By Deepa Gupta:
Eight hundred and twenty five crore litres of sewage flows into the Ganga and its tributaries every day. A shameful fact given that for the 20 million people living near its banks, this is their drinking water supply. The river also fuels irrigation, industry, and power plants across five states and ‘Maa Ganga’ is revered as holy for the vast Hindu population of the country. The Ganga basin constitutes 26 percent of the country’s landmass and is the lifeblood of 43 percent of its population.
Since the Government led by then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi introduced the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) aimed at ensuring a sewage-free river, Rs.950 crore is the estimated amount of taxpayers’ money spent by the government in trying to clean the Ganga in the last 28 years*. Nonetheless, a succession of governments – Congress, BJP, and an array of state level parties have failed to deliver on GAP’s promises.
While Election 2014 in Varanasi heats up, the Ganga takes centre stage once again. But is it spin over substance in the din and clamour for Delhi’s corridors of power? This past week, Congress, and BJP have been in a battle to the bottom — this time to show the other’s inability to successfully clean the Ganga. But the big question is who will prove themselves capable of implementing the solutions? While surely many of us welcome this as a priority election issue, after decades of empty promises it is hard to believe that this latest war of words represents anything more than puffed up rhetoric to win votes.
The Sankat Mochan Foundation (SMF) – a non-profit, non-political, secular, non-governmental organization has been fighting for the alleviation of the environmental impact of the river since 1982 in Varanasi. Campaigning organisation Jhatkaa.org has helped to amplify and spread SMF’s message using digital communication platforms to affected communities beyond Varanasi’s borders. The Clean Ganga Campaign launched by the SMF — Jhatkaa coalition has intensified during the build up to Varanasi’s elections slated for May 12th, 2014. The message is clear: It is time for more than promises on the Ganga.
The Clean Ganga campaign has brought to the fore not only the extent of the damage caused to the river but also the harm caused to those communities who rely on it. The campaign has been pressuring politicians to come up with more sustainable solutions and holding them accountable when they fall short. While the pressure worked at pre-election party manifesto levels, the way forward is what matters now. All major candidates have issued sweeping statements about cleaning the Ganga and while these statements are welcome, it is time for action. Once the election is over, will things move beyond the status quo?
Jhatkaa and SMF are in Varanasi right now, demanding that each candidate standing for election explain how they will ensure a clean Ganga River and what regular reporting will be offered to be able to hold them accountable before the next election.
Started online and on mobiles, The Clean Ganga campaign enables citizens to demand for a clean Ganga by giving a missed callÂ to 080-307-52567Â or signing the petition online here and becoming part of the movement.
* Status as reported by Jayanthi Natarajan, Minister of Environment and Forests, in response to a parliament question in the upper house in May 2013.
About the author: Deepa Gupta, Executive Director, Jhatkaa.org, is a leading voice within the global youth climate movement. She co-founded The Indian Youth Climate Network in 2008, worked on Greenpeace India’s ground breaking mobile advocacy platform and led the development of India operations for Change.org
Jhatkaa.org is a campaigning organisation committed to building grassroots citizen power across India in effective and innovative ways enabling people to act as the tipping point on an issue.Â