7th August, 2021 was a momentous occasion for India, A javelin from an athlete named Neeraj Chopra made us proud by fetching us the gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics. A small act in the epilogue of this story didn’t make it to the headlines, that of the champion donating his javelin for the purpose for auctioning for the Namami Gange Program. A tradition initiated by the Hon’ble Prime Minister, the auctioning of gifts received by the Hon’ble Prime Minister for the program underlines his personal involvement and Government’s immense commitment and belief in it. Similarly, on 15 December 2022, this commitment achieved partial fructification when it was recognized by the United Nations as one of world’s top 10 ecosystem restoration programs. In his Mann Ki Baat address the Hon’ble Prime Minister rightly stated that this was a proof of the country’s “will power and tireless efforts” and shows a new path to the world.
Namami Gange’s story traces it way back to 2014 when the Hon’ble Prime Minister launched the program to restore the river Ganga to its fabled glory. Enthused by the vision of Aviral(unrestricted flow) and Nirmal (unpolluted flow) Gange, a holistic and integrated approach was initiated. This approach was further reinforced by the three verticals of Jan Ganga (public participation and people-river connect), Gyan Ganga(research and knowledge management) and Arth Ganga(self-sustainable economic model).
So far, 406 projects worth Rs 32,898 crore have been sanctioned for sewage treatment infrastructure, river front development, river surface cleaning, bio-diversity protection, afforestation, public awareness, industrial effluent monitoring, Arth Ganga among others. Out ofthese, 225 projects have been completed, the remaining are under various stages of execution. About 177 sewerage infrastructure projects have been sanctioned in the Ganga Basin for the creation of 5,270 MLD treatment capacity and 5,211 km sewer network. Several of these projects for sewerage management have been completed. With a large part of the initial stage achieved, armed with renewed vigor and precious experience, we are initiating Namami Gange 2, which has now been extended to the tributaries such as River Yamuna and sub tributaries like Kali, Gomti, Hindon, Damodar etc.
A major reason behind the program’s success is the Hybrid Annuity Model under Public PrivatePartnership mode (HAM-PPP), a hitherto unknown approach in the wastewater sector. UnderHAM model, up to 40% of the construction cost of waste water treatment plants is paid to the operators by the Government and the remaining is released over a period of 15 years after assessing their performance standards. Similarly, “One City One Operator Model” has been introduced that envisages a one stop solution for city wide sewage treatment. While HAM ensures commitment, performance and sustainability by the operators, “One city, one Operator” ensures single ownership and accountability.
For industrial pollution abatement, Grossly Polluting Industries (GPIs) have been identified and are being monitored by reputed third party technical institutions. This has resulted in improved compliance by industries. A glowing success of this is the construction of the 20 MLD Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETP) for Jajmau tannery cluster at Kanpur (largest of its type in the country). To aid this change, Under Namami Gange Programme, for the first time, the right of the river over its own water was recognized through an E-Flow NotificationinOctober2018.
The positive results being yielded under the Program are increasingly being seen as Model River Rejuvenation Programme for other rivers of the country. The significant improvement in Ganga’s water quality at several locations testify its success, while in 2018, there were four polluted stretches on the main stem of the river , in 2021 none of the stretches are in priority I (BoD>30ml) to IV (BoD>6-10) and only two stretches are in the least polluted priority V (BoD>3-6).
Ganga’s environmental cleansing has aided the spiritual cleansing of the people of India, and this was witnessed when more than 20 crore people took bath in it during the Kumbh. Increased sightings of Gangetic Dolphins, Gharials, Otters and other aquatic species serve as a reminder of the same every day. Even minute details like rejuvenating local fish species have been taken care of under the National Ranching Program-2022. This approach is most notable in the increased population of the highly lucrative Hilsa Fish and subsequent prosperity of our fishermen. Multipronged and holistic in nature, the program has resulted in the afforestation of 30,000 hectares in the Ganga basin, Spring Rejuvenation, Wetland Conservation, Rejuvenation of Traditional Water Bodies and Re use of Treated water.
The Prime Minister also espoused the Arth Ganga concept in 2019 during the first meeting of the National Ganga Council. The central idea of “Arth Ganga” is linking people and the river Ganga through the bridge of economics in line with the slogan of “Banking on River Ganga”. Both Jan Ganga and Arth Ganga have now become the engine to transform Namami Gange into a Jan Andolan. The past few months have been eventful for the program, six new verticals have been identified under Arth Ganga which are Zero Budget natural farming, Monetization and Reuse of Sludge & Waste water, Livelihood Generation Opportunities such as ‘Ghat Mein Haat’, promotion of local products, Ayurveda, medicinal plants etc, Public Participation to ensure increased synergies between stakeholders, Cultural Heritage & Tourism that looks to introduce boat tourism through community jettis, promotion of yoga, adventure tourism and Ganga Artis and Institutional Building by enhancing the local capacities for better decentralized water governance.
The establishment of Jalaj Kendras, as mentioned by the Hon’ble PM, is also a step towards building a sustainable river centric economic model. Out of 75 Jalaj Kendras, 26 have already been launched. It is an initiative to create livelihood opportunities for those living on the banks of the river by setting up facilities and providing hand holding to the local people.
The New phase of Namami Gange can’t come at a more opportune time, when we are remembering the great Atalji on his birth anniversary, celebrating India’s Amrit Kaal and India’s elevation to the G20 Presidency. It was Atalji who had once said, “India is not only a piece of land, here in every stone there is Lord Shiva and every drop of water is Ganga Jal”. The stalwart would surely be smiling from the heavens when he sees us actualizing his dream, he would surely be proud of our ascendancy on the world stage as an environmental champion while holding steadfast to the ideals of ‘One Earth One Family One Future’ in the true spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
(The Author is Union Minister for Jal Shakti, Govt of India)