Saving Ganga hurts government’s economic agenda
For billion of Hindus across the world, Ganga is no less than a sacred mother. Saving it, implies more than just protecting fragile Himalayan ecology as it sends a political message — the government cares for religious sentiments of the majority.
That is not the case.
The governments of the day at the Centre or in states (Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal) are not interested in saving India’s national river but harnessing its economic potential. Around 60 % of India’s 1.2 billion people live in the Ganga river basin and contribute every day to the river’s slow death.
Nothing has the government done in the last three years since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh constituted National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGBRA) to reverse the death process.
Hindustan Times through a Right To Information application found that pollution river in Ganga has increased in most of the locations between summer of 2009 and 2012.
In both Rishikesh and Haridwar, which has huge religious value for Hindus, the quality of water flowing has deteriorated with dissolved oxygen levels — an indicator of water’s ability to support aquatic life — going down. Upstream of the river at locations Badrinath, Joshimath and Chamoli, which logically should have better water quality, is in a similar piquant situation, thanks to untreated sewage and waste flowing from these towns.
As Ganga moves down through Uttar Pradesh, the environment ministry’s data shows rape of sacred river with all sorts of dirt, filth, chemicals and toxics being thrown into it. There is continuous deterioration of water quality as river flows through Kannauj, Kanpur, Allahabad, Vindhyachal, Varanasi, Hajipur and Arrah. In Arrah, the dissolved oxygen level is as low as 2.5 indicating the barrenness of the river without any life.
Speaking about Ganga in West Bengal would be like rubbing more salt on a corpse.
In three years, the opaque NGBRA has allocated Rs 2,598 crore on the 2,525 km long river, described by authority’s unofficial member Ravi Chopra as expenditure for building concrete walls around the river, would fail like two Ganga Action Plans did. The reason is simple — there is no out of the box thinking and money is being provided for same old poorly managed sewage treatment plants and beautification of the ghats, which has not worked in the two action plans.
There is ample evidence to show that the government is shying from acting against the source of Ganga’s pollution — the industry. The terms of reference of B K Chaturvedi report, constituted to prescribe measures to ensure uninterrupted flow of river Ganga, does not have a mandate to scrap any existing hydro-projects in Uttarakhand, against whom opposition is rising, and other industries, elsewhere. Instead, the committee has been asked to ensure that the hydro power plants and industries run with some alterations.
The committee’s terms of reference also belies Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s commitment to restore “pristine glory” of Ganga and preserve its riches for future generations. So, Chaturvedi, whose environmental credentials are doubtful, has to perform a political duty to dissolve all dissent and bring everyone on board to allow industrial activity on Ganga as before.
It’s important as the governments have planned around 600 dams on Ganga and its tributaries of which 34 are already under construction. The government had scrapped only three hydel projects on the river in 2010 — Loharinag Pala, Bhairon Ghati and Pala- Maneri — and is not willing to budge further. The Central government has able support of the Uttarakhand government which wants go ahead to all hydel projects in the state.