Status Paper for River Ganga
Past failures and current challenges
Contact: Bharat Lal Seth, Deputy Programme Manager (Water research & advocacy) Mobile: +91 9717615865, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ganga: past failures, current challenges
It was inevitable that Ganga, the largest river basin in India, constituting 26 per cent of the country’s landmass and supporting 43 per cent of its population, would be the starting point of any cleanup initiative of the Government of India. In the 1970’s the water quality of the much revered watercourse began to be visibly beset by the increasing trend of untreated sewage and industrial effluent discharge. Efforts to reduce pollution loads began in earnest in 1985 when the Centre launched the Ganga Action Plan (GAP). The Rs 462-crore initiative was aimed at improving the water quality to acceptable standards (defined as suitable for bathing) by intercepting the sewage and treating it before discharge in to the river. The programme selected 25 towns located along the river in the Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, all riparian states. At the time (in 1985), 1340 million litres per day (MLD) of sewage was discharged from Class I towns (100,000 and above), not factoring the generation from scores of smaller towns in the basin. The first phase of GAP was completed on March 31, 2000, and financed government agencies in Uttar Pradesh to install sewage treatment plants with a capacity to treat 375 MLD, whereas 122 and 371 MLD was established in Bihar and West Bengal respectively. The river remediation plan aimed at installing infrastructure to treat 65 per cent of sewage generated in Class-I cities in the basin. Other work included afforestation, sanitation, crematoria and river front beautification. It had been envisaged that phase-I would be completed in 6 to 7 years. But by the time it was brought to a close, a decade and a half after its inception, sewage generation increased substantially, from 1340 MLD to more than 2000 MLD. The programme was delayed considerably due to problems on the land acquisition front, litigations filed in the courts, but most of all due to poor planning and lack of experience in implementation.
The infrastructure installed failed to close the gap on the sewage generated in the basin. To make matters worse, operations and maintenance of the commissioned plants was marred by lack of uninterrupted electricity or dedicated power supply, resulting in reduced treatment efficacy, while petty corruption in operationalising backup power sources was widely reported. More importantly, erroneous positioning of treatment plants mostly in the peripheries ensured that while most operated well below capacity, some were overwhelmed with sewage flows where majority of sewage received was bypassed untreated.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests and nodal state government agencies paid no heed as the non inclusive, non participatory, hardware and technocratic approach of the action plan continued unchanged; there was neither any analysis nor any learning from phase-I going forward. The environment ministry defended the approach saying that expenditure would be visible when the left out works in the 25 class I cities and the works in other class II (50,000 to 100,000 population) and class III (20,000 to 50,000 population) towns along the river Ganga would be completed. The next phase works were taken up in stages between 1993 & 1996. In this phase, GAP-II, the Yamuna, Gomati and Damodar, tributaries which directly discharge in to the Ganga were taken up to reduce incoming pollution loads. To deal with untreated sewage in the main stem of the river, 223 MLD capacity funded by GAP-II has been commissioned, upping the total installed capacity to 1092 MLD. The total expenditure incurred so far, on conservation of river Ganga is Rs 950 crore. This was the status as reported by Jayanthi Natarajan, Minister of Environment and Forests, in response to a...
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