India is a country of rivers. Major cities of the country are situated on the banks of these rivers. These rivers symbolise the nation's cultural, spiritual and economic prosperity and are the lifelines of the majority of the population, which is why they are worshiped and termed as “Mata”. River Ganga has special significance in Indian culture. Ganga’s water has always been called nectar.
Rivers, especially the Ganga, are full of medicinal properties and their waters contain bacteria that are more effective than antibiotics in treating serious human infections. Over time, as the cities settled on the banks of the rivers, the challenges of these rivers also increased. These challenges range from the decreasing depth of rivers due to siltation to safeguarding its cleanliness & purity. Most of the rivers including Ganga, Yamuna, Sabarmati have become polluted due to improper disposal of wastes. Sewerage and excreta of the cities are being released directly into the rivers without proper treatment. Due to domestic waste, industrial waste, agricultural waste, chemical fertilizers, pesticides etc., pollution in most of the rivers has reached its peak and the river water is no longer usable.
After covering a distance of 2525 kms from Gangotri, the river Ganga joins Gangasagar. The Ganga sub-basin extends over an area of 10, 86,000 Sq KM and lies in India, Nepal, Tibet and Bangla Desh. The drainage area lying in India is 8, 61,404 Sq KM, which is nearly 26.2% of the total geographical area of the country. Due to great bond of Indian culture and civilisation with Mokshadayini Ganga, in June 2014, the Government of India launched an integrated Ganga Conservation Mission named Namami Gange, whose twin objective is effective abatement of pollution and conservation & rejuvenation of the holy river Ganga and its tributaries. For the success of this mission, targets have been set for basic infrastructure constructionfor sewerage disposal, industrial effluent monitoring, development of river front, river surface cleaning, Bio-diversity conservation, afforestation, Ganga Gram, public awareness etc. This project covers 9 states namely - Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh respectively.
The activities earmarked for achieving the objectives of the Namami Gange programme have been classified into three parts –Entry level (for immediate impact), Medium term (within 5 years) and Long term (within 10 years) activities. The entry stage activities includes river surface cleaning to collect floating solid waste, construction of toilets for cleaning of solid and liquid waste flowing into drains of rural areas, renovation, modernization & construction of crematoriums to prevent half-burnt dead bodies from flowing into the river,Repair, modernization and construction of river Ghats.
Medium-term activities includes construction of sewerage treatment plants for disposal of waste coming from municipal bodies and setting up of online continuous effluent monitoring stations, biodiversity conservation, afforestation, and water quality monitoring. In the long term activities, the goal is to ensure the natural flow of the river by creating e-flow, better water use efficiency and improving surface irrigation potential.
According to the report of Ministry of Jal Shakti, 76 out of 160 sewerage projects, 66 out of 90 river front, river Ghat and crematorium project, 1 out of 5 Ghat and river surface cleaning project, 26 out of 41 Afforestation and Biodiversity Conservation Project, 3 out of 5 Composite Ecology Task Force and Ganga Mitra Project, 7 out of 25 Research and Development, Public Access and District Ganga Committee Assistance Project and 2 out of 8 Ganga Knowledge and Monitoring Center Projects have been completed.
But in reality, after more than 8 years of launching of the ambitious programme and expending thousand crore rupees, the net effect on the ground is negligible. The quality of water is still poor. The infrastructure being created is of substandard quality and slow pace of work is creating hurdle in day-to-day lives of the people. Red-tapism in the administrative system and arbitrary attitudeof the construction agencies raise questions on the sustainability of the scheme.
The Namami Gange programme has been included among the world's top 10 regeneration flagship initiatives by the United Nations at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biodiversity (COD) in Kunming-Montreal (Canada). Other top 9 pioneering initiatives for restoring the natural world include Tri-national Atlantic Forest Pact (Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina), Abu Dhabi Marine Restoration, Great Green Wall for Restoration and Peace (Africa), Multi Country Mountain Initiative (Serbia, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda and Rwanda), Small Island Developing States Restoration Drive (Vaniatu, St. Lucia, Camoros), AltynDala Conservation Initiative (Kazakhstan), Central American Dry Corridor, Building with Nature (Indonesia) and Shan-Shui Initiative (China).
Following recognition by the United Nations, all selected ground breaking initiatives committed to prevent and reverse the degradation of natural spaces across the planet are expected to receive UN-backed promotion, funding and technical expertise.When the power of our resolve is strong, even the biggest challenge becomes easy. Government initiatives alone will not last, but citizens have to come forward by involving themselves in every activity of Namami Gange to keep Ganga clean and save biodiversity.
(The author is a technocrat & educationist)