Union minister Gajendra Shekhawat still has a number of challenges ahead if the target is to be achieved within next two years
The deadline for cleaning up the national river Ganga has been revised again. With the third extension, the deadline has now been extended to 2021.
In not a very subtle announcement of the same, new minister of the Jal Shakti Ministry, Gajendra Shekwat, said that the Ganga would be cleaned in two years.
Incidentally, when the Namami Gange mission was first announced in the 2014 budget speech by the Narendra Modi government, it was claimed that the Ganga would be made clean by 2019.
However, the then minister of Water Resources, Nitin Gadkari, clarified that while 80 per cent of the river would be cleaned by 2019, the entire process would be completed by 2020.
Whether even the 80 per cent target was achieved or not is a matter of debate. With the latest revision, Shekhawat still has a number of challenges ahead if the target is to be achieved within next two years.
Till April 2019, projects worth Rs 28,451.29 crore had been sanctioned under Namami Gange. Work on these projects has not even been completed for one-fourth of the sanctioned costs. The total expenditure done (on these projects) till April 30, 2019 stood at Rs 6,838.67 crore. In terms of numbers, only 98 projects had been completed as against sanctioned number of 298 till April 30, 2019.
The biggest investment was made on creating seweage infrastructure. Out of Rs 23,540.95 crore-sanctioned projects, only projects worth Rs 4,521 have been completed.
Has the health of the river improved?
According to the latest information available with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the Ganga water is not fit for drinking in the entire stretch of Uttar Pradesh (except for Bijnor), Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.
Out of 70-odd monitoring points, the water is fit for drinking at only three points in Uttarakhand and Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh.
As far as bathing standards are concerned, the water was fit only at places in Uttarakhand, two places upstream in Uttar Pradesh and two in Jharkhand. Otherwise the entire stretch is unfit for bathing.
As against the upper limit of faecal coliform number of 2,500 per 100 millilitre (ml), it was 11,000 per 100 ml in Allahabad, 32,000 per 100 ml in Kanpur and 22,000 per 100 ml in Varanasi in April, according to the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board. UP is one among the five Ganga belt states where the government has put maximum thrust under the Namami Gange mission.
In West Bengal’s Uluberia, the faecal coliform number was 50,000 per 100 ml. The main source of faecal coliform is human excreta.
A 2018 CPCB report, however, said that the river water quality did not improve between 2014 and 2018. “In the Uttar Pradesh stretch, biological water quality is consistently moderately polluted during the period 2014-18… In Bihar, the river at Patna city was heavily polluted during 2015-16, while all other points were moderately polluted,” it said.
While experts were skeptical that the river would be cleaned by the original deadline of 2019, now it seems that even the revised deadline would be difficult to meet.
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