Govt efforts on the river walk the tightrope between political concerns and governance expectations
With an additional Rs 20,000 crore—a Rs 2,037-crore outlay had been announced in the FY15 budget last
July—going into the Namami Gange project, a fully-centrally-sponsored programme to clean up the river considered holiest by Hindus, the government might just manage to successfully walk the tightrope between statecraft and politics. While the project is certain to have the approval of the Sangh parivar, and other outfits that vocalise Hindu interests, cleaning up the river has clear environmental and economic benefits. The project will benefit 47 towns in 8 states through which the river and 11 tributaries and distributaries flow. The potential, thus, is huge for urban development, riparian transport and tourism apart from water resources and sanitation.
Apart from these avenues of development, the Ganga also holds significant promise for hydro-electricity in its upper reaches , in the state of Uttarakhand. Here, too, the government could end up with both political and governance victories. With opposition from Hindu groups stirring against the creation of new hydel projects on the Ganga, amid fears that centuries-old rituals involving the river at specific sites could get disrupted, the Union environment ministry has emulated a 1916-agreement between the British government of India and Hindu religious groups that was brokered by Madan Mohan Malviya to assuage apprehensions. The ministry, as per a report in The Economic Times, proposes that an uninterrupted flow of the river will be guaranteed at holy places like Har ki Pauri and Bramha Kund in Haridwar, even after new barrages are constructed. While hydel development will be planned accordingly, the master-stroke here was highlighting that concept comes from Malviya, an icon of modern Hindu revivalism.