“Ganga clean-up is not possible without citizens’ support”

The Government of India launched Namami Gange under the National Mission for Clean Ganga in the year 2015. A five-year plan, it was the biggest-ever initiative taken to clean the River Ganga—over `20,000 crore was allotted as the project budget. The officials claimed that the river will be cleaned by 2019 which has now been extended to 2020

Namami Gange is an influential project of the Central Government, what are the main objectives of this project?
Namami Gange project broadly is a project of rejuvenation and conservation of Ganga river and this project is not only for the river Ganga but for its tributaries as well. The main objective of this project is to make Ganga river nirmal (clean) and maintain aviral (uninterrupted) flow of Ganga, to give it a new life.

The central government approved 20,000 crores for this project. How much of that amount has been utilised, and did you face any financial stresses?
We got 20,000 crores from the central government in the year 2015 and this amount was for the next five years which is upto 2020. Here, we need to understand that we got a committed budget for the first time. This could help us to plan for next five years at once. Previously, we used to get the budget annually that only allows us to plan for a single year. Although, we still get the annual budget, but there is a certainty to execute the plan as we know that we have 20,000 crores project. So, we started spending according to five years’ budget and now the project is going well. As of now, we have spent more than 6000 crores in total since 2015. Here, I would like to mention that we spent 2,600 crore in the last financial year and 1,600 crore in the previous financial year.
So you can understand, that the project is moving at a good pace as we have five-year plan with us and funding as well. Now we have less than two years left, so we will ensure that we spend the money in the right way.
Initially, there were a few financial stresses when the state governments stopped releasing funds for the project. Therefore, to gain back the support we let the project to completely operate under the central government. Now there is no possibility of delay from state governments’ end.

As per the census of 2001, there are 242 districts that come under the Ganga river basin. So, in how many districts has the Namami Gange project been initiated?
As far as the Ganga basin is concerned, people think that Ganga flows only in five states which are Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. But when we consider the river basins there are 11 states in total where Ganga flows. There are more than 200 districts under the Ganga river basin, but we are only working in 70-75 districts as of now. Our priority is to work on the districts from where the Ganga originates and to protect the Ganga from polluted rivers. We have committed District Ganga Committee to ensure that.

There are many kinds of waste which go into the Ganga like industrial waste, human waste, offerings to the river, etc. So, how do you ensure that these kinds of waste do not enter the river?
If we talk about industrial waste, NMCG officials along with institutes like IIT, NIT and others do a survey on yearly basis of the industries setup at the banks of the river Ganga. This has resulted in an increase in industries complying with the guidelines. The pollution due to the industries was 60-65 per cent earlier which is now decreased to
25-30 per cent. If we find an industry not following the guidelines, we give them a closure notice and as soon as it starts complying, we allow it to operate again. And if we talk about other kinds of waste like offerings to the river, to curb that there is a mission ongoing, namely Swachh Bharat Mission and it is performing well.
We have told cities’ officials to keep the drains clean for one kilometre from its meeting point at Ganga. For that, they have installed filters. To ensure that the city waste do not make its way to the river, we held meetings with municipal commissioners to discuss the same.
On the ghats of Varanasi, we have installed “Aastha Kalash” where people can put worship material like flowers and other things. Basically, our motto is to take cities and river together so that we can make the project Namami Gange successful.

How do you ensure that sewage waste is not making its way to the river?
In this regard, we have done mapping of such drains which takes the sewage waste to the river and pollutes it. We tap such drains and make a structure so that we can intercept and divert the sewage waste to STPs. Then the sewage water is treated and re-used or drained into the river. In the big cities like Kanpur, Prayagraj, Patna, we are making it better in another way; we have setup sewage networks. This network includes officials from Urban Development department of state government, municipalities and other officials from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs of the central government who are also working on the schemes like AMRUT and others. We all are planning and trying to make sure that the polluted water should not enter Ganga.

Under the Namami Gange project, how many sewage treatment plants (STPs) have been setup and what is their status?
The sewage plays a big role when the pollution in Ganga is concerned. The sewage flows in Ganga without any treatment, so there is a need to setup sewage treatment plants. We have 151 STP projects in different states. Out of them, we have completed 37 projects and we are working on the rest of the STP projects. We have 34 projects in Uttarakhand, out of which we have completed 19 projects and the rest will be completed in this year. Similarly, we have two projects in Jharkhand, which will be completed by the year end.

Who are the key stakeholders of this project and how are they contributing to make it a success?
Now, in this, we will have to understand who we consider as stakeholders for this Namami Gange. These kind of big projects are not only related to a particular ministry or a particular department. We can also see environment related schemes under Namami Gange. We have to take experts related to environment, pollution control and city development with us so that they can contribute their valuable support. In regard to Ganga, there are also cultural issues.
This project is not a concern of central government only; state governments and its various departments along with urban local bodies and gram panchayats will have to come in action. Apart from that, there is a need for citizens to join in as they are the key stakeholders because they play a vital role, and without their contribution we cannot make Namami Gange, a big success.

Apart from Government programmes and infrastructure development, do you think, there is a need to spread social awareness among the residents residing in nearby areas?
Yes, this is very much needed. If we actually want to make Ganga clean and want to give it a new life, the residents should also participate in this. The government cannot make it possible without cooperation of the people residing in nearby areas. You only enquire from the officials about the project, but without citizens’ contribution, successful completion of the project is not possible.
No matter how many actions have been taken or are ongoing, if we still throw garbage or waste into the river, then the project will not reach its goal. We are trying to take communities with us. In the earlier programmes under Namami Gange, we only tried to focus on infrastructure. But now we are also connecting general public with us as we have organized several awareness programmes recently and we are getting a good response.
We have taken an initiative in which people can contribute in different ways – either they can take up various responsibilities related to the project at their level or they can contribute financially towards the cleaning of Ganga through Clean Ganga Fund.

Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur also prepared a manual to keep the Ganga clean. Is that applied at local level?
The manual you are asking about was actually a report and we received that in 2015 for the first time. There were some estimates in the report that focused on the problems that the river is facing and the ways to get rid of them.
There are majorly two points in the report, one is nirmal (clean) Ganga, and the other one is aviral (un-interrupted) flow of Ganga. Points on agriculture and forestation were also there in the report as these two play a vital role. After seeing the report, we initiated Namami Gange in 2015. IIT Kanpur is still working with us, when we need any technical help.

What are your future plans to keep the Ganga nirmal (clean) and aviral (uninterrupted flow)?
As we stared this Namami Gange project back in year 2015, and as of now, we have achieved some major goals. If we talk about the future plans, we are near to complete projects in Uttarakhand and Jharkhand, we will do that by the end of this year. And in Uttar Pradesh, we have almost completed all our projects in Kanpur, Prayagraj, Varanasi, and in other cities. And we will try keeping the river clean with the cooperation of citizens.

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