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NDA govt looks to outsource its troubles in cleaning the Ganga

The government’s plan is to remove flowers, coconuts, plastic bottles and bags, food packets, dead bodies (human and animal), algae, logs, bamboos, other wood material, water hyacinth, other aquatic plants and any other floating waste from the river in the five states it passes through. Photo: Hindustan TimesPremium
The government’s plan is to remove flowers, coconuts, plastic bottles and bags, food packets, dead bodies (human and animal), algae, logs, bamboos, other wood material, water hyacinth, other aquatic plants and any other floating waste from the river in the five states it passes through. Photo: Hindustan Times

Even after two years in power, the National Democratic Alliance government's Clean Ganga mission has failed to take off

New Delhi: Unable to achieve a breakthrough in its project to clean up the Ganga, the central government has now come out with a plan to hire private contractors to remove any waste found floating in the river.

The plan is to remove flowers, coconuts, plastic bottles and bags, food packets, dead bodies (human and animal), algae, logs, bamboos, other wood material, water hyacinth, other aquatic plants and any other floating waste from the river in the five states it passes through—Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal.

Cleaning up the Ganga is one of the major promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who famously called the river his mother, in the run-up to the 2014 general election. However, even after two years in power, the Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s Clean Ganga mission has failed to take off.

In May last year, the Union cabinet headed cleared an outlay of 20,000 crore over the next five years for the “Namami Gange" (Clean Ganga) project.

However, Uma Bharti, Union minister for water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation, has defended the government, saying work has not been going at the desired pace as authorities were busy planning for it.

The National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), which is the nodal body for the clean-up drive, has floated a tender and invited bids from interested companies for the removal of floating objects. NMCG hopes to select the company and start the work in the next few months.

The plan is to hire contractors who will deploy machines to collect floating matter and dispose of them on the river banks.

“The number of such machines in a particular state or a particular stretch of river would, however, depend on the area of the river surface and capacity of the machines. Companies bidding for the contract have to estimate numbers of such machines," said a senior NMCG official, who declined to be named.

The last date for submitting bids is 13 June, and once finalized, the work will be carried out over the next three years.

Once the trash is brought out from the river surface, it would be disposed by urban local bodies. In case human corpses are found during the collection of waste, the contractor would inform the local police.

To ensure transparency and change in the river after cleaning, NMCG has specified that the removal activities be documented daily by photographing and videographing the before and after scenarios.

“Photography and videography shall be carried out during collection of waste, disposal of waste at river shore and collection of waste by ULB (urban local bodies) for further disposal."

Experts, however, were sceptical of the exercise.

“What this government is saying and doing are poles apart. NDA government is projecting Ganga to be a ‘life-saver mother’ but what they are actually doing on ground is nothing. The flow of the river in its upper reaches in Uttarakhand is still compromised and until that is dealt with whatever cleaning they decide to do downstream is a sham and a futile exercise. Until the river is allowed to flow it won’t be able to cleanse itself. Aviralta (minimum ecological flow) is a game-changer step that is required," said Mallika Bhanot of Uttarakhand-based non-governmental organization Ganga Ahvaan, which has been working to maintain the minimum flow in the river.

The Ganga, often called India’s lifeline, is the country’s national river and has significant economic, environmental and cultural value attached to it. Originating in the Himalayas and flowing into the Bay of Bengal in the east, the Ganga travels for more than 2,500km through the plains of northern and eastern India.

After originating in Uttarakhand, it passes through 29 major cities, 23 small cities and 48 towns.

The Ganga basin—which also extends into parts of Nepal, China and Bangladesh—accounts for 26% of India’s landmass, 30% of its water resources and hosts more than 40% of its population.

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