In the light of the recent contentions, let's have a look at the efforts to clean up the Ganga.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) recently came down heavily on the Ganga cleanup initiatives taken up by central and state governments and passed a number of regulatory strictures in order to speed up work on the river.
Passing a 543-page judgement on a petition filed by lawyer M C Mehta, the NGT observed that over Rs 7000 crore was spent on the project, without yielding many results. The NGT order outlining a number of steps that it said should be taken by governments. Highlights:
#It declared that 100 metres from Ganga's edge would be a "no development zone", stretching from Haridwar in Uttarakhand to Unnao in Uttar Pradesh.
#No waste dumping inside the radius of 500 metres from the river's edge.
#Uttar Pradesh should be responsible for shifting its leather tanneries from Jajmao to Unnao, or any other place it deems fit, so as to not pollute Ganga.
#A fine of Rs 50,000 would be imposed on anyone who dumps waste in River Ganga
#Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have been asked to formulate guidelines for religious activities on ghats of Ganga and its tributaries.
#Additionally, the NGT will form a supervisory committee to oversee its directions passed in the 543-page judgement.
MC Mehta, also a noted environmentalist, demanded a CBI enquiry or a CAG audit into the expenditure of over Rs 7000 crore by the Centre and the state governments in cleaning the 500 km Haridwar-Unnao stretch.
In February, the NGT had said that the government agencies were "wasting public money" without any effective pollution control done in Ganga. It raised questions on the progress of the Namami Gange Project launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016, which allocated more than Rs 2000 crore for a cleanup project.
Further, the NGT had also warned 14 industrial units in Bijnor and Amroha districts to be ready to shut down if they fail to justify their reason for not facing action.
In the light of the recent contentions, below is a look at the steps that have been undertaken to clean up the Ganges.
The initiative to clean up the river has been a two-decade long endeavour, first initiated by the Congress in 1986.
In October last year, the NGT had ordered an inspection on the pollution level in the Ganga river basin. It asked the Member Secretary of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Chief Secretary of U.P Jal Nigam, Chief Environmental Officer of U.P Pollution Control Board and a representative from the Ministry of Water Resources to conduct the probe.
Some of the key observations of the inspection found that out of the 33 drains joining river Ganga from Haridwar to Kanpur town, 4 drains were trapped and two were found to be dried up or used for irrigation.
Two out of the 14 drains joining River Kali-East directly were found to be dry. Shockingly, only 4 drains joining Ganga directly were devoid of pesticides. The study also found that 3515 MLD of waste water directly flows into Ganga. Drains joining Ganga were found to have traces of lead, chromium, arsenic and cadmium.
Moreover, a CPCB report of 2013 shows a massive amount of faecal coliform (human excreta) along the river's mainstream. The river's upstream is also concentrated with human excreta, which is a worrying factor as the upstream provides for a river's breathing space.
CPCB noted that 2,723 million litres per day (mld) of domestic sewage is discharged by 36 class-1 cities located along the river. Further, 764 industrial units along the main stretch of the river discharge almost 500 mld of toxic waste. Industries along the stretch of Kanpur and Varanasi along the stretch of the river contributes to the most amount of pollution.
According to the data by the National Mission for Clean Ganga on June 30, 2015, out of the projects taken up in the five states, only West Bengal shows a 100 percent progress rate for all clean-up projects undertaken. The Cente and State allocation add up to Rs 350.90 crore, while the expenditure shoots up to Rs 383.69 crore.
On the other hand, Uttar Pradesh had an expenditure cost of Rs 691.56 crore, which exceeded the fund release of a total of Rs 660.29 crore. However, it showed an average progress rate of 65.42 percent for all its projects.
Jharkhand's sole Sahibganj projects stand at a zero percent progress rate. Uttarakhand has a very low progress rate in its projects with an average rate of 26.55 percent. Not close behind is Bihar with an average progress rate of 29.8 percent.
A Right to Information (RTI) filed by a student on August 2016 also revealed some inaction on the Namami Gange Project of Narendra Modi. Data showed that in spite of spending Rs 2958 crore out of the total allocation of Rs 3703 crore, not much has been done in two years since its inception in 2014.
The RTI revealed that Rs 84 crore was cut from the initial allocation of Rs 2137 crore in 2014-15 for the national mission of Ganga cleaning. Even then, the government only spent Rs 326 crore of the Rs 2053 crore, leaving around Rs 1700 crore unspent. Rs 18 crore was unspent in 2015-16. No accounts were available for the 2016-17 allocations of Rs 2500 crore.The RTI also brought out that PM Modi had chaired only one meeting of the NGRBA. All the others were chaired by Union Minister Uma Bharti.