Coming clean over Ganges

LAPSES: Uma Bharati (below right) was in charge of
a flagship scheme to clean up the heavily polluted
river Ganges, considered to be holy by Hindus
LAPSES: Uma Bharati (below right) was in charge of a flagship scheme to clean up the heavily polluted river Ganges, considered to be holy by Hindus


INDIA has spent less than a quarter of the funds available for a pro­gramme to clean up the Ganges river over the last two years, a federal au­dit has found, citing lapses in plan­ning and financial management of a flagship scheme.
The government had only used $260 million (£192m) of the $1.05 bil­lion (£777m) earmarked for the Na­tional Mission for Clean Ganga (NM­CG) programme between April 2015 and March 2017, according to the re­port from the Comptroller and Audi­tor General of India.
The water quality in eight of 10 towns surveyed along the Ganges did not meet outdoor bathing standards.
“The performance audit revealed deficiencies in financial management, planning, implementation and moni­toring, which led to delays in achieve­ment of milestones,” the auditor said in its 160-page report which was pre­sented to parliament last week.
The water resources ministry, which runs the NMCG, did not re­spond to a request for comment.
Prime minister Narendra Modi’s administration committed $3bn (£2.2bn) in 2015 for a five-year project to clean the 2,525-km (1,570-mile) river that remains heavily polluted de­spite being a water source for 400 mil­lion people.
Modi, who represents the holy city of Varanasi on the banks of the Gan­ges, had made a clean-up of the Gan­ges one of his key campaign promises in a 2014 general election.
The Ganges is arguably one of the most revered rivers in the world – and one of the most polluted. It is wor­shipped by Hindus, who make up about 80 per cent of India’s 1.3 billion people. They call it Ganga Mata, or mother Ganga, and believe a dip in the river absolves a lifetime of sins.
But the river, which stretches from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, is also a destination for waste produced by hundreds of factories. In addition, over three-quarters of the sewage gen­erated in the towns and cities of In­dia’s crowded northern plains flows untreated into the Ganges.
When a reporter visited northern Kanpur city in March, the river in most parts of the town appeared black in colour, with its many factories and tanneries dumping waste into the Ganges. The federal auditor’s report contained pictures of untreated sew­age being discharged directly into the river in several states.
The NMCG had set a target to award contracts for all sewage treatment plants by last year, but even by August this year it hadn’t approved projects to treat nearly 1,400 million litres of sew­age daily, the report said.
“Without stopping sewage going into the river, we cannot imagine a clean Ganga. That should be the top priority,” said Rakesh Jaiswal, head of a Ganges-focused environmental group in Kanpur since 1993. “(The report) is a sad commentary on the govern­ment’s efforts to clean the river.”
The NMCG told the auditor the sewage treatment problem would be resolved to an extent once projects under construction are completed, but it remained “silent” about its fail­ure to meet its targets, the report said.
Modi has been concerned about the slow pace of the Ganges clean-up drive and his personal secretary had demanded regular updates from pro­ject officials to track its progress, Reu­ters reported in April.
Modi’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
India had set a 2018 deadline to clean the river, but local media in Oc­tober quoted the government’s new water resources minister as saying that the Ganges’ water quality will likely only improve by March 2019.
Environmentalists doubted that.
“Meeting the (2019) target seems to be very difficult,” said Sushmita Sen­gupta of the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment. “Noth­ing has been done in a constructive way on the ground.” (Reuters)