In May 2015, Centre approved an ambitious project called Namami Gange – National Mission for Clean Ganga, with a budget outlay of INR 20,000 crore over 5 years, to clean and protect the Ganga River. When this project was announced, India was reminded of the failed Ganga Action Plan (GAP), launched in 1986 by the then Prime Minister, Shri Rajeev Gandhi. In 2013, Shrimati Jayanthi Natarajan Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Environment and Forests stated that GAP had failed as the levels of faecal coliform had exceeded the maximum permissible limit at multiple locations.
Why GAP failed?
1. Identification of activities and allocation of funds:
- Activities such as the discharge of water infected with pesticides from farms were not considered.
- Every region has varying nature, volume and timing of discharge of pollutants. This bespoke aspect was not considered in GAP.
- Diversion of water from Ganga to industries and fields caused reduced ability of the river to absorb pollution; diversion was not addressed as an issue in GAP.
- Sanitation, river-front development, and public awareness were considered as non-issues and meager amounts were allocated for these.
2. Standards of water quality
- There was an inherent gap between the quality standards as prescribed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and those set by the MGK Menon committee. The SWOT Analysis of the Ganga Action Plan Report suggests that experts did not attribute any science behind the numbers suggested by the MGK Committee.
- Moreover, a standard for ‘bathing class’ was fixed, which was against the socio-cultural norm of taking a ‘holy dip’ in Ganga. The practice of consuming Ganga water (achman) is a norm and thus setting separate standards for drinking and bathing in Ganga was of limited consequence.
3. Choice of Technology
- Selection of Up-flow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket (UASB) technology for sewage treatment came under heavy criticism for it was influenced by Dutch Aid, which was one of the GAP funders. The absence of a comparative assessment or test for suitability by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (Menon, 1988) invited significant flak.
4. Water Discharge Policy
- Due to lack of policy of diversion of river water to fields and industries, there were stretches that did not have enough water to dilute the effluents.
- Infected water discharged into the river has to be treated by the sewage treatment plant (STP). Irregular maintenance of STPs was also a hindrance towards successful implementation of GAP.
Lack of success of GAP is a classic example, where contradiction in federal laws impedes a policy from being implemented. Other challenges that GAP was unable to overcome include lack of political motivation and financial viability and inability to control industrial pollution.
Why Namami Gange is a Success Story
1. Unique Features of Namami Gange
- Unlike GAP which focussed predominantly on cleanliness (Nirmalta), the Namami Gange Programme focuses on maintaining an uninterrupted flow of fresh water in the river (Aviralta).
- One City – One Operator initiative by the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) will ensure STPs in each of the seven towns (Kanpur, Allahabad, Mathura, Patna, Kolkata, Howrah-Bally, Bhagalpur) are being integrated with annuity operation and maintenance, which is further linked to performance.
- There are 7 thrust areas, which cover the entire lifecycle of Namami Gange, which are:
- Wholesome river
- Clean river
- River Front Development
- Capacity Building
- Research and Monitoring
- Protection of aquatic flora and fauna
- Awareness Creation
- NMCG initiated ‘Biodiversity Conservation and Ganga Rejuvenation’ project to preserve the aquatic wildlife of the river. This project is in collaboration with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
2. Achievements of Namami Gange Programme
- Namami Gange has a well-balanced spread of 221 projects, which include STP, ghat development, surface cleaning afforestation, sanitation, and public awareness, out of which 58 have been completed.
- There is a concerted focus on 10 towns that contribute to 64% of the total sewage discharged in Ganga.
- To address the cross-functional challenge faced by GAP, Namami Gange has synergized itself with government schemes by signing MoUs with 10 central ministries.
- Levels of both dissolved oxygen (DO) and biological oxygen demand (BOD) have significantly improved, as shown in the below figures:
- BOD was 1.7 in Rishikesh in 1986; it improved to 1 in 2017
- DO was 8.1 in Rishikesh in 1986; it increased to 10 in 2017
- To manage levels of industrial pollutants, a survey of all the 1,109 grossly polluting industries (GPIs) has been conducted, of which 333 were closed down and closure notices were sent to non-complying GPIs.
- 4,464 villages situated on the bank of Ganga have been declared as open defecation free (ODF). Moreover, Namami Gange was instrumental in constructing more than 12.7 lakhs household toilets.
- Trash skimmers have been deployed in 11 cities to collect any surface waste.
- Six public outreach programmes were organised in areas around Ganga basin:
- Swachhta Pakhwada
- Ganga Sankalp Divas
- Ganga Nirikshan Yatra
- Ganga Dusshera
- Ganga Vriksharopan Saptah
- Swachhta Hi Seva Pakhwada
Ganga is an integral part of the socio-eco-cultural-political fabric of India. However, the longest river has faced the brunt of increasing industrialization, which has not only affected the flow but also the quality of its water. Namami Gange Programme aims to restore the purity and flow of water in the Ganga River through abatement of pollutants and treatment of discharged water. Namami Gange has not only taken lessons from the failure of GAP, but, it has also ensured cross-state cooperation as well as public support to expedite the processes.