The Ganga Is ‘Injurious To Health’ Because We Haven’t Taken These Steps Yet

Recently, a news report cited extremely poor achievement of the ‘Namami Gange’ Project. Nitin Gadkari, Minister of State for Water Resources, River Development, and Ganga Rejuvenation, had a counter response to it. The Minister has tried to demonstrate that work has been completed for numerous projects under this programme and many more have been recently tendered (hence progress will be visible later). However, the monthly status reports uploaded on the ministry’s website are testament to the extremely laggard progress.

I was in Varanasi, recently, and was pleasantly surprised to see the clean ghats on display. The government was running a free boat service to transport bodies to the two main burning ghats, as the practice of carrying dead bodies through the city is no longer allowed. So, yes, some part of the project has been implemented. City lanes (very narrow already) have been freed from the unnecessary hordes of cremation processions. Trash-skimmers have cleaned up river portions near some of the ghats. However, this was only some of the work carried out by the Mission, the rest unfortunately was delayed. Delayed primarily, I would guess, due to the fact that there was no concrete plan prepared for the procurement and implementation of the project.

A Programme Manager (probably a consultant of international repute) should have been hired to manage the entire project until completion. Moreover, agencies and state governments involved should have been hand-held through the procurement and implementation process. However, planning and implementation of this project has been almost like ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’. Eventually, it was left to the incumbent minister to now explain the reasons for delays in implementation.

Even while this was playing out, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has embarrassed the government further by asking them to issue a statutory warning that drinking or bathing in the Ganga’s water could be ‘injurious to health’. Such a sad state of affairs! Especially considering the fact that the project at hand was for the rejuvenation of one of the most important assets of the country—the river Ganga.

I have seen the majestic river near Uttarkashi. It is called the Bhagirathi at its origin, and named Ganga only after it reaches Devprayag and confluences with the Alaknanda. So very serene. A gorgeous river, dancing along the boulders in the river bed as it gushes down to the plains. Light green and so pure. It almost stays like this even as it enters Rishikesh. By the time it reaches Kanpur and Unnao, however, the colour of the river and its purity has taken a beating. Yes, some other rivers also drain into the Ganga, but it’s the people living in cities and towns along the river and successive governments (both central and state) that are responsible for the damage.

Devoid of its purity, beauty, and serenity, the river still provides life, employment opportunities, and economic benefits to the people who live along its (albeit choked) banks. Furthermore, the life of innumerable fish species and plant life, sustained by the river system, are on the endangered list, like the Gangetic Dolphin.

We have systematically destroyed this 2,500km river and have no one else to blame but ourselves. So what happened to this grandiose programme launched with much fanfare? Ganga near BenaresI believe it’s the planning of the projects that went haywire. Dependence on Central Public Sector Undertakings (there were five of them chosen to take up some of the tasks) was a surprising move by the ministry. Most of the PSUs selected had never been involved with similar water or sanitation sector projects prior to the Namami Gange work. Evidently, it was to show immediate progress, which is definitely possible with PSUs. They are not bound by red-tape or procedural hassles, which bogs down the ministry and its organisations (like the National Clean Ganga Mission, in this case). However, while doing so, they should have been limited to buying equipment (like trash-skimmers) and doing smaller and definite sub-projects to prove themselves before awarding them larger projects. Instead, they were also tasked with getting a feasibility study and detailed design prepared.

This, despite knowing that the procurement method followed by these PSUs is detrimental to hiring the best resources. In fact, they have been known to be rather stingy. They usually hire the cheaper or low-quoting consultants and agencies to take up the entire work on a back-to-back basis. This results in delays and also in poor quality of work. The ministry needs to check if this indeed was a reason for failure (or for the imminent quality-related issues that may come up later) and take immediate steps to correct the same.

Sewage oozing from towns and cities can (and, post-implementation, will) be sent to sewage treatment plants (STPs) under construction. However, what about smaller settlements close to the river? Ditto for smaller towns without a functioning STP? Adoption of newer technologies—like an in-situ sewage treatment process before discharge in drains—are possible solutions for this issue. I hope the project has included this, and other contemporary technological processes and equipment, as an integral part of itself. Agreements with countries, especially those which have invested a good deal of research time in related fields, can be of much help.

A man prays in the Ganga. Image Source: PxHere.

Moreover, a systematic and comprehensive Information Education and Communication (IEC) campaign is desperately required. Our country has run many such successful campaigns for tiger conservation, HIV/AIDS and Polio awareness. For Namami Gange, these campaigns could be run by professional organisations or even by PSUs. Take for example the burning ghats along the Ganga. Throwing half burnt bodies in the river has become a norm. A relentless IEC campaign could help develop electric crematoriums, which will go a long way in solving the river pollution problem. Currently, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of buy-in for these new age crematoriums. This does have socio-political hues and probably the reason why politicians avoid taking up this issue. Which is exactly why a structured IEC can go a long way in this regard.

I’m sure the solutions offered by me (and many others) have been discussed and deliberated by the programme teams already, as well as many more solutions offered by Indian and international experts. However, I think that, considering the situation right now, the need of the hour is a concerted, planned, monitored programme with full support, involvement and assistance provided by the various government stakeholders.

I am sure that the agencies involved will not shatter the hopes of the people of India!

Featured Image source: PxHere.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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