Modi's pet project 'Clean Ganga' remains a non-starter so far

MUMBAI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet project that envisages curbing the environmental pollution of the Ganges waters, besides conserving and rejuvenating the river that was initiated in early 2015 in a blitz campaign has virtually drawn a nought despite the passage of so many years.  

According to both environmentalist and political observers from the northern belt, the scheme christened as 'Namami Gange' mission when launched has failed to take off despite tall promises and claims made by the authorities.  

A sum of Rs 20,000 crores had been earmarked for its completion, however, the government has failed on two counts, firstly a large chunk of the money remains unused and secondly, there are no visible signs of fructification of efforts even after the spending of Rs 7,000 crores towards this endeavour so far. 

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) earlier this year called the government's bluff and said the work undertaken so far is far from satisfactory. The NGT has also sought an answer from the Centre to account for how efficiently it has managed the money spent on the project so far. The NGT call came in July this year and was related to the expenses incurred on the rejuvenation of the river.

Earlier, in December 2020, the government had come in for sharp criticism from the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on three counts that namely comprised unused funds, lack of proper long-term planning and inadequate focus on curbing pollution. The CAG further stated these factors acted as a hindrance in implementing the cleaning process of the river. 

The environmental activists we spoke to said, "Lack of appropriate governance has caused this state of affairs and it needs to be adequately remedied to ensure the timely completion of this project."

The current move made by PM Modi, of appointing the Indian comic book character, Chacha Chaudhary as Namami Gange mission's brand ambassador, expressing the hope that it will create adequate awareness among the children and young people is viewed by many including prominent environmentalists as at best a cosmetic gesture that won't yield much. 

"Launching a brand ambassador now when the project has not really done very well will not help rectify the shortfall in government efforts, with a scant 37% of the total funds allotted for the project being put to use, despite the passage of nearly seven years," said the environmental activist.

Experts say that one of the main shortfalls has been that the government has so far been unable to achieve any significant success in building the sewage treatment infrastructure for cleaning the river. The environmentalists noted that more than 75% of the river's pollution is caused by untreated sewage discharge into its waters. Nearly 100 cities in the northern belt discharge their sewage into the Ganges. As of now, less than 40% of the sewage treatment work has been implemented.

There were also some of the green activists who pointed out how the right thing happened for the wrong reasons. Citing an IIT Kanpur study conducted in the previous year, they said, "Pollution due to sewage discharge was reduced by more than 50% during the period when strict lockdown conditions were imposed in the entire northern belt. It was attributed to the total shutdown of all industrial units that discharge chemical effluents and metal contaminations in their sewage path that terminates in the river.

Although the government is claiming that nearly 50% of the sewage treatment project are near completion, experts say that the key focus now should be on completing the construction of sewage treatment plants (STPs) at the earliest since with the passage of time the discharge of industrial effluents by the polluting companies will only increase with the passage of time.


  • Unmesh Gujarathi
    Unmesh Gujarathi

    Unmesh our Editor-at-large is one of the most prolific editors with a career that spans over two decades in leading media houses like The Asian Age, The Free Press Journal, Lokmat etc. Currently, he is the Editor-in-Chief of Sprouts, a daily broadsheet. Unmesh is particularly known for his exposé that have unearthed major scandals of corruption and scoops.

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