Need for urban water policy in view of increasing footprint of urban areas on Ganga, other rivers

ganges-river-pollution-allahabad_44179_600x450
Polluted Ganga at Allahabad

By Himanshu Thakkar*

In this second part of the Ganga article (click HERE for Part One), let us listen to some official agencies about the state of Ganga River following the recent efforts.

Parliamentary Committee

Why is Ganga among the five most polluted riverd of the world? Said Parliamentary estimates committee (2016-17) for Ministry of Water Resources, Ganga Rejuvenation and River Development (MoWR for short) in a report on “Ganga Rejuvenation” submitted to the Lok Sabha (lower house of India’s Parliament) on 11th May, 2016[i]:

“However, indiscriminate anthropogenic interventions like construction of HPPs[ii] in the seismically active and fragile Himalayas, diversion of 80 to 90 percent of water, discharge of extremely hazardous effluents by 144 drains and dumping of solid waste has converted the Ganga into one of the ten most polluted rivers of the world. Alarmed by the drying-polluted Ganga and taking note of the solemn resolve of the Prime Minister to rejuvenate the Ganga, the Committee decided to select the subject for in depth examination and report with a view to accelerate the work of Ganga rejuvenation.” The report also noted, “The Public Accounts Committee (2014-15) in their 8th Report on Water Pollution had expressed distress that the Ganga has become one of the five most polluted rivers in the world, despite launching of the ‘Ganga Action Plan’ and the ‘Mission Clean Ganga’ (2009) by the NGRBA [iii].”

In 24th report of the committee in Dec 2017[iv] titled “Ganga Rejuvenation: Action taken by the Government on the recommendations contained in Fifteenth Report (Sixteenth Lok Sabha) of the Committee on Estimates”, the committee has reiterated its concern, mostly in even stronger words. For example, the report says:

“The aforesaid scenario clearly indicates the sorry state of affairs with regard to the implementation of the programmes relating to sewer projects/works in various States, meant for treatment of sewage and thereby addressing to the issue of dumping of sewage in the water bodies.”

Similarly, on the issue of operating STPs (Sewage Treatment Plants) the report says:

“The Committee fails to understand pitiable condition of various STPs, in spite of strong directions given by the Chairman, CPCB in the backdrop of Hon’ble Supreme Court directions.”

The committee uses strong words about the issue of insufficient manpower in CPCB:

“The Committee highly deprecate that despite huge shortage of manpower particularly scientific and technical manpower in CPCB, urgent steps have not been taken to fill-up the vacancies. What is more alarming is that CPCB was not allowed to recruit the entire sanctioned posts at once and phase wise recruitment was carried out, which was also withdrawn later. Not only that the way work studies for non-scientific/non-technical and scientific/technical posts are being handled is deplorable.”

There is a lot more in this report, but there is no space to include all that here.

May 2018: Gadkari’s illusory, non specific and shifting goalposts on Ganga

In the latest statement in a long series of such statements by Minister Nitin Gadkari, that signified shifting, illusory and non specific goalposts on Ganga, the minister said in a press conference on May 10, 2018[v] that by March 2019, 70-80% of Ganga will be cleaned and that by Dec 2019, Ganga will be 100% clean. However, on ground there was no immediate sign of improvement in state of Ganga river. None of the actions of the NMCG were either break from the past or any major change. At no stage was there even an honest attempt to review the past actions to learn as to what works and what does not. So by this statement the minister (which was a climb down from his earlier statements) possibly meant that 70-80% of the budgeted amount will be spent by March 2019 and 100% by Dec 2019. This will obviously not help improve the state of Ganga, since this is exactly what has been done since 1985, without any improvement in state of the river, now for 33 years.

dryganga
Dry Ganga at Haridwar in August 2012

The World Bank finds Ganga Project unsatisfactory and risky

One possible reason why the minister was giving this promise is the ongoing World Bank funded National Ganga River Basin Project. The World Bank, in its latest “Implementation Status and Results Report” of May 2018[vi] for this project had declared that the progress towards achievement of project objectives and overall implementation progress remained “Moderately unsatisfactory”. More alarmingly, the latest, 15th from the Bank on this project declared that overall risk rating was “Substantial”. Risk of “Institutional capacity for implementation and sustainability” and on “Environment and Social” aspects had turned from moderate in previous assessment to now substantial. The Bank was majorly concerned about the disbursement of the project funds, and the progress on this count was 13.15% of the projected disbursement of USD 1000 million, particularly, 0.3% (USD 2 million) of IBRD component of USD 801 million, seven years since project approval.

No price for guessing that Gadkari’s deadline for 100% expenditure coincided with the World Bank Project closing date of Dec 2019. The World Bank has always been “flexible” to the needs of the governments, so the review also mentioned, “Government of India and the World Bank are discussing various options for Restructuring the Project.”

CAG on Ganga

In its comprehensive Performance audit of “Namami Gange”, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India report of 2017[vii] found serious deficiencies and shortfalls in almost every aspect Namami Gange Program. But the most shocking revelation meant that the program has no long term road map: “National Mission for Clean Ganga could not finalise the long-term action plans even after more than six and half years of signing of agreement with the consortium of Indian Institutes of Technology. As a result, National Mission for Clean Ganga does not have a river basin management plan even after a lapse of more than eight years of National Ganga River Basin Authority notification.”

Even on the issue of Nirmal or Clean Ganga, the only focus of NMCG, CAG found no evidence of improvement: “During 2016-17, Total Coliform levels in all the cities of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal was very high; ranging between six to 3343 times higher than the prescribed levels. Specific parameters for water quality monitoring of the river Ganga have not been prescribed by National Mission for Clean Ganga.”

So what is the way forward? It is clear from so much on ground evidence and so many independent assessments that the current NMCG program and everything that the current government (as also the past ones) is doing, is not likely to improve the state of the river. There is a lot that needs to change. While there are no doubts that funds, infrastructure, technology, laws and institutions are necessary, but it should also be clear that more of what has been done in the past is not going to help. First step should be to assess what has been the journey so far and what we need to learn. Secondly, there is need to address the governance, to make the governance of everything related to the river more democratic, more transparent, more accountable and more participatory.

muckdisposal-maneri-bhali
Muck disposal and low water levels downstream Maneri Bhali HEP on Bhagirathiganga

Today there is no attention to the governance and there is no democracy in the governance. This will try and help get the right answer to question HOW and not just WHAT. The process should look at all the options for answers to question WHAT, including nature based sewage treatment options[viii], decentralised STPs[ix] and seeing rain as the key focus of water resources development and management. We also urgently need a national urban water policy[x] considering the increasing footprint of urban areas on Ganga and other rivers.

It’s not just CAG, the World Bank or Parliamentary committees that have questioned the way Ganga issue is tackled, but even state governments like Bihar, the High Courts, the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal has been critical of the Ganga Cleaning efforts.

Even an ally of the government and someone who calls himself brother of the Prime Minister, Prof G D Agarwal, now known as Swami Gyan Swarup Sanand, is on fast unto death since June 22, 2018 for the cause of Ganga. But the government has no time for him and by implication, for Ganga.

Notes:

[i] http://164.100.47.193/lsscommittee/Estimates/16_Estimates_15.pdf

[ii] HPPs: Hydropower projects

[iii] NGRBA: National Ganga River Basin Authority, which has been dissolved, consequent to constitution of National Council for Rejuvenation, Protection and Management of River Ganga (referred as National Ganga Council) vide notification no. S.O. 3187(E) dt. 7th October 2016 under EPA 1986: https://nmcg.nic.in/pdf/AuthorityNotification.pdf.

[iv] http://164.100.47.193/lsscommittee/Estimates/16_Estimates_24.pdf

[v] http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=179204

[vi] http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/848951526991336718/pdf/Disclosable-Version-of-the-ISR-IN-National-Ganga-River-Basin-Project-P119085-Sequence-No-15.pdf

[vii] https://cag.gov.in/sites/default/files/audit_report_files/Report_No.39_of_2017_-_Performance_Audit_on_Ministry_of_Water_Resources%2C_River_Development_%26_Ganga_Rejuvenation_Union_Government.pdf

[viii] for example: https://sandrp.in/2017/08/22/intach-pilot-project-reduces-assi-river-pollution-in-varanasi-by-70-in-two-months-at-least-cost-without-any-structures/

[ix] for example: https://sandrp.in/2017/09/23/decentralized-stps-in-the-delhi-capital-region/

[x] https://sandrp.in/2018/04/25/india-urgently-needs-urban-water-policy-river-front-development-kills-the-rivers/

*With South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People . Contact: ht.sandrp@gmail.com

Source: https://sandrp.in/. An edited version of this was published HERE 

For first part click HERE


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