The singeing observations in the CAG report on the Rejuvenation of River Ganga (Namami Gange) programme should shake both the Union government and governments of the states through which the river flows out of their lethargy. Despite the prime minister’s personal interest in the programme, and the high-visibility allocation of Rs 20,000 crore to Ganga clean-up over 2015-2020, little has materialised so far. Neither has the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) finalised an action plan after six-and-a-half years of signing an agreement with a consortium of Indian Institutes of Technology nor is there a river basin management plan even though the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), set up in 2009, was dissolved only last year—it was replaced by the National Ganga Council that more or less has the same remit as NGRBA. Of the 71 approved detailed project report for works—from a total of 154, between FY15 and FY17—70 were approved after delays of 26-1,140 days. Of the 83 awaiting approval, 54 had been pending for anywhere between four months and a little over two years. Had the programme been moving as per target, the award for work on sewage treatment plants (STPs) would have been complete by September 2016, but the NMCG was yet to take a call on the awarding of work for projects totalling 1,397 million litres per day of treatment capacity as of August 2017. In fact, more than half the 46 STP, interception & diversion, and canal projects are delayed by factors ranging from non-availability of land to slow-progress of work by contractors. What’s worse, even though the government has been considering a polluter-pays principle, against 5,106 compliance verifications required of 988 grossly polluting industries, only 3,163 have been conducted between 2011 and 2017. And against 120 mandatory adequacy assessments of five identified common effluent treatment plants, only 17 had been carried out till August 2017. No wonder then that the biological oxygen demand in six cities Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal has declined from 2012-13 levels and, during 2016-17, coliform levels were six to 334 times higher than the level deemed acceptable by Central Pollution Control Board in all river-abutting cities in the three states.
The CAG audit also covered projects that were announced before FY15 but were ongoing in the 2014-17 period—the poor show it records, therefore, means that there is a legacy of tardiness in Ganga clean-up works. The current dispensation at the Centre was expected to fast-track efforts, but against an earmarked total release of `6,705 crore in FY16 and FY17, the government budgeted a release of just `5,378 crore and transferred just `3,633 crore to the NMCG. The thin flow of funds, this newspaper has argued before, is one of the reasons why many key goals of Namami Gange have not been realised. However, NMCG, housed in the Union ministry of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation, has only been able to spend `1,836 crore. As of March 31, funds amounting to `2,122.76 crore, `422.13 crore and `59.28 crore were lying unutilised with NMCG, various State Programme Management groups and executing agencies/central PSUs involved in clean-up related works. This amounts to a double whammy by the Centre—not only has it not released funds as planned, it has also failed to ensure utilisation. Meanwhile, cleaning up the Ganga becomes a more difficult task with each passing day.