With 1,109 gross polluting industries discharging toxic effluents into the Ganga, it is a long way to go.
February 17, 2019, was a red letter day for Bihar, with PM Narendra Modi announcing the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG)’s multi-crore initiatives second time in less than a year. Getting into a high gear towards its avowed objective of keeping the river Ganga clean, NMCG or Namami Gange plans to spend Rs 452.24 to prevent flow of 670 mld (million litres per day) of sewage into Ganga, while Rs 243.27 is earmarked for improving the Patna riverfront involving construction of new ghats, promenade, community-cum-cultural centre, etc.
Efforts to clean up Ganga had started as early as in 1979, when the Central Board for the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution was directed to undertake a comprehensive survey, and its report ultimately formed the basis for setting up of the Central Ganga Authority (CGA) in February 1985. The Ganga Project Directorate (GPD) was established as a wing of the Department of Environment, with a budget of Rs 350 crore to administer the cleaning up of Ganga and to restore it to pristine condition, with the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) launched on June 14, 1986, by Rajiv Gandhi in Varanasi.
From 1993 onwards, GAP-1 was extended as GAP-2 to cover four major tributaries of Ganga—the Yamuna, Gomati, Damodar and Mahananda—and further broad-based in 1995 with the inclusion of other rivers and renamed as the National River Conservation Plan (NRCP). Also, 34 other rivers were taken up for cleaning with the same model of GAP.
However, while GAP has managed to spend less than Rs 4,000 crore in three decades, the reconstituted body (NMCG) has already spent Rs 5,650 crore, and for year ending March 31, 2019, projects worth Rs 2,295 crore are expected to be completed. With an outlay of Rs 20,000 crores for the period 2015-20, NMCG is aiming big with 267 projects sanctioned so far costing Rs 26,360 crore, of which 82 have been completed.
A significant modification of earlier approach was made in 2016 vide a GoI gazette notification of October 7. Para 6 for prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution in river Ganga and its tributaries vide sub para 1 required that “no person shall discharge, directly or indirectly, any untreated or treated sewage or sewage sludge into the river Ganga or its tributaries or its banks.” Further, under sub para 2 it is required that “no person shall discharge, directly or indirectly, any untreated or treated trade effluent and industrial waste, biomedical waste, or other hazardous substance into the river Ganga or its tributaries or on their banks.”
With all flow into the Ganga being blocked, a way was to be found to reuse treated water. A MoU with power ministry now requires thermal plants located within 50-km of an STP (sewage treatment plant) to draw their requirements of water from it. Another MoU with the Railways requires it to draw water for its coach-washing plants from nearby STPs. Similarly, an agreement with Indian Oil refinery’s requirement (in Mathura) of 20 mld is met by a trans-Yamuna STP.
About 80% of the pollution is contributed by municipality sewage, while industries located along the Ganga account for 20%. However, industrial effluents are the major cause for toxicity and health hazard. Over 400 tanneries in and around Kanpur, which discharge tonnes of toxic effluent into the Ganga, shall soon have a central effluent treatment plant of 20 mld capacity costing Rs 620 crore.
A major initiative taken has been to involve the polluting tanneries as stakeholders, in forming a SPV for keeping the Ganga clean. With a contract for a period of 15 years for operation & maintenance, funds should no longer prove to be a constraint. Also, a policy of ‘one city, one operator’ would ensure accountability and efficient functioning of these multi-crore facilities.
With 1,109 gross polluting industries discharging toxic effluents into the Ganga, it is a long way to go. Hopefully, the latest initiative centring Patna will not just remain a pre-poll bonanza for Bihar, but show positive results a few years down the line.