First statement of this kind was made by the Minister for Water Resources Uma Bharti. She said that within three years the great river “will be rejuvenated”, although today “the sacred water of the river Ganga is not even fit for consumption by animals “.
Ms. Bharti was seconded by the Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar. According to him, the government is setting up real-time 24×7 monitoring of polluting industries along the banks of river Ganga.
Of course, the Government’s commitment to clean water of Ganga is laudable, – said Boris Volkhonsky, expert of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies. – Today, the situation of the pollution of the river is not just critical, but truly catastrophic. But there are many concerns about whether the government will be able to realize its ambitious plans.
Ganga cleaning programmes were adopted earlier also. For example Ganga Action Plan was developed in 1986, and 5 billion rupees were spent on the implementation of this plan. Officials reported on the success of the project, but the objective data of water quality analysis suggest that it has not only not improved but deteriorated significantly.
So, the first hurdle in the implementation of the plan is the low efficiency of the bureaucracy and high levels of corruption, says Boris Volkhonski. – Today, it is proposed to allocate Rs 80,000 crore (more than 13 billion dollars) for the implementation of the plan. And for this money to work, we must first ensure that it is used for the intended purpose – or, as in the past, it will just settle in the pockets of businessmen and officials.
In addition, now Supreme Court has observed that the government is showing no urgency to protect Ganga. And according to the minister, the program on “the rejuvenation of the Ganga” will begin only after six months, i.e., instead of the promised three years, only two and a half years are left for its implementation.
Another obstacle is that the water of the Ganga is polluted not only (and not so much) by industrial effluents as by household waste of human activity, that is, simply faeces.
In his speech on the occasion of Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid particular attention to sanitation issues, promising to radically improve the sewerage system in the country. But until that is done, no controls or monitoring will stop the flow of faeces into the water of the sacred river.
India’s Tourism Minister Shripada Naik said that one of the ways to change the situation will be the development of tourism on the Ganga. He even proposed to ply pleasure boats (shikaras) on the river, as is done on the lakes and rivers in Kashmir.
But if you look at other tourist facilities in India, you can see that the presence of the Taj Mahal in Agra or the magnificent palaces in Jaipur have not brought about any special cleanliness of the streets of these cities, says Boris Volkhonski. In addition, the “tourism” on the Ganga is primarily a religious pilgrimage, namely, the holy city of Varanasi is perhaps responsible for the maximum number of dirty drains into the river because of the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims bathing on its shores, and the burning of a large number of corpses on its banks, which are sometimes not burnt to the end before being dumped into the water.
So, before solving the problem of cleaning the water of Ganga, the Government of India will probably have to solve a host of related problems, most of which are deeply rooted in the minds and traditions of the Indians. This means that three years won’t be enough for implementation of the programme.