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ARTICLE : Ganga Gapped
Monday, 23 July 2012 04:33


Ganga Gapped

Twenty-seven years and nearly Rs 2,000 crores later, the Centre’s ambitious Ganga Action Plan has proved to be a colossal failure.

Number of sewage treatment plants under GAP I And II
GAP I UP: 13 | West Bengal: 14 | Bihar: 5
UP: 3 | West Bengal: 0 | Bihar: 0

POLLUTION IN the Ganga is an important story that needs to be constantly told if we want the nation’s lifeline to survive. It is also important because it tells us the horrid story of bureaucratic apathy, and inefficiency at planning and looking ahead. The story of the failure to save the river can be summed up in one sentence: ‘Twenty seven years, and nearly Rs 2,000 crore spent, the Ganga is more polluted, more dirtier than ever before’.

The Standing Committee on Environment and Forests, in its report on the grants to the environment ministry for the year 2012-13, severely criticises the ministry for its failure to control pollution in the river. Criticising the Ministry for ‘only’ adopting an engineering-centric approach with undue emphasis on sewage treatment plants, the report said, “Despite the efforts and huge investment, the pollution level in the Ganga continues to rise unabated”.

In 1979, the then Central Board for Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, now the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), was directed to do a survey on the state of the river. It submitted two comprehensive reports that formed the basis of the Ganga Action Plan (GAP).

The Cabinet approved the GAP in April 1985 as a 100 percent centrally sponsored scheme. The then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, launched the GAP with the promise to clean the river in five years. The plan included 261 schemes spread over 25 towns of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. GAP Phase I was completed in March 2000 at a cost of Rs 452 crore.

Even before the first phase concluded, GAP Phase II was initiated in 1993. It covered 59 towns located along the river in the five states of Uttarakhand, UP, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal. Of the 319 schemes undertaken under the plan, 200 have been completed. GAP Phase II was expanded into the National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) in 2009 after the Ganga was declared the ‘national river’.

Phase II, which was to be completed in 2001, was extended by seven years to 2008. The Standing Committee’s report came down heavily on the effectivity of the Plan. It said that the constant delays and the inability of the Plan, “…speaks volumes about the inefficiency on the part of the implementing agencies, i.e. Central, State Governments and contractors.”

So why did GAP fail to deliver? According to experts, it is an example of the lack of interest among the stakeholders, and a breakdown of bureaucratic planning.

Ganga Inaction Plan

Ganga Action Plan was launched by the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1985 as a 100 percent Centrally sponsored scheme

It was launched with the objective of bringing the water quality of the Ganga and its tributaries to bathing levels in five years

Money spent
GAP I: Rs 432.68 crore 
GAP II: Rs 469.03 crore 
Total: Rs 901.71 crore

GAP I was scheduled for completion by March 1990, but was extended to March 2000. GAP II was initiated in 1993; concluded in 2008

Total sewage treatment capacity created on tributaries of the Ganga river under GAP I and II: 2,300 MLD

Total sewage generation in the Ganga basin, according to the Central Pollution Control Board’s 2003 estimates: 8,250 MLD

More than 50 percent of the STP capacity created and under implementation are concentrated in Delhi

Standing Committee on Environment and Forests criticises GAP for adopting an engineering-centric approach with undue emphasis on sewage treatment plants

National Ganga River Basin Authority has met only thrice since 2009

GAP had met only 39 percent of its primary target of sewage treatment as per the CAG report dated 11 December 2000

According to professor BD Tripathi, a member of the National Ganga River Basin Authority, “One of the biggest reasons for failure is that there was no planning at all. The first phase of GAP was drafted in a hurry for political reasons. A sewer line was laid across the city of Varanasi at a cost of Rs 1,000 crore. The purpose was to take the sewage to the northern part of the city and install a treatment plant there. After spending the money and installing a network of sewer lines, the plan hit a stonewall, when the locals refused to let the sewage plant be built. The bureaucracy couldn’t think of the most basic thing, i.e. to take the farmers into confidence”.

Uttar Pradesh is responsible for over 50 percent of the pollutants entering the river. Today, there are more than 50 drains carrying raw sewage to the river Ganga and Yamuna at Allahabad, while there were only 13 drains before GAP was launched in 1986.

Experts also criticise the complete lack of coordination and faulty planning for the debacle of the programme. Much of the Rs 987.88 crore allocated under GAP Phase I and Phase II, nearly Rs 900 crore was spent on the construction of Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs), purchase of land on which it has been built, etc. There is no systematic audit of the money spent so far either by the Centre or the state.

ACCORDING TO Kalyan Rudra, adviser to the West Bengal government, “The Centre established wastewater treatment plants, but had problems in diverting the city waste to the plants. If you want to take the waste into the treatment plant, you need to lay a new sewage line. That was not done properly.”

STP was thought to be the panacea to the pollution plaguing the Ganga. But, the amount of sewage that is being treated is far less than the amount of sewage generated. Out of the 8,250 MLD of wastewater generated in the Ganga basin, treatment facilities are available only for 3,500 MLD.

Expensive technologies were adopted without working out the costs. Most wastewater treatment plants set up under the plan are now lying unused. “The Centre established those plants, but civic authorities, considering the high overhead maintenance cost, declined to run these treatment plants,“ says Rudra.

“State governments and bureaucrats should be held accountable and penalties must be imposed. The intent was to clean the river, but for years no one planned or thought how. The Centre continued releasing the money to the states. And the money kept disappearing. The failure to coordinate and monitor where the money went became another factor, due to which this plan could not succeed,” adds Rudra.

The audit report of the GAP by the CAG in 2000 mentions that of the 45 commissioned STPs, 19 did not perform due to erratic power supply, non-rectification of defects, and due to the lack of funds released by the states. Of the eight electric crematoriums constructed under GAP Phase I, none are operational.



From 2009 to 2012, the Centre and the state governments together spent nearly Rs 2,600 crore to clean the river

Meanwhile, the officials in the environment ministry blame the federal structure of governance for the failure of GAP. According to a senior bureaucrat, “There is no management of the assets created under the plan, and even if we see some wrong happening, we can’t take any punitive measure. Our hands are tied. Until states also start sharing the same enthusiasm, practically nothing can be done.”

Vijay Panjwani, counsel for the CPCB for the past 17 years, is severe in his criticism. “The government claims that it has spent close to Rs 1,500-2,000 crore under GAP Phase I and II. And see what they have done. Within the first six months of setting up the process, there was no money to pay for electricity, maintenance and operations. Either the funds were embezzled or diverted by the state governments under other expenditures.”

From 2009 to 2012, the Centre and the state governments additionally spent nearly Rs 2,600 crore in their efforts to clean the river. The government has also inked a $1 billion deal with the World Bank to clean the river by 2020. A target deemed super ambitious by observers.

But as one NGBRA member puts it, “In a meeting, the first thing that the government tells us is that, ‘we have this much money to spend’. Why is the government in such a hurry to spend money?”

Last Updated on Monday, 23 July 2012 04:39