Why in news?
=>Kanpur-based Ma Ganga Pradushan Mukti Abhiyan Samiti, an outfitled by Swami Harchetan is boycott bathing in the Ganga in the next Kumbh Mela, which begins on January 15, 2019.
=>After three decades of efforts to clean the national river, it is a sad state of affairs that the river is not even fit for bathing. According to a map of Ganga river water quality presented by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to National Green Tribunal (NGT) in August 2018, only five out of 70-odd monitoring stations had water that was fit for drinking and seven for bathing.
=>Initiatives to clean the Ganga began with the Ganga Action Plan I in 1986. Till 2014, over Rs.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 Rs. 20,000 crore was allotted. now, the 2019 deadline has been extended to 2020.
Steps taken under Namami Gange:
=>Namami Gange is being implemented by the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), and its state counterparts—State Programme Management Groups. NMCG would establish field offices wherever necessary. The National Ganga Council (NGC) was created. And to give it utmost importance the Prime Minister was made the head of it.
=>This council replaced the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA). NGC would have on board the chief ministers of five Ganga basin states—Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh (UP), Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal besides several Union ministers and it was supposed to meet once every year.
=>The Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Ministry signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU’s) with 10 other ministries to synergize the activities under the Namami Gange. The government said it would involve grassroots level institutions such as urban local bodies and panchayati raj institutions to implement the programme.
=>An Empowered Task Force, headed by Union Water Resources Minister, was created and it has on board the chief secretaries of the five Ganga Basin states. It was supposed to meet once in every three months. State Ganga Committees have been formed, which would be the nodal agency to implement the programmes in a state. Besides, these committees would conduct safety audits of the river and take remedial measures.
=>The Centre had also said it would establish a 4-battalion Ganga EcoTask Force to spread awareness about pollution and protecting the river. The government is contemplating a legislation to arrest and fine those found flouting norms.
=>The government also tasked seven Indian Institutes of Technology to prepare a report on the best strategies to clean up the river. IITs batted for a Ganga basin approach, which meant not only cleaning the Ganga, but its tributaries as well.
=>The Report, Ganga Rejuvenation Basin Management Programme (GRBMP), submitted in March 2015, says that instead of establishing a few projects on the stretch of the Ganga, the whole river basin, that is all the states coming under the main stem of Ganga and its tributaries must come under the ambit of the programme.
=>The towns under consideration for pollution abatement belong to five states on the main Ganga stem—Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West where the NGC has to find effective solutions to the challenges that the previous programmes have failed to address.
=>This would entail addressing untreated waste that flows into the river, restoring the flow of the river, sludge management in Ganga basin towns, cost overruns in execution of projects and governance glitches.
=>Sewage treatment plants (STPs) have been at the centre of Ganga pollution abatement. As per Namami Gange targets, STPs with over 2,000 million litres a day (MLD) capacity had to be rehabilitated of which only 328 MLD have been done. A look at the status of all the projects undertaken makes one doubt whether the government would even achieve its revised deadline.
=>As far as sewage infrastructure projects are concerned, 68 projects were sanctioned after the Namami Gange was approved by the cabinet and only six were completed till August. Till August 31, 2018 a total of 236 projects, including STPS, had been sanctioned out of which only 63 had been completed. The government has said that the new projects are delayed because land acquisition and other related activities were taking a lot of time. However, poor performance in rehabilitating old STPS does not stand the test of time scarcity.
Performance of STPs:
=>The issue is just not with the construction or rehabilitation of STPs but also their performance. Every STP installed has design parameters for Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and Total Suspended Solids (TSS).
=>Consider the STP at Kanpur, which holds the dubious distinction of being home to the most polluted stretch of the Ganga. The 5 MLD domestic waste water treatment plant at Jajmau in Kanpur had BOD and TSS level in effluents as 65 mg/litre (against design parameter of 30) and 92 mg/litre (against design parameter of 50), according to the April-May 2018 report of Kanpur Jal Nigam. The report says that BOD and TSS levels of the effluent is higher than the norms because industrial waste and chemicals are illegally mixed with the influents in a plant not meant to treat industrial pollutants.
=>Another problem with STPs is that they are not able to get the total amount of influents, primarily due to lack of sewerage network in the city. A total network of 2,071 km of new sewer line projects was sanctioned after Namami Gange came into being but only 66.85 km has been laid.
=>The STP that treats domestic waste water in Kanpur’s Jajmau has a capacity of 130 MLD but its April-March average was only 60.5 MLD. According to NMCG, all the existing plants in Kanpur have a capacity of 414 MLD but are getting only 230 MLD as influents. For any city, STPs are being designed according to their sewage generation. The problem lies in the way sewage generation is estimated. But domestic sewerage is not the only cause of concern.
=>The industry, especially the tanneries in Kanpur’s Jajmau area have several times attracted the wrath of both the Supreme Court and NGT. The government of UP has, in principle, taken a decision to shift the tanneries from Jajmau to some other place that is under consideration. However, the government was also open to the idea of installing appropriate anti-pollution devices, including a chromium recovery plant.
=>It is mandatory that tanneries treat chromium either through their own small plant or a made in cluster and then transfer the waste to a Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) run by the government. According to submissions made by the UP government in NGT there are three clusters housing tannery industries—Jajmau, Unnao and Banther.
=>Jajmau has the maximum concentration of 400 tannery industries. The industries at Jajmau are discharging much more than 9 MLD industrial effluents, mainly containing chromium. There is no enforcement of consent conditions by Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board which requires all industries to send their chrome liquor to the Chrome Recovery Plant and pay for the treatment. Industries are finding it easy to dispose their entire waste, including the chrome liquor, in the common drain which carries both do¬mestic as well as industrial waste.
=>Besides cleaning the Ganga, the Namami Gange also talks about afforestation as an important activity as it helps groundwater recharge. According to NMCG, it has already spent Rs. 114 crore on afforestation but to no avail. They have planted kachnaar and gulmohar plants. They can only be used for decorative purposes. What is required for the Ganga is bargad, peepal, gular and neem as they help in better conservation of water.
Restoring the flow:
=>There is another fundamental problem that will ensure the holy river remains dirty. A river is a self-puriiying system only when water flows through it. The Ganga fails this basic test except during monsoons. So it’s not just about unclean Ganga. It is about the existence of Ganga.
=>The water level in the river is going down at an unprecedented rate. Also if the flow in the river is maintained it can solve the problem of 60-80 per cent of organic pollutants and we may not require such an elaborate programme.
=>The baseflow amount of the river has decreased by 56 per cent in 2016 as compared to the 1970s. The decrease in flow has led to an increase in groundwater extraction for various uses.
=>According to a report published by Wildlife Institute of India in May 2018,16 existing, 14 ongoing and 14 proposed hydro¬electric projects on the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda river basins have turned the upper stretch of the Ganga ‘ecological deserts’. To deal with these projects, a panel has drafted the Ganga pro-tection law, which says, ‘The designs of hydroelectric projects can be tweaked in such a mannerthat they consume less water. It may raise the cost of the projects but should be done for long-term preservation of the Ganga. It is now for the government to decide whether it comes out with such a mandatory policy or not.’
=>A staggering 99-93 per cent villages lying on the banks of Ganga, also known as Ganga Grams, have been declared open defecation free (ODF) by the government under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). As per SBM data, more than 2.7 million toilets have been constructed in over 4,000 villages till September 17, 2018. Not surprisingly, CAG in its December 2017 report casts aspersions on the claim.
=>The whole objective of making villages lying in the Ganga basin to be ODF was to reduce the faecal coliform levels in the Ganga. Against the standard of 2,500 per 100 ml, the faecal coliform ranged from 2,500 to 2,40,000 per 100 ml in the Ganga basin cities in May 2018, as per data provided by pollution control boards of five states along the Ganga basin.
=>CSE showed that about 180 MLD sludge would be generated in five Ganga basin states when they become ODF. And if proper faecal sludge management is not in place, it would invariably pollute the Ganga. What should cause further concern is that faecal sludge is a bigger pollutant than sewerage. While the BOD of sewage is 150-300 mg/1, that of faecal sludge would be 15,000-30,000 mg/1.
=>Experts say that while toilets were constructed, hardly a thought was given to management of sludge. According to a study, most of the cities surveyed had twin-pit technology which is not recommended in low-lying areas.
=>The National Policy on Faecal Sludge and Septage Management (FSSM) 2017 also anticipated the challenge as more and more toilets are constructed.
=>As urban households without toilets obtain facilities under SBM, it is likely that many will acquire on-site arrangements like pit latrines and septic tanks in cities at locations where sewerage systems are not available. Thus, while the containment of human waste will be largely achieved, its safe disposal still poses a huge challenge.
=>Cleaning up the massive stretch of 2,525 km that the Ganga traverses is a programme where regulating the finances becomes as big an issue as any other. The UP SAAP says that the Ganga basin towns would require Rs. 5,794 crore just for the creation of sewerage networks in the state—more than one-fourth of the entire outlay of Namami Gange.
=>Another catch is with the finances of STPs. Now the government says that the new STPs are being constructed under Hyper Annuity Model under which the developer has to take care of the maintenance of the project for 15 years. As per this model, 40 per cent of the capital cost quoted would be paid on completion of construction while the remaining 60 per cent will be paid over the life of the project as annuities along with operation and maintenance expenses.
=>This payment is linked to the performance of the STPs, the quality of the water treated by it. The report of the IIT consortium had also pitched for a model whereby the service provider receives remuneration for providing reusable-quality water over a reasonably long contract period.
=>The cleaning of the Ganga requires seamless coordination between the agencies responsible for carrying out different tasks. This calls for vision and a clear-cut governance strategy. The water resources ministry signed MoUs with 10 ministries for better implementation of Namami Gange. However, till date no detail is available as to how these ministries are functioning for better convergence.
=>The Empowered Task Force led by Union minister of water resources has met only thrice after the gazette notification while it was supposed to meet once every three months. It has met twice under the chairmanship of the then minister Uma Bharti and once under Nitin Gadkari, who took the charge of the ministry in September 2017. The mandatory exercise of conducting an annual Ganga safety audit has been done even once.
=>Also the top post of NMCG is working like musical chairs with seven senior officers appointed since 2014. The first head Rajiv Ranjan Mishra is back at the helm after five changes. Every chief came with his own micro-plannning, the moment those plans would start taking shape there was a transfer. This is one of the prime reasons for the underperformance of NMCG.
=>If the governance is to be improved the programme has to be decentralised. It is highly centralised as of now with the government sitting at the top deciding what to do. People who are living in the Ganga basin have to be involved to achieve the required results. The programme can’t succeed unless it has a bottom-up approach.
Pic courtesy:Hindustan Times
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