The National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) was initiated during the Congress-led UPA regime, way back on August 12, 2011. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took the project further after they came to power. The latest Right To Information (RTI) report has made some startling revelations.
It says the Modi-led government had released even less than one-third of the total amount committed towards the cleansing of the Ganga River. During the past four years of the NDA government, the Namami Gange Programme is said to have received only Rs 6,000 crore from its promised sum of Rs 20,000 crore, which was sanctioned for the resuscitation of the river. The major objectives of this programme were effectual desisting/curbing of pollution, and as I mentioned, sustention and rejuvenation of the river.
The fund released by the Government of India (GOI) till June 30, 2018, is nothing close to the money promised for the project. The Modi government had stated that Rs 2,037 has been released initially, but the actual scenario was totally different. The RTI data publicised that only Rs 326 crore was released during the financial year. According to Punjab-based RTI activist, Dinesh Chadha, the NMCG had not even been able to utilise the granted Rs 6,211.27 crores to clean up the river. Data reveals only Rs 4,322.37 crore had been utilised out of the said sanctioned amount.
In my opinion, the government’s Namami Gange project was a mere eyewash for citizens like us, promising a pollution-free Ganga; but it has actually proved to be a non-starter. In its reply to India Today’s RTI application, the Ganga Rejuvenation Ministry recounted a 58% increase in besmirching, from faecal coliform bacteria, in Varanasi City’s Ganga waterway.
After all, Varanasi is a major tourist attraction for maximum devotees who bathe in the holy river. However, the statistics are appalling. A surplus of 2,500 coliform bacteria in 100 ml water was found, and that was considered very unsafe for bathing. Water samples collected from Varanasi’s Malviya Bridge revealed bacterial smirching, which was almost 20 times higher than its official measurable standards. “There are five priority drains having a flow more than one million litres per day, which are joining into river Ganga in Varanasi,” said the ministry, in its RTI reply, citing data from the Central Pollution Control Board.
Another aftermath of this pollution is the death of aquatic life, along the banks of the river of this ancient city. The reason behind this is low oxygen in those areas. Corroboration in the ministry’s reply admitted a drop in the dissolved oxygen content at Assi Ghat, from 8.6 mg/l in 2014 to 7.5 mg/l in 2017.
The same contaminated river passes through hundreds of towns, cities, and villages before submerging itself in the Bay of Bengal. As per GOI, not only Varanasi, but the Ganga is also absorbing waste from 144 drains of the five major states of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Out of 144 drains, the government has managed to shut only 10 new drains, and the rest overflow, with the bacterial contaminated, low oxygen water, which poisons the flowing Ganga.
In Kanpur, there is blackish-grey sludge on the riverside, and it is attributed to the polluted discharges from the unauthorised tanneries. “The Ganga cannot be cleaned only by the initiatives taken by the government,” said Amit Dixit, a local resident. “People must also be aware of, and actively participate in the cleanliness drive.”
Though certain tanneries have been shut, there are others which are operational, at Kanpur’s Jajmau area. Sewage disposal drains and open defecation are some of the common reasons for the Ganga pollution in Bihar and West Bengal. “The Ganga in the northern part of Bengal is the most polluted part of the river, with a very high count of coliform of over 160,000 per litre,” said Dr. Sugata Hazra, a professor and director at the Jadavpur University’s school of oceanographic studies. “Even the amount of untreated sewage of 1,800 litre per day is disposed to this river. Now, this water is not suitable for drinking or even bathing as there is heavy metal contamination,” Dr Hazra warned.
This is the status of the Namani Gange project which was launched in June 2014, for a period till December 2020. Though the government has listed several initiatives for the river clean up, they are just not happening in a time-bound manner. For example, new sewer treatment projects, (STPs) a joint venture of public and private entrepreneurship, the first of its kind in India, is apparently in progress in Varanasi. An official also confirmed work is under progress for several other sewage treatment plants.
2019 is drawing to a close. Let us hope that the project Namami Gange will not let us down and we will have a pollution-free Ganga in our country, by 2020. What say, folks, at this rate will we succeed?