Cleaning of River Ganga – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

The meeting of the National Ganga Council was held recently. National Ganga Council is the apex body for superintendence, direction and control for the initiatives for the cleaning of River Ganga under the Namami Gange Mission. At the meeting, National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) informed the Council that the Union Government has spent more than INR 13,000 crore on cleaning the Ganga since 2014. In December 2021, the Director-General of NMCG had informed that large stretches of the Ganga river have been cleaned, but the mission is not over yet. There are several challenges in cleaning of River Ganga. The Government must continue its mission-mode approach till the entire stretch of the river is clean and rejuvenated.

What are the major pollutants polluting the River Ganga?

Industrial Effluents: Industrial effluents from manufacturing and other units are discharged untreated into the river Ganga. Many big and small cities and industrial towns are situated on banks of the Ganga including Kanpur, Prayagraj, Varanasi etc.

Domestic Sewerage: Domestic sewerage waste, especially in large urban centres, is discharged untreated into the Ganga. In addition, the use of detergents by laundry services (dhobis) which wash clothes on the river banks contribute to chemical pollution in the river.

Agricultural Waste: Pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers used in farms ultimately reaches the river through run-off. The Indo-Gangetic plains feed ~40% of the Indian population.

Solid and Bio-medical Waste Disposal: Domestic and other solid waste is dumped directly or indirectly into the river throughout the entire stretch. Moreover, the waste from hospitals and nursing homes, which should be appropriately treated, are disposed of untreated into the rivers resulting in polluted water giving rise to several water-borne diseases.

Social and Cultural Practices: Practices like cremation of dead bodies on river banks, and religious offerings in the river also result in local pollution.

Water Extraction: A vast quantity of water is extracted from the Ganga River (through canals, urban water supply systems) which reduce river run-off. Construction of dams (Uttarakhand) have also reduced flow of fresh water. While this does not directly result in pollution, the reduced run-off increases the severity of pollution from other sources.

What steps have been taken for the cleaning of River Ganga?

Ganga Action Plan (GAP): It was launched in 1986. The primary purpose of this plan was to clean up the Ganga River by reducing and removing pollution from cities along its banks. The Central Ganga Authority was founded in 1985, and a Ganga action plan was launched in 1986 to clean up the Ganga.

Central Ganga Authority (CGA): It was created under the Ministry of Environment. The CGA was responsible for the implementation of the Ganga Action Plan and for establishing future policies and programs. It was later renamed the National River Conservation Authority (NRCA).

National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA): The Government constituted the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) in February 2009 under Section 3(3) of the Environment Protection Act, 1986. The NGRBA was a planning, financing, monitoring and coordinating body of the Union and the State Governments. The objective of the NGRBA is to ensure effective abatement of pollution and conservation of the river Ganga by adopting a river basin approach for comprehensive planning and management.

Namami Gange Programme: It is an Integrated Conservation Mission (approved as ‘Flagship Programme’) launched by the Union Government in June 2014 with budget outlay of INR 20,000 Crore to accomplish the twin objectives of effective abatement of pollution, and conservation and rejuvenation of River Ganga. The Ministry of Jal Shakti is responsible for its implementation. The Vision for Ganga Rejuvenation includes restoring the Aviral Dhara (Continuous Flow ), Nirmal Dhara (Unpolluted Flow), Geologic Entity (protection of geological features) and Ecological Entity (protection of aquatic biodiversity).

The National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) and its State counterpart organisations, known as State Program Management Groups (SPMGs), are in charge of putting the programme into action. The Main Pillars of the Programme are: (a) Sewerage Treatment Infrastructure; (b) River-Surface Cleaning; (c) Afforestation; (d) Industrial Effluent Monitoring; (e) River-Front Development; (f) Biodiversity (g) Public Awareness; (h) Ganga Gram.

National Mission for Clean Ganga(NMCG): It is a statutory authority established under the National Council for River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Act, 2016. In 2016, the Government issued a notification to authorise the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) to exercise powers under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

What are the challenges in cleaning of River Ganga?

Sewage Treatment: It have been at the centre of Ganga pollution abatement. Despite initiatives, there are challenges like delay in new projects because of land acquisition and other procedural requirements, poor performance of Sewage treatment plants (STPs) and lack of sewerage network in cities. Industries find it easy to dispose their entire waste in the common drain which carries both domestic as well as industrial waste into the river. This is due to lax implementation.

Restoring the Flow: With enough flow, a  river acts as self-purifying system. However, the Ganga fails this basic test except during monsoons. So it’s not just about unclean Ganga. It is about the existence of Ganga (or adequate water flow). Due to restrictions and decrease in flow, the velocity of water decreases and siltation increases and the self-purification capacity decreases.

Sludge Control: While the containment of human waste has be largely achieved by Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) through construction of toilet in Ganga grams, its safe disposal still poses a huge challenge. Faecal sludge is a bigger pollutant than sewerage. While the BOD of sewage is 150-300 mg/l, that of faecal sludge would be 15,000-30,000 mg/l.

Sludge Load in Ganga Cleaning of River Ganga UPSC

Source: Down to Earth

Cost Overruns: The costs of the programme have increased as a result of delays in multiple projects, and ineffective financial management.

Governance Issues: The Ganga Action Plans lacked the coordination of various Ministries. Lack of coordination results in faulty execution, delays and cost overruns.

What more should be done for cleaning of River Ganga?

Autonomous Agency: Experts contend that National Ganga Council (NGC) should be an autonomous agency independent from the Government. Environmental Experts who are familiar with the river should be members of this body rather than bureaucrats because they have more relevant experience.

Improving Flow: The designs of hydroelectric projects can be tweaked in such a manner that they consume less water. Lesser storage will improve water-flow downstream restoring the self-purifying capabilities of the Ganga river. It may raise the cost of the projects but should be done for long-term preservation of the Ganga.

Better Coordination: The National Ganga Council met after ~3 years. More frequent meetings will help improve coordination between Ministries and Union and State Governments.

Decentralisation: Some critics argue that the Programme is centralized, largely driven by the Union Government. Greater involvement of State and Local Governments (bottom-up approach) can help in better implementation.

Initiatives by NMCG: Environment Experts have suggested several steps that NMCG can undertake for Ganga Rejuvenation like decentralised Sewage Treatment Plants (dSTPs), develop local storages (ponds/wetlands), identify and protect ‘river corridors’, restoring base flow through groundwater recharge etc.

Steps by NMCG for Cleaning of River Ganga UPSC

Source: Down to Earth

Conclusion

The Director General of NMCG has said that there has been considerable improvement in the status of cleaning of Ganga river. The Central Pollution Control Board and a special cell have been monitoring real-time water quality of Ganga. In terms of Dissolved Oxygen (DO), the entire stretch of Ganga meets the standards from Uttarakhand to West Bengal. These are measured at nearly 90 stretches. The Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) levels are met in at least 60. The Kanpur BOD used to be 10 at one point and now is 3-4. So, there is significant improvement. Yet, there are many challenges that remain, and Ganga is far from being free of pollution. The Government should build on the success of the programme and scale up its efforts till the River Ganga is restored to its pristine glory.

Syllabus: GS III, Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation.

Source: Indian Express, Indian Express, Down to Earth, Down to Earth, The Hindu, NMCG

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