many including prominent environmentalists as at best a cosmetic gesture that won’t yield much. Mounting a brand ambassador will not help rectify the shortfall in government efforts, with a scant 37% of the total funds allotted for the project being put to use, despite passage of nearly seven years.

The key to this status quo is that the government has so far been unable to achieve any significant success in building the sewage treatment infrastructure for cleaning the river. The environmentalists noted that more than 75% of the river’s pollution is caused by untreated sewage discharge into its waters. Nearly 100 cities in the northern belt discharge their sewage into the Ganges. As of now, less than 40% of the sewage treatment work has been implemented.

There were also some from the green activists who pointed out how a right thing happened for the wrong reasons. Citing an IIT Kanpur study conducted in the previous year, they said, “Pollution due to sewage discharge was reduced by more than 50% during the period when strict lockdown conditions were imposed in the entire northern belt. It was attributed to the total shutdown of all industrial units that discharge chemical effluents and metal contaminations in their sewage path that terminates in the river.

While experts believe that Chacha Chaudhary and other cosmetic gimmicks will be of no use in addressing the issue, they aver that there should be focus on completing the construction of sewage treatment plants (STPs) well in time. As government channels informed that nearly 50% of the sewage treatment project has neared completion, water experts from across the globe have cautioned that the matters will not be set to rest with the completion of STPs. “For, industrial houses who avail these STPs might feel emboldened to double the volume of discharged sewage with this facility being in place.”

Unmesh Gujarathi
Editor in Chief
sproutsnews dot com

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