Guest Blog by: Chicu Lokgariwar (firstname.lastname@example.org)
We have a Prime Minister who, his colleagues claim, is the new Bhagirath. And possibly for the first time, Prime Minister himself called a meeting of ministers and officials on Ganga on January 6, 2015. That possibly seems to indicate that Ganga is government priority. However, their dependence on IIT Consortium to deliver a plan for this does seem to hold much hope for the River.
The IIT consortium has promised to come out with their much awaited Ganga River Basin Management Plan by December 2014, but it is not clear if they have already delivered the plan.
Union Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Minister Sushri Uma Bharti famously said in a speech at the Ganga Mahasabha in Varanasi on 05 November 2014: “I will again say that after Bhagirathi, Modi-ji has been born to work for the Ganga”. Rs 6300,00,00,000 is supposed to justify that claim. That is the amount the current government has allocated to its Namami Gange programme in the Union Budget this year. We are now less than three months from the end of the year. What will this money be spent on?
Namami Gange – the project:
While Rs 2037 crore is to go into rejuvenating the river, Rs 4200 crore is to be spent on developing a navigation corridor in the next six years (two mutually exclusive & contradictory goals, if one is to consider all the impacts of this plan including on the river, on the biodiversity including on the Turtle Sanctuary in Varanasi). Rs 100 crores are for ghat development and waterfront beautification probably using the ‘Sabarmati model’. The news of the two thousand crores might be good news for the Ganga, or it might not.
It is difficult to say firstly as details of the budget allocation are not available online. The website for the Namami Gange programme details city-wise expenditure from the National mission for a clean Ganga since 2009. The bulk of this expenditure in Uttarakhand (https://nmcg.nic.in/Uttrakhand_Project.aspx), Uttar Pradesh (https://nmcg.nic.in/UP_Project.aspx), Bihar (https://nmcg.nic.in/Bihar_Project.aspx) Jharkhand (https://nmcg.nic.in/Jharkhand_project.aspx) and W Bengal (https://nmcg.nic.in/WB_Project.aspx) is on the construction of sewage treatment plants, and beautification of ghats. This focus on sewage treatment plants and ghats is business as usual work, since they were also the focus of the Ganga Action Plan. This trend continued in 2014, where all the four projects sanctioned during the year are for sewerage and sewage treatment. Even in 2015, the same trend continues with Rs 220 Cr order given for the 140 MLD Dinapur Sewage Treatment Plant in first week of the new year.
Namami Gange-steps take so far:
Is Namami Gange then merely GAP III? Minister Uma Bharti would not agree. Ms. Bharti also stated that the focus of her ministry is ‘aviralta‘ (unimpeded flows) and ‘nirmalta‘ (unpolluted flows).
To achieve this, she stated that the following measures have been taken.
- The Government has formed a committee including the additional secretaries of the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Water resources to compile the reports by the Ravi Chopra Committee, the B K Chaturvedi Committee and the IIT Consortium and provide rainfall-specific, site-specific and river-specific environmental flows by 15 December, 2014. This was the decision of the 4th meeting of the (reconstituted, but who are the members of NGBRA is not yet in public domain!) National Ganga River Basin Authority, held on Oct 27, 2014, chaired by newly appointed Vice Chairperson and Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Sushri Uma Bharti. So far, there is nothing in the public domain about this.
- Has created a committee to look at sand-mining and propose scientific principles for it.
- Has allocated Rs 300 crores to create detailed GIS maps of the entire basin.
- Is inspecting the various pollution removal technologies used in different countries.
- Has invited Dr. Bimal Patel (Director, HCP Design and Project Management. Patel designed the Sabarmati Riverfront Development project in Ahmedabad) to Delhi to meet with the corporators of all the cities along the Ganga with a view to replicate ‘the Sabarmati model’.
It is problematic that the Minister considers riverfront development to be a part of pollution removal. As has been discussed earlier, the Sabarmati riverfront ‘development’ is merely cosmetic and does not address key issues of river restoration, or indeed the river itself. Also, while the Minister is correct in emphasising that the work of restoring a river has its own time-frame in which certain projects may take decades, the steps taken so far are disappointing.
This focus on Aviral and Nirmal dhara, however, may indicate that Ms. Bharti and her government is taking the IIT consortium rather too seriously.
National Ganga Basin Management Plan (NGBMP) principles:
The vision of the IIT Consortium which has been charged with the preparation of a basin-wide management plan by Jairam Ramesh in 2010 to restore the Ganga is centred around ‘aviral dhara’ and ‘nirmal dhara’. What have they proposed for the river? In a recent interview with the India Water Portal, Dr. Tare explained the IIT consortium’s vision for the Ganga and the steps that they are taking to achieve it.
Nirmal Dhara as per the NGBMP:
The main steps in achieving ‘nirmal dhara’ as detailed by Dr Tare focus on the ‘no outfall’ principle. He justified it by pointing out the ease of monitoring. “If we implement this policy, even the common man can observe whether the drain is flowing into the river or not. That is easy. But it’s BOD content, COD, coli-form content, that is a matter of controversy. If we prevent the waste water from entering the river itself, the option is that the drain should be dry. If it is not dry, then people can take photographs, make a complaint. It will be monitored instantly.”
- For sewage, move the focus from sewerage systems to controlling outfall from the many drains that pour untreated waste into the Ganga. He says, “Just as you consider other things to be an industry, also consider sewage treatment as an industry. Measure the discharge of each drain that outfalls into the river or tributary, and tender for the treatment of that sewage. Get it measured by those who will be treating the sewage. Then you say, ‘this is the raw material I can give you. And from that sewage, you produce water and give it to me. I will buy that treated water for the next 15 years.’ Now what I do with that, whether I reuse is, is up to me. So my worry is not to make STP. Let that investment come from the private sector. I will only purchase the water. In this, the government does not need to invest, private parties will come forward for that”.
- Industries will be required to practice zero-discharge mechanisms, i.e. Run their plants on the closed-loop principle where no discharge exits the plant, and only enough resources to make up the gap between requirement and recycled matter enter. Dr. Tare says, “Why do we need to give fresh water to industry? They should recycle their water completely. But suppose 100 units of effluent is produced, only 70-80 units of recycled water can be reused. The remaining balance should be made up by treated sewage. Thus their entire fresh water consumption will be covered. It is difficult to implement this by regulation and policing. So for that, you need to do pricing. We need to decide to price fresh water at 1.5 to 2 times that of treated water.”
Analysis of the recommendations: The first recommendation seems to be based on the assumption that the private sector is only too glad to lend the state a hand in managing infrastructure. However, this assumption has again and again proved to be incorrect. Experiments with privatising water supply have already proven that industry demands excessive subsidies and incentives, leaves the difficult job of collecting revenue to the state, and refuses to work in situations where profits are lean. Here, if in order to create an incentive for small industries to buy recycled water, the city is forced to sell it at half the price of fresh water while also buying it from the treatment plant at a price that allows the plant operator a profit, who will make up the gap? Taxes? In that case, will this not be subjecting the public exchequer to higher expenditure just for private sector profits?
Even if this is possible, there are still many hurdles. Thereis the issue of watching every drain outfalling all the time. What about storm water drains that bring rainwater and return flows? What happens to the treated/ untreated water that is not brought to river? Who will ensure it is not pumped into aquifer? What will happen to return flows even if entire treated water is used in irrigation? What happens till the private sector is in a position to implement this? What happens to the treatment facility already created? What about sewerage lines? Who will build, repair, maintain them?
The second recommendation is problematic not just for the above profit reason, but also because of the nature of these polluting industries. Here I am not speaking of the large corporations who are well-able and should install their zero-discharge treatment plants (though considering their track record, it is doubtful if they will), but of the many small workshop based units that exist along the Ganga and tributaries. Yes, they do pollute the river. But these tanneries and garages and foundries simply do not have the money, the space or the know-how to install a sophisticated treatment plant. The plan makes no mention of this. Some other unanswered questions: Who will ensure implementation of this? How?
Aviral Dhara as per the NGBMP:
The steps for ‘aviral dhara’ consider proposed and existing dams and withdrawal for agriculture.
- All dams and barrages inflict irreparable damage on the river. Therefore, says Dr. Tare “So no structure should come up on the river or its tributaries which violates this. There is no question of giving environmental clearance to such projects. Don’t even ask MOEF to clear this. If at all this has to be done, it has to be a political decision at the highest level, in the larger national interest.”
- Existing dams are a problem, acknowledges Dr. Tare. He says, “You have already spoiled the river in an irreversible way by constructing Tehri Dam, by constructing Koteshwar, now how to change that, that’s a different thing. This government is very serious about it. How can the Ganga be Aviral with Tehri there? So we are looking at all possible options. Business as usual to the very extreme step of dismantling Tehri.” He also suggested, “Suppose I have to have Tehri as well as have the connectivity. I can even think of a technical solution; I can provide a river pass through the reservoir. Like by using a tunnel, we take a road or a railway below the sea. So I can think of having a river flowing through the Tehri reservoir. So complete connectivity is maintained above and below the reservoir. The fish won’t even realise that they are travelling under a reservoir.”
- The third focus is on the withdrawal of water for irrigation. Here, Dr. Tare suggests that agriculture in the Gangetic plains is defunct. “Ganga Basin is the poorest in terms of efficiency… in productivity per unit of water. So one challenge is how we can increase the productivity per unit of water. For that we have to have technological intervention, which small farmers cannot do. So how do we move out people who are in the farming sector? Our agriculture output needs to increase, but people working on the farm have to be moved out of that.. There are two things. Either we say, ‘okay, these are small farmers. Let them be there’. But then I create a system wherein he is supported in terms of technology or whatever. Call it a cooperative society or contract farming, whatever you want to call it. That is one model. Second model is, you buy the land from them all. And give it to some big entity, he will manage the whole thing”.
Response to the recommendations:
The impacts of these recommendations of Dr Tare may well be devastating.
And that can perhaps account for the disclaimer that has been added to the first recommendation. He says that no dam can be procedurally sanctioned except when the nation’s higher authority deems it necessary. Does this mean environment protection is meaningless when the highest political approval is available? The impulse to ban all dams is extreme; when it is tempered with the disclaimer, the recommendation takes on a darker shade.
Consider the facts. Communities, independent observers and even former ministers like Jairam Ramesh have been saying that the EIA process is flawed. And it is. They have been oppressed when the state calls in troops to intimidate them into dropping their protests. And it reforms to be credible, about which Dr Tare is silent.
There has always been a platform, however flawed, where communities could voice their concerns about the state’s actions. Now, in place of strengthening it and removing the flaws, this is being taken away. ‘In the larger interests of the nation’ is not only subjective, it is completely undemocratic and unacceptable that the Prime Minister or the cabinet decides without any informed and participatory decision making process. This has in the past been used to displace tribal & other communities when all else had failed. Now, this ‘worst case’ situation will become the new normal. No more ‘messy’ procedures, no impact assessments, no pubic consultations, no appraisals, no monitoring, no legal challenges, no more sanctions, no more dealing with tribals. The Prime Minister’s signature, and that is all. What Dr Tare proposes here is as bad as and possibly worse than what TSR Subramanian committee has proposed.
This is even more dangerous in the context of the second recommendation. We can safely assume that dismantling of Tehri or any other dam is not going to happen. In that case providing a bypass for a part of the river is being recommended. In that case, what are the safeguards to ensure that option B will be viable, acceptable, desirable and optimal? Will it not be used to sanction more dams? Or to ensure that the ‘bypass’ or ‘tunnel’ that he recommends as allowing the movement of biota will not be corrupted into a pipe that allows some water and maintains the ‘aviralta’ of the river in letter if not in spirit? As has already happened in case of Tehri dam?
In the meanwhile, it is good that the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, in an affidavit in the Supreme Court in December 2014 has rejected the IIT Consortium report on Uttarakhand hydropower projects.
And finally, corporate farming is riddled with problems. Where practised, it has brought about greater polarization between the rich and the poor. Besides, there are the intangibles of farming. Farmers are well aware that their farms do not secure them great profits. A group of vegetable farmers in Agwaanpur and I were trying to understand the profits they make. After all the calculations were done, they earned some Rs 150 a day. This is nearly half of the Rs. 250 what they would earn as day labourers. ‘But’ Shahabuddin said, ‘we are working for ourselves on our land, in our homes. Hamara maalak koi doosra nahin, no one else is our master.’ No job that these poorly-educated men will get in a city will provide them with that dignity.
What happens next? The government & the people are awaiting the Ganga River Basin Development Plan from the IIT Consortium. In the meanwhile, on the one hand we have a Prime Minister who is praised for running his state as profitably as a business and a Ministry that has to follow his model of river restoration & river front development. On the other hand, we have a consortium of scientists that are performing a flexible walk between science and pressure from above. Minister Uma Bharti’s contention is that the Ganga called Mr. Modi to Varanasi and was influential in his election victory. If a river can prefer a political candidate and be heard, why do the voice and aspirations of the communities that live along the Ganga remain unheard?
 An audio file of her speech is available here: http://www.indiawaterportal.org/sites/indiawaterportal.org/files/uma_bharti_ganga_mahasabha_5_nov_2014_0.mp3. The text of the speech can be found here: http://www.indiawaterportal.org/sites/indiawaterportal.org/files/uma_bharti_0.pdf.
 See: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/riverfront-development-real-photo-tour-of-sabarmati-river/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/riverfront-development-in-india-cosmetic-make-up-on-deep-wounds/
 The audio file of the interview of Dr Tare is uploaded here: http://www.indiawaterportal.org/sites/indiawaterportal.org/files/interview_with_vinod_tare_kanpur_19_october_2014.mp3. The transcript is available here: http://www.indiawaterportal.org/sites/indiawaterportal.org/files/tare_interview.pdf. Also see: http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/tare-ganga-par-dr-tare-discusses-iit-consortiums-plan-ganga
 Ram Charan, Michael Useem and Dennis Carey. 2014. Politicians for Prosperity. Strategy+Business. 06 October 2014 http://www.strategy-business.com/article/00280?pg=all