New Delhi: After successive governments spent more than 5,000 crore over 28 years on failed Ganga cleanup plans, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has finally directed the environment ministry to frame legislation that would protect India’s national river from pollution and keep it flowing.

This is the first time a separate law is being sought to protect the Ganga.

“The competent authority in the PMO has approved the proposal for framing a draft legislation on the national river Ganga for strengthening efforts to make the river pollution free and to ensure its continuous flow," according to a document reviewed by Mint.

The PMO also directed the ministry to set up an inter-ministerial committee (IMC) with the environment secretary as its chairman. The existing National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) will be the secretariat for the committee and a preliminary meeting to finalize the members will be held on Friday, an environment ministry official said, requesting anonymity.

The Ganga is spread over 2,525km, passes through five states and has 14 tributaries. The first attempt to clean the river was made in 1986 when the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was launched by prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

But, said B.D. Tripathi, an ecologist and a professor at the Banaras Hindu University, the project failed to deliver because there was no co-ordination between the central government and states. “While the central government was to release the funds, the work was to be implemented by the state governments, but that did not happen."

“Around 1,500 crore has been wasted on GAP," Tripathi said. The World Bank had in 2011 granted a loan of approximately 4,600 crore for cleaning the Ganga.

In 2008, the central government created the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), headed by the prime minister, to clean up the river. “The whole plan of the government while setting up the NGRBA was to de-pollute Ganga, but you cannot just look at the pollution levels now. The fight is now for the existence of Ganga," said Tripathi, an expert member of NGRBA.

Projects worth 7,000 crore are under consideration by various ministries and departments at different levels related to Ganga, he added.

The draft law would include measures to ensure that a minimum flow is maintained at different locations in different seasons along the entire length of the Ganga as well as its tributaries. It would also try to promote sustainable farming and water-use efficiency.

The biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) levels in the Ganga—an indicator of the health of a river—are six times what they should be, Tripathi said. While the safe limit is less than 3mg per litre (mg/l), the BOD levels of the Ganga are 17-18mg/l.

The proposed law will give authorities the power to monitor and regulate the discharge of wastewater, industrial effluents and management of municipal solid waste through the imposition of penalties and damages.

The draft law will create new mechanisms for implementing preventive and corrective approaches, and also integrate existing authorities such as the Water Quality Assessment Authority, Central Ground Water Board and the Central Pollution Control Board.

The document says the government will consider creating a separate fund called the Ganga River Basin Management Fund.

A consortium of Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) was in 2010 given the task of preparing a Ganga river basin management plan and it too had proposed separate legislation for the Ganga.

The environment ministry official quoted above said the IMC will look at all the suggestions made by the IITs. “There are many different ideas from various quarters on the Ganga. We will take all of them into account. We have invited IITs to also come and present their ideas," the official added.

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