Swachh Bharat Mission & State of Indian Rivers

The Government of India, under the aegis of Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry, celebrated the achievements under the Swachh Bharat Mission in the past six years on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti on 2nd October. Speaking at a webinar titled ‘Swachhata Ke 6 Saal, Bemisaal’, Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said, “When SBM-U was launched in 2014 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it was with the vision of achieving ‘Clean India’ by October 2, 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation.” Today, I feel immensely proud, as well as humbled, to see how every citizen of urban India has come together to make that dream a tangible reality.
This spirit of Jan Andolan and Jan Bhagidari the power of collective action and leveraging a healthy spirit of competition is exemplified by the Swachh Survekshan, the annual cleanliness survey of MoHUA,” the Housing and Urban Affairs Minister said in a statement.
Underlying the people’s participation in the mission, the minister said that in Swachh Survekshan 2020, over 12 crore citizens have participated.” We will need to focus on enhancing our processing capabilities along with efficiently managing our construction and demolition waste, and bio-remediating all our legacy dumpsites,” Puri said.

Cleaning our rivers under Swachh Bharat Mission

A key aspect of Swachh Bharat Mission is cleaning our rivers which are so polluted. Namami Gange was launched in the year 2014 with a budget allocation of 20,000 crores over the next five years. Separate budget was earmarked for its tributaries of which Yamuna is the biggest, and equally polluted. Several projects were integrated with this program, including making villages and towns open defecation free to ensure that human waste doesn’t go into the rivers. There were National Green Tribunal (NGT) orders that said that no construction activity should happen in two km radius and there should be no extraction of water from the river for any construction activity. Way back in 2017 the government had claimed that all the villages along the banks of Ganga running through five states are ODF. Though media reports have disputed this claim through a series of stories that this is not exactly the case while acknowledging the facts that toilets have been built and numbers have gone down drastically. Construction activities are being regularly carried out violating NGT orders, especially in tourist places. So what exactly is the situation and ground reality?

A case study of Ganga and Yamuna

Initiatives to clean the Ganga began with the Ganga Action Plan I in 1986. Till 2014, over 4,000 crore had been spent. But the river has remained dirty. So when the National Democratic Alliance government launched the Namami Gange in mid-May 2015, there was a new hope. It was the biggest-ever initiative—over 20,000 crore was allotted. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made it his personal agenda and set a deadline: “Ganga will be clean by 2019”, it has now been extended to 2020. A deadline likely to be missed again. Now sample this.
A press release of Press Information Bureau, Government of India on 12th March 2020 has given the details of the amount of money released by the government to the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) and subsequently by NMCG to State Governments/State Government Agencies /State Programme Management Groups/Central Public Sector Undertakings (CPSUs)/Other Executive Agencies since inception of the Namami Gange Programme i.e. from 2014-15 to 29 February 2020.
The release also underlines the achievements of Namami Gange Programme. It says
A total of 310 projects have been sanctioned under Namami Gange Programme for various activities such as sewerage infrastructure, ghats & crematoria, riverfront development, river surface cleaning, institutional development, biodiversity conservation, afforestation and rural sanitation at a total cost of 28,790 crore. Out of these 310 projects, 116 projects have been completed and balance projects are at various stages of execution. A total of 152 sewerage infrastructure projects have been sanctioned in eight (8) states (Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh) till date to create/rehabilitate 4857 MLD sewage treatment capacities and sewer network of 4972 Km at a cost of23,305 Crore along Ganga and its tributaries. Out of 152 sewerage infrastructure projects, 46 projects are completed, 75 projects are under progress and 31 projects are under various stages of tendering. The completed projects have created 632 MLD sewage treatment capacity and are presently in operation.
Now if we calculate the actual figures only one-third of the conceived projects have been concluded while rest are at various stage of execution. For a good number of projects,
even the process of tendering has not been completed.

Namami Gange Mission gives new life to Yamuna river!

Namami Gange Mission has given a new lease of life to the much polluted Yamuna river in Delhi. Of late, the Ministry of Ganga Rejuvenation-led flagship program Namami Gange Mission has been taking several steps to clean the river and root out waste, garbage from the water body. In 2019, two trash schemer machines were installed for the Yamuna river in order to clean it and hold it free of waste. On a daily basis, around six tonnes of waste are being taken out of the river with the help of these machines. The process starts every day early in the morning and continues till late in the afternoon. After the waste is dug out every day, by evening the river looks clean. However, the biggest problem area is the pollutants like sewage and industrial waste that flows into the river unabated. However, authorities claim that in the coming months the river’s water portion from Wazirabad to Kalindi Kunj will most likely become free of waste. The National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) had set up the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) which gave the tender for this work to a private firm. The firm is looking after the cleaning of the river with the help of the trash schemer, the report said. In Delhi, the Yamuna river is polluted from Wazirabad to Kalindi Kunj Okhla Barrage. Between Wazirabad to Okhla, the dirty water from as many as 22 sewerage pipes falls into the Yamuna river. Apart from this, garbage and waste are dumped in many places. Through the Yamuna Action Plan, the Central Government has started nine big projects costing `1656 crore.
There is another problem that Yamuna, like Ganga, runs across states. While much of focus has remained on Yamuna in Delhi, in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh the problem persists. In places like Mathura and Vrindavan, the water is so polluted that one cannot even think of dipping his hands in the river. However, interventions for Yamuna cleaning have been made in Haryana (Panipat and Sonepat) and Uttar Pradesh (Mathura-Vrindavan). A sewage treatment plant project of 180 Million Litres per Day (MLD) has also been approved for Agra.

Rivers are lifelines of an ever-growing Indian population. It’s a fact that state and local level initiatives have helped in the process to clean state rivers. Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and other states have met success in parts in their efforts to clean their rivers. But according to a recent finding of the Central Pollution Control Board, the number of critically polluted segments of India’s rivers has risen to 351 from 302 in the last two years. there are two aspects of pollution in rivers. It can be attributed to societal failure as a whole and governance failure, especially at the local level. Let’s look at some of the key points of these two aspects.

Societal failure

  • Domestic wastes and sewage is one of the main reasons of river pollution originating from the household.
  • Our careless behaviour and irresponsible attitude towards rivers has contributed immensely to river pollution.
  • Rampant use of fertilisers and pesticides used in fields percolate to rivers. We have completely failed to educate farmers about the consequences of indiscriminate use.
  • Add to it superstition like bathing in Ganga help in getting rid of all sins. Lack of efforts to develop a scientific temper and remove such superstition has polluted rivers.
  • Inability to understand one’s duty to keep rivers clean and littering here and there, especially at tourist places has led to dirty rivers.

Governance failure

  • Studies and data show that the plethora of laws enacted to regulate waste management and protect water quality is not working on the ground.
  • Corruption, ineffective law implementation and failure of bureaucracy.
  • The problems are worsened by the poor infrastructure available in a large number of cities and towns located near rivers.
  • Managing sewage requires steady funding of treatment plants for all urban agglomerations that discharge their waste into rivers, and also reliable power supply.
  • Country’s waterways have also suffered badly in recent years, with vast quantities of municipal and industrial waste discharged into them every day. Governments have failed to stop such industries. Lack of inspections and punishment encourage them to continue dumping in the rivers.

Time is running out fast. Measures are urgently needed to revive India’s many dying rivers, protect its agriculture, and prevent serious harm to public health from contaminated water. Civil society has a key role to play in these efforts. Sustained civil society pressure on governments is vital to ensure that this is done in a time-bound manner. India is already facing the threat of water crisis according to many reports by the World Bank and even NITI Aayog. A proactive role needs to be played by government and society.

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