New Delhi: India's $3 billion plan to clean the Ganga is badly behind schedule with large stretches contaminated by toxic waste and sewage, forcing Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene, said Reuters, based on government officials and documents that the news agency said it had seen. Much of the money allocated to the project, a flagship initiative for the Modi government, remains unspent, say officials from the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), a government body overseeing the project, according to Reuters.
- $3 billion plan to clean Ganga running behind schedule
- PM Modi unhappy, decides to intervene, gets his office involved
- Of $3 billion allocated upto 2020, only 205 million spent till March
In a presentation to a top aide of the Prime Minister in late January, NMCG officials marked almost the entire length of the river within three big circles to highlight "pollution in river Ganga", said the Reuters report.
Recognising that the clean-up mission is in a shambles, PM Modi has decided to take personal control and show tangible improvement before the next election in 2019, a senior NMCG official said to Reuters.
The PM's principal secretary, Nripendra Misra, has reportedly met NMCG officials almost monthly since November, demanding to see updates on the project's progress.
The Modi government committed $3.06 billion for the clean-up in the five years to 2020 but the January presentation showed just $205 million had been spent between April 2015 and March 2017.
Water Resources Minister, Uma Bharti, who is responsible for overseeing the clean-up and announced the 2018 deadline, did not respond to requests for comment by Reuters.
A 2018 deadline to clean the river is "impossible", one NMCG official said. "If we want to meet the 2018 deadline, we should have commissioned plants to treat half the sewage already," he said to Reuters, requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the record.
Over three-quarters of the sewage generated in the towns and cities of India's crowded northern plains flows untreated into the 1,570-mile Ganges, according to the presentation, which has not been made public.
State administrations have struggled to find land for new treatment plants, while complex tendering processes have put bidders off pitching for new clean-up projects, officials said.
"I have lost hope," said Rakesh Jaiswal, head of a small Ganges-focused environmental group in the industrial city of Kanpur since 1993. "There has been nothing on the ground."
The top environmental court in February ruled "not a single drop of the Ganga has been cleaned so far", accusing the government of wasting public money.
PM Modi may find it easier to launch new clean-up projects in Uttar Pradesh, through which the longest stretch of the Ganga flows, now that his party is running the state.
The new Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath has long championed cleaning the Ganges. Last week he inspected a riverfront development in Lucknow along the Gomti, a tributary of the Ganga, calling for work to be accelerated. "You will see improvements. We have asked the states to speed up progress and money is not an issue," said CV Dharma Rao, deputy director general at the NMCG in New Delhi.
The problems are striking in Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh where toxic pollution from tanneries operating in the industrial city flows down slum-lined open sewers into the Ganga. Of the 456 tanneries in the state that back onto the river, most of them are in Kanpur. Authorities have shut down just 14, according to the government presentation.
The government has also lagged on the simpler tasks of cleaning the ghats, the riverside steps where devotees assemble to bathe; and the sites on the banks where bodies are cremated.
Of 182 ghats to be modernised, work on only 50 has started. Of 118 crematoria, just 15 are currently being renovated, with work awarded for another 31, the presentation showed.
(With inputs from Reuters)