Environment ministry not for linking rivers

Written by ASHOK B SHARMA | Updated: Oct 5 2009, 23:57pm hrs
There seems to be two different views in the Indian government on linking river basins. Notwithstanding the Union Ministry for Water Resources aggressively pushing for linking major river basins in the country, the Union minister of state for environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh has openly opposed the move saying that it would not only invite environmental and ecological disaster but also the problem would assume international dimensions.

Speaking to mediapersons in Delhi on Monday, the minister said though linking of Ken and Betwa rivers basins and Krishna and Godavari rivers basins have proved to be beneficial, we have to be very careful in our plans to link other river basins. Many of the proposed river links may not only invite environmental and ecological disaster but also the problem would assume international dimensions.

Emphasizing the need for making the sacred river Ganga pollution free, Ramesh said that his ministry would launch Save Dolphin Project in the near future to increase the population of this aquatic creature which has dwindled to 2000. The presence of adequate number of dolphins in river Gaga would vouch for its cleanness, he said and added that dolphin would soon be declared as National Aquatic Creature.

The dolphin issue was raised by the Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar at the first meeting of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) chaired by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday. The Uttarakhand Chief Minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank suggested setting up of the Ganga Museum. NGBRA was set up in February 20, 2009 under Environment Protect Act as an empowered authority.

Ramesh said that his ministry was of the view that in and around the 130 km long area of the river Ganga (Bhagirathi) stretching from Gomukh to Uttarkashi there should be no industrial project to pollute the sacred river. The both the environment and power ministries would conduct a study on the existing three hydro-power projects Loharinag Pala, Pala Maneri and Bhairon Ghati and submit a report to NGRBA within 60 days.

The NGRBA would launch Mission Clean Ganga Project and World Bank has been engaged for long term support of authoritys work programme. Assistance of $1 billion is indicated for first phase. Proposal of $3 million project preparation facility was forwarded to World Bank and has been approved, the minister said and added that a proposal has been submitted to 13th Finance Commission for one time allocation of Rs 1320 crore for meeting O&M needs of STPs for 5 years;.

No untreated municipal sewage and industrial effluent would be dumped into river Ganga by 2020. Currently there is a sewage treatment capacity of only about 1000 mld against 3000 mld sewage being generated in towns along Ganga. An estimated investment of Rs 15,000 crores over next 10 years will be required to create the necessary treatment and sewerage infrastructure. It was proposed that the Union government would bear 70% of the expenditure and the state governments the remaining 30%. It was, however, decided that matter would be decided after consultations with the Planning Commission

While comprehensive river basin management plan will be ready by December, 2010, on-going sewage treatment projects to be put on fast-track and states to formulate DPRs for new such projects in critical pollution hotspots and major towns on Ganga and major tributaries by November 30, 2009. Tripartite MOAs to be signed by February 1, 2010 and initial portfolio of projects to be sanctioned by March 1, 2010.

Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to work with states to prepare specific action plans for dealing with problem of industrial pollution in Ganga Basin by January 31, 2010

A Standing Committee of NGRBA to be constituted headed by Union Finance Minister to meet more frequently and review implementation. An empowered Steering committee headed by Unoion Environment Secretary to be set up for fast track clearance of projects on JNNURM lines. Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to create separate and distinct professional team to service the NGRBA and the Empowered Standing Committee.

It may be recalled that Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was initiated since June 22, 1985 and Rs 900 crore had been spent so far but the results have not been encouraging. According to Ramesh the GAP undertook the responsibility for cleaning the Ganga water around select cities, while the new Mission Clean Ganga of NGRBA would cover the entire stretch of Ganga.

NGRBA has invited EOIs for preparing a comprehensive Ganga river basin management plan. RFPs have been issued to 10 shortlisted firms. Work will be awarded by Dec 15, this year. Rs 250 crore have been allocated in the Union Budget for 2009-10 for NGRBA. Rs 500 crore per year allocation in the remaining 2 years of 11th Plan has been agreed to by the Planning Commission.

Empowered State River Conservation Authorities have been notified for West Bengal, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. A Model Tripartite Memorandum of Agreement between Centre, States & ULBs has been prepared by National Institute of Urban Affairs. It has been circulated to States for comments. The MOA will link flow of funds to achievement of milestones and measurable improvement in water quality. Pilot projects of Sankat Mochan Foundation at Varanasi (pond based treatment) and National Botanical Research Institute (plant based wastewater management) at Hardwar have been approved, in order to encourage innovative approaches to river cleaning

Work on GIS based mapping of Ganga basin has been entrusted to NIC. This will be completed by June 2010. It will be a useful decision making tool.. Consultations with state governments, urban local bodies and experts have been held for identifying river conservation projects to be implemented in PPP mode through special purpose vehicles. Action has been initiated for third party evaluation of schemes.

Independent institutions will be appointed by Dec 2009 for this purpose. Improved water quality monitoring system is being put in place. Work on online data transmission from monitoring organisations and public access to WQM data is expected to be completed by Dec 2009.

NGRBA has finalized a proposal for awarding consultancy by January 2010 for creation of a state-of-the-art knowledge centre on Ganga. A Compendium of sewage treatment technologies has been prepared by IIT-Kanpur for guidance of implementing agencies/ULBs. The NGRBA is reviewing a status paper on Ganga has been prepared by Alternate Hydro Energy Centre, IIT Roorkee providing an overview of Ganga Basin.