- In its latest report, a parliamentary standing committee has expressed its displeasure over the slow pace of work on the Ganga cleaning programme.
- The parliamentary panel also pulled up the water resources ministry for poor performance on groundwater management, especially when the groundwater levels are fast depleting and several areas are facing water shortage.
- The panel report also urges the government to step up its activities on other promised water related works like aquifer mapping, dam rehabilitation and safety and river interlinking.
Highlighting the Indian government’s slow progress on water-related works, a parliamentary panel in its latest report has expressed disappointment over the pace of flagship projects like Namami Gange programme and urged the Jal Shakti (water) ministry to step up its performance on groundwater management, aquifer mapping and other water-related activities.
The parliamentary standing committee on water resources in its report on December 5, 2019, noted that the government should “tighten its belt and leave no stone unturned” to complete all the sanctioned projects under the Namami Gange programme – the government’s Ganga river cleaning programme — within the scheduled time.
Before coming to power in 2014, PM Modi had famously claimed river Ganga as his “mother” and had promised to clean it. However, over the years the pace of the programme has proved to be unsatisfactory and it has come under severe criticism from environmentalists.
Namami Gange project was approved by the Cabinet in 2015 with an allocation of Rs. 20,000 crore (Rs. 200 billion) to be spent till the year 2020, noted the panel report while highlighting the slow pace and underutilisation of funds allocated for the project.
In its report, the panel led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sanjay Jaiswal, noted that under the Namami Gange programme, a total of 299 projects have been sanctioned at an estimated cost of Rs. 285.43 billion (Rs 28,543.47 crore), out of which, 106 projects have been completed as of August 31, 2019.
“Out of these 299 Projects, 150 belong to sewerage infrastructure. However, only 43 of these projects have been completed,” said the panel while noting that against the sewerage treatment capacity of 3729.92 Million Litres per Day (MLD), only 575.84 MLD of STP (Sewage Treatment Plant) capacity, which is just over 15 percent, has been completed in around four years, till May 31, 2019.
Environmentalist Rajinder Singh, who is also popularly known as the ‘Waterman of India’ said BJP-led central government started with a lot of promises on Ganga but over the years the holy river has turned from being considered as a goddess to a source of income.
“This government has failed on all issues of water including cleaning of Ganga. During their first term, they changed the name of the water ministry to Ganga rejuvenation ministry after promises of PM Modi who had declared that the river would be clean within a few years. But nothing significant happened and Ganga remained polluted. Now, just after winning the elections, they formed a Jal Shakti ministry. For them, Ganga is nothing but a source of earning money,” Singh told Mongabay-India.
U.P. Singh, who is the secretary of the department of water resources, river development & Ganga rejuvenation, accepted the under-utilisation of funds under this programme with a caveat that in the next two years, all the sewage infrastructure projects including those projects relating to industrial effluents would be completed.
Singh further defended that in the initial first two years much money could not be spent on the programme because a lot of time went into planning, assessing and other details like how much sewage is getting generated and the present sewage treatment capacity etc.
“River cleaning and rejuvenation is a continuous process and projects for sewerage infrastructures have been taken up comprehensively and with faster pace and it is expected that these projects could be completed by December 2022. These projects need to be operated, maintained properly, and monitored closely by the project authorities to keep the river clean,” the union water resources department told the panel.
However, the panel noted that “keeping in view of the fact that the Ganga cleaning project was approved by the union cabinet in 2015 with allocation of Rs 200 billion (Rs 20,000 crore) to be spent till the year 2020, it is “disappointed with the slow pace of the implementation of the projects resulting in incurring of lower expenditure.” It observed that the projects need to be executed in a time-bound manner as otherwise it would result in cost and time overrun.
On December 14, 2019, PM Modi chaired the first meeting of the National Ganga Council in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, which oversees pollution prevention and rejuvenation of the Ganga river basin, including Ganga and its tributaries.
“The first meeting of the council was aimed at reinforcing the importance of a ‘Ganga-centric’ approach in all departments of the concerned states as well as relevant central ministries,” said an official government statement.
Poor progress on groundwater management
The panel also pointed out unsatisfactory progress on groundwater management while highlighting the fast-depleting groundwater level and water shortage across the country. Noting a drop in budgetary allocation (as a result of lower targets) in the current year, the panel asked the government “to augment the budgetary support” for the central government’s Ground Water Management and Regulation (GWM&R) Scheme which is under implementation since 2012 and “formulate the pragmatic short term and long policies/programmes in consultation with the respective state governments” to get the country out of the water crisis.
The committee even urged the water resources ministry to constitute an expert panel for identifying the “specific locations/regions where the problem of depleting the groundwater level” persists as well as where it is increasing and using technology for real time data collection.
Rajinder Singh said that the central government has not just failed in properly implementing the water-related schemes including management of groundwater but it seems the government wants to take the whole sector towards privatisation.
“Nothing is happening in this sector. There is no solid political will to address water-related issues,” Singh emphasised.
The views of environmentalists like Singh is not surprising as over the past few months the criticism of government’s actions on the water issue has come under scanner from both courts and civil society.
Complete aquifer mapping
Aquifer mapping for sustainable management of groundwater, under implementation during the 12th Plan (2012-2017), was another issue for which the panel pulled up the Jal Shakti ministry, specifically for reducing the prescribed area for mapping. The panel report pointed out that the ministry was to undertake the mapping of aquifers across 2.3 million (23 lakh) square kilometres by 2020 which was subsequently revised to 1.29 million (12.9 lakh) square kilometres by 2020 – a decrease of 44 percent.
“Now, it has been further reduced to 1.03 million (10.3 lakh) square kilometres by 2020 – a further decrease of 20 percent,” said the committee while observing that till August 2019, with a few months to go before the deadline, only about 0.52 million (5.2 lakh) square kilometres of aquifer mapping has been undertaken against the target of 0.66 million (6.6 lakh) square kilometres.
The committee urged the government to make concerted efforts on aquifer mapping so that this “programme does not suffer due to lack of manpower” in the Central Ground Water Board (as admitted by the government) and avoid further reduction of targets.
Banner Image: Ganga river is yet to witness a substantial improvement in the quality of its water. Photo by ThePiyushVerma/Wikimedia Commons.