Apart from mentioning Govt failure in checking Ganga pollution, the Comptroller & Auditor General’s (CAG) performance audit report on Ganga rejuvenation tabled in Parliament on December 19, 2017 specifically mentions that National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) “could not finalize the long-term action plans even after more than six-and-a-half years of signing of agreement with the consortium of Indian Institutes of Technology”. The fact that NMCG does not have a “river basin management plan even after a lapse of more than 8 years of National Ganga River Basin Authority notification”, mentioned in the report also has great significance.
It is surprising that NMCG is working without a river basin management plan or a long-term action plan. The CAG performance audit is also lacking. It rightly mentions that infrastructure to treat pollution has not been created but does no assessment whether the creation of infrastructure alone would revive the river.
Further, CAG audit does not look into the issues if lessons from past failures have been learnt, corrections done, independent scrutiny institutionalised, participatory governance achieved, and if this business as usual approach is going to achieve any better results even if all the money were spent, all the DPRs were sanctioned, all the meetings happened, all the manpower available and all the STPs constructed?
Hence it critical that CAG performance audit should have tried to address these issues. Can the state of Ganga improve without improving the state of tributaries? CAG does not even look at this issue.
It has been two years since the Union Minister for Shipping and Transport, Mr. Nitin Gadkari, announced the Government’s ambitious plan to revive the National Waterways-1 (Ganga Waterway) between Haldia and Allahabad, justifying it on the grounds that India’s waterway potential remains highly underutilized, although six times cheaper than road transport. In a letter dated 18th June, 2014 forwarded by Mr. Gadkari to the Finance Minister, Mr. Arun Jaitley, a proposal for financial assistance to four navigational barrages was also made.
By law, rivers in India belong to the government, however, government has no particular agency that governs our rivers. Our constitution or law does not provide any direct protection to rivers. A large number of entities at centre and state level take decisions that affect our rivers but they do not even seem aware of such impacts. That the decisions and working of a large number of agencies affect the rivers is expected considering the landscape level existence of rivers and society’s wide ranging needs for water and other services provided by the rivers. But the complete neglect of the rivers is certainly not expected. More importantly, people seem to have no role in governance of our rivers! There seems to be neither an understanding nor a recognition that lives and livelihoods of so many people depend on rivers. Nor an understanding as to what is a river and what are its role in the ecosystem, in current and future well being of the society. These blindspots about our understanding of rivers get reflected in our governance of rivers.
India remains an agrarian country, and our water use practices have prioritised use of water for irrigation. Archaic water laws during the British rule looked at water as a resource to be exploited under the jurisdiction of the government. The 1873 Northern India Canal and Drainage Act, stated ‘use and control for public purposes the water of all rivers and streams flowing in natural channels’ as a right of the Government, without any credible and democratic way of deciding what is public purpose. In the same vein the Madhya Pradesh Irrigation Act of 1931 asserted direct state control over water, which find an echo even today in the Bihar Irrigation Act, of 1997 that stresses that all rights in surface water vest with the Government. In fact post colonial water governance did not see any break from the past and essentially the same paradigm prevalant during colonial times continued after independence.
Water in India, as per our constitution is a state (government) subject, and by the same logic water laws in the country too are mostly state based. Thus the state has the constitutional power to make laws, to implement & regulate water supplies, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage & hydropower. However, there is nothing in the constitution or law that shows an understanding of what is a river, what services it provides or if there is anything worth conserving in rivers. There is no legal protection for rivers in India.
Moreover as most of the rivers flow through more than one states, the rivers become cause of major interstate disputes when they are seen as sites of big dams. Smaller projects are rarely the reason for intractable interstate disputes. Unfortunately, in post-indepednence India, politicians love big dams and they are seen as most important, if not the only saleable development projects.
The centre can intervene for any interstate differences by constituting a Water Dispute Tribunal for the mediation of the water dispute, but only if invited to do so by the state government. It is within the Central Government powers to regulate and develop inter-State rivers under entry 56 of the constitution, but these powers are rarely used. Entry 56 reads: “Regulation and development of inter-State rivers and river valleys to the extent to which such regulation and development under the control of the Union is declared by Parliament by law to be expedient in the public interest.”
Instead many different regulatory mechanisms have been harnessed and committees formed under various ministries for water management in inter state river basins.
Let’s take a tour of the various agencies involved in governance of rivers in India.
AT THE CENTRE:
Ministry for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
It is the apex body at the union level responsible for the country’s water resources and its functions from the river perspective are:
Rejuvenation of Ganga River and also National Ganga River Basin Authority
To resolve differences relating to inter-state rivers
To oversee implementation of inter-state projects occasionally
To manage, monitor and sanction funds for centrally funded schemes like Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Program, Command Area Development, Rehabilitation of Water Bodies, Bharat Nirman, etc.
Operation of central network for flood forecasting and warning on inter-state rivers (CWC task)
Preparation of flood control master plans for the Ganga and the Brahmaputra
Talks and negotiations on river waters with neighbouring countries
Operation of the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan, Ganga Water Treaty with Bangladesh, Mahakali, Kosi, Gandak and other treaties with Nepal, Water Cooperation with Bhutan, Exchange of Data with China under MoU, etc.
There are a plethora of offices/bodies under the water resource ministry, who work under their control. These include the following:
Central Water Commission (CWC) Supposed to be a premier Technical Organization, the CWC is responsible for schemes for control, conservation and utilization of all water resources for various purposes, which includes flood control & irrigation, and overall planning& development of river basins. It also monitors the river water quality at 396 stations located in all the major river basins of India. It is also responsible for co-ordination with states for establishing River Basin Organisations , like
This gives a misleading picture that for practically every river basin there is a basin organisation. In reality, review of CWC annual reports show that there is hardly any activity of these organisations, they in any case do not work to protect the rivers.
A multidisciplinary scientific organization for the scientific & sustainable development and management of India’s ground water resources. A Central Ground Water Authority has been in 1996 through a Supreme Court order with powers under Environment Protection Act, 1986. On the face of it, CGWB and CGWA may not have any direct role in governance of rivers, the fact is they have a huge role. Firstly, destruction of rivers mean that the groundwater recharge that happens by flowing rivers would stop. CGWB and CGWA should be concerned about this, but have shown no such concern. Secondly, when there is over exploitation of groundwater, it has impact on flow of downstream rivers, particularly in lean season and in low rainfall areas.
Central Water and Power Research Station (CWPRS): A principal central agency that provides R&D, and deals with research, services and support pertaining to projects on water resources, energy & water borne transport including those related to rivers.
Central Soil and Materials Research Station (CMRS): It deals with field explorations, laboratory investigations and research in the field of geotechnical engineering and civil engineering materials, particularly for construction of river valley projects and safety evaluation of existing dams.
Set up in 1981-82, the main task of this organisation is to do studies related to inter-linking of rivers. In that sense, it is an anti-river organisation! An autonomous society, some of NWDA’s river related functions include to:
Carry out detailed surveys about the quantum of water that can be transferred to other basins/States
Prepare feasibility report of the various components of the scheme relating to Peninsular Rivers development and Himalayan Rivers development
Prepare detailed project report of river link proposals
Prepare pre-feasibility/feasibility report of the intra-state links
NWDA has not been confident enough to put any of its work in public domain. Some feasibility reports are out following repeated Supreme Court orders in 2002. A perusal of some of these studies shows that it has no concern for the rivers or the services provided by the rivers. It sees all water flowing to the sea as a waste! Which means rivers are a wasteful resource! In its environment impact assessments or in its cost benefit analysis there is no accounting of the services of rivers that would be destroyed if the proposed project go ahead!
National Institute of Hydrology (NIH)
A “premier” Institute in the area of hydrology and water resources, it aids, promotes & coordinates work in the field of hydrology and water resources development. However, it is not known to stand up or speak up for rivers. Its classification of rivers, as mentioned in an earlier blog, leaves a lot to be desired. The non participatory tendencies of NIH was apparent in the way it organised a workshop on Environment Flows in Oct 2013. NIH did not find it necessary to invite even the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests for the workshop! NIH also parterned with CIFRI for a flawed assessment of e-flows for Teesta IV project, among other such studies.
Farakka Barrage Authority It is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Farakka Barrage Project, (FBP), which regulate the flow of water to the Bhagirathi-Hooghly through the feeder canal to maintain navigability of the Kolkata Port.
National Water Academy Earlier known as Central Training Unit, it has been established to impart in house training to water resources personnel from government organisations. Its curriculum includes watershed management, flood forecast &management, environmental management for river valley projects and workshop on River Basin Organisations.
Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) The techno-economic appraisal of irrigation, flood control and multipurpose projects proposed by the State/ Central Governments or other organisations is done by TAC of Ministry for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, for Irrigation, Flood Control and Multipurpose Projects and thereafter make appropriate recommendation. Once found acceptable by the TAC, it is recommended for investment clearance by the Planning Commission and inclusion in the Five Year Plan/Annual Plan. In the functioning of TAC, lack of transparency, participatory governance is the norm. TAC has no member from outside the government, nor does it put up its agenda or minutes of the meeings in public domain. At the initiative of SANDRP, following a letter written to the government in April 2011, minutes of some of the TAC meetings were for the first time put up in public domain, but even that has stopped since July 2012.
Interstate River Basin Boards For several Inter State Basins, Boards have been set up for co-ordination and implementation and to deal with individual basins/ projects/ interstate disputes. Some of them are listed here.
Bansagar Control Board for execution of Bansagar Dam on Sone river and connected works
Betwa River Board for the execution of the Rajghat Dam Project
Upper Yamuna River Board (UYRB), which refers to the reach of Yamuna from its origin at Yamunotri to Okhla Barrage at Delhi and includes all the states in this basin.
The Brahmaputra Board: Its objective is planning & integrated implementation of measures for control of floods and bank erosion in Brahmaputra and for matters connected therewith
Narmada Control Authority (NCA): For proper implementation of the decisions & directions of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal. There are number of supporting statutory mechanisms: Environment Sub Group of NCA, Rehabilitation Sub Group of NCA, Review Committee of NCA and Sardar Sarovar Construction Advisory Committee.
The Tungabhadra Board: Regulates water for irrigation, hydro-power generation and other uses from the Tungabhadra reservoir
Ganga Flood Conrol Commission has been set up for specific tasks related to floods in the Ganga basin, including coordination with upstream Nepal.
Public Sector Enterprises under Union Ministry of Water Resources:
Water and Power Consultancy Services (WAPCOS) Limited: Provides consultancy services in Water Resources, Power and Infrastructure Sectors. The shoddy work of WAPCOS in doing environmental impact assessment and cumulative basin level impact assessment has been repeatedly highlighted by SANDRP. WAPCOS is also involved in Water projects that India funds abroad including in Afghanistan, Bhutan, etc. During a recent visit to Bhutan, SANDRP heard similar complaints about shoddy EIAs and over charging by WAPCOS and also about Bhutan government having no option, but to give the work to WAPCOS, since India as a funder was dictating the terms.
National Projects Construction Corporation Limited (NPCC): Carries out infrastructure work and other related activities for development of the nation that includes dam construction
Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF & CC)
The nodal agency that plans, promotes, co-ordinates and oversees the implementation of the country’s environmental & forestry policies and programmes, its primary concern is implementation of policies and programmes relating to conserve our natural resources that includes rivers.
The ministry also accords environment and forest clearance to hydropower projects and dams all over India. The Environment Clearnace is given by the ministry for hydropower projects above 50 MW and for irrigation projects with command area above 10 000 ha. For the environment appraisal of these projects, the ministry has set up Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley and Hydropower Projects. The functioning of the ministry and EAC on this score is most shoddy, inadequate, inconsistent and far from any concern for rivers. In fact if you pick up Environmental Impact Assessment of any project cleared by the EAC and the ministry, you would not find anything about the value of rivers in any of its reports.
The Forest Department (FD) under MoEF & CC governs rivers that flow through the forests. Since a huge about 23% of land of the country or about 76 million ha of land comes under this department a very large segment of India’s rivers come under the FD. However, there is no evidence of FD taking any action to protect the rivers or aquatic biodiversity. In fact we have been reading the FD proposals for diversion of forest land that come before the Forest Advisory Committee over the years and we see absolutely no concern or even recognition of the impact of such diversions on rivers or aquatic biodiversity, the FD does not even seem to acknowledge the existence of river and aquatic biodiversity.
The Wildlife Department (WLD) under MoEF & CC has powers under the Wildlife Act of 1972 to have their say whenever any activity or development project affects the aquatic life in protected areas or even flows into or out of any protected areas. However there is little evidence to show that WLD has used these powers to protect rivers, flows & aquatic life therein even as projects are well into implementation, without even taking consent of the Chief Wildlife Warden, State Board of Wildlife or National Board of Wildlife.
The MoEF & CC has been sitting for years over a proposal to notify River Regulation Zone for protection so that riverbeds and floodplains are protected.
National River Conservation Directorate (NRCD) The name is misleading here, as the name suggests it works for conservation of rivers, but its only focus is pollution. So either the name is misleading or it reflects poor understanding of the government when they equate river conservation with pollution control work. It is supposed to be governed by National River Conservaion Authority, chaired by Prime Minister, but that authority has never met during the 10 years of UPA government and now almost six months of NDA government. This shows how much of a priority rivers are for the government.
Under the MoEF & CC, NRCD works for conservation of rivers, lakes and wetlands through 2 central schemes:
National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) : To improve water quality of rivers through implementation of pollution abatement schemes in identified polluted stretches of rivers
National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Eco-systems (NPCA): To conserve aquatic ecosystems (lakes and wetlands)
Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)
A statutory organisation, under MoEF & CC, the CPCB sets standards and regulations for prevention and control of pollution. It also monitors water quality of all important water bodies located on 206 rivers of the country. CPCB, along with state pollution control boards and the whole pollution control machinery were set up following the 1974 water pollution control act. 40 years after setting up of this elaborate bureaucracy, we have not heard of a single success story where this machinery has achieved a clean river. However, there are large number of examples of its failure and the machinery being a den of corruption. The Supreme Court of India on Oct 29, 2014 said: “This is an institutional failure and your story is a complete story of failure, frustration and disaster.”
National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA)
Set up in 2009 through a notification under Environment Protection Act (EPA) of 1986, it’s functions include development of a Ganga River Basin Management Plan, regulation of activities aimed at prevention, control and abatement of pollution, to maintain water flow and quality and to take measures relevant to the river ecology in the Ganga basin states. So far there has been absoltely no sign of impact of functioning of this authority on the Ganga. The authority met just three times during first five years of its existence and frustated independent members twice resigned. The NDA government at the centre that took office in May 2014 reconstituted it without either public process or even public information, in fact even the earlier members did not know they have been removed!
Water Quality Assessment Authority
Established under EPA 1986 in 2001, WQAA’s functions include issuing direction and taking measures on the following matters:
Investigate and carry out research on problems of water pollution
Prepare manuals, codes or guides to prevent, control and for abatement of water pollution
Direct agencies to take measures to restore water quality of the river / water bodies
Restrict water abstraction of treated sewage / trade effluent on land, rivers and other water bodies to mitigate crisis of water quality
Maintain minimum discharge for sustenance of aquatic life forms in riverine system
Utilize self-assimilation capacities at the critical river stretches to minimise cost of effluent treatment
Review the status of quality of national water resources (both surface water & ground water) and identify “Hot Spots” for taking necessary actions
It is amazing that more than 13 years after constitution of WQAA, we see no sign of its functioning either on the state of our rivers or in governance of our rivers.
Ministry of Power
MoP is primarily responsible for the development of electrical energy in the country and all matters relating to hydro-electric power (except small/mini/micro hydel projects of and below 25 MW capacity). It also deals with matters relating to these agencies:
Central Electricity Authority
CEA accords techno economic clearance to hydropower projects under Electricity Act 2003. The Section 8(2) of the Act states, “The (Central Electricity) Authority shall, before concurring in any (hydropower) scheme submitted to it under sub-section (1) have particular regard to, whether or not in its opinion,- (a) the proposed river-works will prejudice the prospects for the best ultimate development of the river or its tributaries for power generation, consistent with the requirements of drinking water, irrigation, navigation, flood-control, or other public purposes, and for this purpose the Authority shall satisfy itself, after consultation with the State Government, the Central Government, or such other agencies as it may deem appropriate, that an adequate study has been made of the optimum location of dams and other river-works”. (Emphasis added.)
This provision could have been used for the protection of rivers, since it requires the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) to give concurrence to hydro projects only after satisfying that the proposal is optimum with respect to all other uses of the rivers. Unfortunately, as the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) found out through applications under the Right to Information Act, while giving concurrence to hydropower schemes under this Act, the CEA consults only two organisations, namely the Geological Society of India (GSI) and the Central Water Commission (CWC). GSI and CWC evaluate the scheme from specific parameters of geology and hydrology, but do not look at basin wide issues as required under the Act. The CEA itself is not capable of ensuring basin wide optimisation that the Act requires, nor does it consult the concerned stakeholders. Thus the Act is not being followed.
The Damodar Valley Corporation
The Bhakra Beas Management Board (except matters relating to irrigation)
National Thermal Power Corporation Limited
National Hydro-electric Power Corporation Limited
North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited
Tehri Hydro Development Corporation
Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd.
Power Grid Corporation of India Limited
Power Finance Corporation Limited
Centra and state electricity regulatory commissions
All of these authorities, involved in sanctioning, developing, regulating, financing and operating hydropower projects have direct impact on rivers.
Ministry of Agriculture (MoA)
Agriculture remains the biggest user of water in India. MoA is the apex body for formulation and administration of the rules,regulations and laws relating to agriculture in India, it’s portfolio also includes research on matters relating to irrigation, flood control, anti-water-logging, drainage, soil and water conservation, watershed development and anti-erosion.
This department under MoA also looks at Riverine fisheries on which more than 10 million Indians depend directly. The Department or corresponding State Fisheries Departments in respective states have absolutely no interest in welfare of rivers, despite the fact that damming and pollution is directly affecting fish yield. We looked at the way how Maharashtra Fisheries Department functions vis a vis rivers and Riverine Fisheries and we were clearly told that rivers are not a part of their jurisdiction!
Department of Agriculture And Cooperation
It focuses on sustaining the current momentum by stabilizing food grain production to ensure food security. Its water related agenda includes increased availability of irrigation water leading to increase in the irrigated area, farm productivity and crop production.
Soil and Land Use Survey of India (SLUSI), a pivotal organisation under it carries out survey and soil conservation activities for catchment of river valley projects & flood prone rivers for demarcation of watersheds.
Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE)
It coordinates and promotes agricultural research and education.
Ministry of Rural Development
Though this nodal Ministry is mainly responsible for most of the development and welfare activities in the rural areas, water supply & sanitation schemes involve the rivers as a water source or affects rivers directly or indirectly. In some areas, projects involve rivers, as in the case of the MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) in Madhya Pradesh, which was to revive a river in Khargone district, and increase surface flows.
Ministry of Urban Development
The apex body for formulation and administration of the rules and regulations and laws relating to the housing and urban development, of which urban water supply & sanitation is an essential division. Increasingly, Urban areas are dependent for its water sources on rivers from farther and farther areas and they are invariably dumping mostly untreated sewage and even solid waste into the nearby rivers without any impunity. Urban areas are also destroying the water bodies in the cities and encroaching on the floodplains and even riverbeds.
National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI)
NEERI conducts research and innovations in environmental science and engineering to help find solutions to environmental pollution and natural resource problems. It has 5 zonal laboratories at Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai. NEERI is also into the Environmental Impact Assessment business and some of the EIAs it has done of hydropoer projects are pretty shoddy.
State Level Agencies
As per India’s constitution, water remains a state subject and hence state governmnet role in the fate of rivers is also very crucial. At each state level, the involved agencies related to Rivers include the following :
Environment Department: Responsibility includes environment protection, pollution monitoring, control abatement and awareness. The department is also involved in regulating and sanctioning hydropower projects of 25-50 MW capacity and also smaller irrigation projects through State Environment Impact Assessment Agency and State Environment Appraisal Agency.
State Pollution Control Boards
SPCBs have been set up in all states under the Water Pollution Control Act of 1974. At the State level, this board is responsible for implementation of legislations relating to prevention & control of environmental pollution, and conservation of natural resources. The SPCBs are also required to give consent to establish and consent to operate for all the major projects, including dams and hydropower projects. They also conduct public hearings required under the EIA notification of Sept 2006. As mentioned earlier, we do not see a success story in functioning of any SPCB in either achieving a clean river or protection of rivers.
Water Resources (or Irrigation) Department: Aim is to regulate water resources within the State (e.g. Department of Irrigation, Government of Punjab) as per State Water Policy and to facilitate & ensure judicious, equitable and sustainable management, allocation and utilization of water resources. Some special state level agencies include the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority. Besides these, there are Irrigation Development Corporations, to accelerate the completion of irrigation projects in Maharashtra State. Such corporations have been set up in a number of states including Karnataka, Gujarat, among others.
Power Department: Responsible for generation, transmission, distribution and despatching of electric power supply, including hydropower, for example Energy & Power Department of Sikkim and Power & Electricity Department, Mizoram. Some states have also set up state level corporations for hydropower development (e.g. Himachal Pradesh Power Development Corporation).
Judiciary, Media, Religion, Civil Society & Society at large All these agencies also have a big role in deciding the fate of our rivers and need to play that role effectively. Unfortunately, considering the state of our rivers, we can conclude that inspite of some notable exceptions in case of all these, in general, we have not succeedded in protecting our rivers.
As far as role of political parties & leaders are concerned, we do not seem to have even any positive exceptions in terms of achieving better state of our rivers.
Some rare bright lights in this scenario, apart from community efforts at coordination, communication and governance include the WRIS (Water Resources Information System of India), a joint venture between MoWR and ISRO. The site is indeed a useful reference for information about many basins in the country (although the claimed focus is on “Water Resources” and not rivers!). It also includes Watershed Atlas, River Basin Atlas of the country and individual basin profiles which look comprehensive.
In Conclusion: Rivers are more than just a water source We have a complex network of river systems in the country. The myriad government agencies listed here majorly affect rivers, and a close co ordination and involvement between these institutions is essential to implement any river policy or project to ensure continued existence and sustenance of rivers. River management and their judicious use encompasses a whole lot of diverse characteristics and these fall under the jurisdiction of many of the above mentioned agencies, who need to work in a together in a cohesive manner. The river governance need to be democratic and communities should have a key role in informed, participatory decision making. This is certainly possible if there is a will.
Even though humans have built homes and civilisations along river banks since time immemorial, and water has been vital for life and growth, used for drinking, irrigation, transportation and energy sources, our society and governance system seem to have failed to understand the true value of our rivers. Today, these rivers that are our lifeline seem to be more often misused than used.
The fact that a large number of entities are involved in governing the fate of the rivers should not be such a problem as long as each of them is aware that their decisions are affecting the fate of the rivers and that they are involved in governing the rivers. The second major problem is that there are no river specific, legally empowered coordinating agency that will ensure that rivers continue to survive and exist in a healthy state. In effect, while the government has monoploy over rivers, it is not bothered to ensure continued and healthy existence for rivers.
We may have created these techno legal frameworks for our short sighted priorities, but what would be a first step of help for rivers is recognition of rivers, its services, need for their continued and sustained existence and legal protection for the same. A legally empowered and participatory coordination mechanism that is willing to understand and speak from the rivers perspective, for each river could also help. An agency that will understand and appreciate rivers, rather than see it as a simple linear source of water, power or transport system.
Even though the new NDA govt at the centre since May 2014 has claimed that river rejuvenation is its priority, we see that the government so far has only indulged in tokenism and symbolism. On the contrary, in terms of deeds a large of their actions are against the interest of sustained existence of rivers.
The one day Ganga Manthan organized by the National Mission for Clean Ganga on July 7, 2014 was described by Union Minister Sushri Uma Bharti & Union Minister Shri Nitin Gadkari as “Historical”. The Union Environment Minister, who has one of the most crucial role in achieving a rejuvenated Ganga, was supposed to be there, but could not come at any stage.
I attended the full day meeting with a lingering question: Will this help the river? Even some of the ardent skeptics said that Uma ji has emotional, spiritual and religious attachment with the cause of Ganga.
At the conclave attended by close to a thousand people, the story of how Ms. Bharti came back to the BJP party about a year back to work for the cause of Ganga, and how she was promised a year back that if their party came to power, Ganga will get a separate ministry and she its charge was narrated repeatedly by both Ms Bharti and Mr Gadkari at least twice. It was also stated that the government has the commitment, the will & all the money to make the Ganga clean (Nirmal) and perennial (aviral). There were also repeated statements by both ministers about the officials being so committed to the cause of Ganga. These, in essence, were the basic positive assets of this government to achieve Ganga Rejuvenation.
While it was good to see large gathering involving various sections of the society, including many independent non government voices, missing were some key stakeholders: Ganga basin state governments, farmers groups, Ministry of Urban Development, fisher-folk groups, boats-people representatives. Another key constituency missing was Ministry of Agriculture, since agriculture is major user of water & irrigation and responsible for water diversion and at the same time major non point source polluter through use of chemicals and fertilizers.
Rejuvenation does not mean just nirmal and aviral But if the task is Rejuvenation of River Ganga, are these assets sufficient? What exactly does Rejuvenation of River Ganga mean? There were no answers to this question at the meeting. The government did not even seem bothered about these questions. Are Nirmal and Aviral Ganga sufficient objectives to achieve Rejuvenation of Ganga? The answer is clearly no, for, even a pipleline or canal carrying perennial flow of water can claim that distinction. A rejuvenated river will need much more than that, but the government has nothing else to offer for a rejuvenated river.
Even for Aviral Ganga, the government had absolutely nothing to offer. In the information package shared with the participants, the only thing relevant to Aviral Ganga was the extended summary of draft “Ganga River Basin Management Plan” being prepared by consortium of seven IITs in collaboration with some 11 other organisations. This is led by Dr Vinod Tare of IIT Kanpur. While standing with Dr Tare and Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh at the lunch, I said, the problem with Ganga is not of technology, but of governance. Despite being a proud IITian myself, I have no hesitation in saying that IITs do not have expertise in governance issues, so how can the IIT Consortium help in fix a governance problem? Having read the full Draft Plan of the IIT consortium, it only further strengthens the view that it was wrong decision of Jairam Ramesh to give this task to IIT Consortium.
Agenda for further destruction As a matter of fact, while this government has yet to take a step that will truly help rejuvenation of Ganga, they have declared their agenda that will possibly further destroy the river. This was clear on June 6, 2014, within ten days of new government taking over when a PIB press release announced, “Shri Gadkari said it is proposed to conduct dredging to provide a width of 45 meters and for a three (3) meters draft (depth) to enable transport of passengers and goods between Varanasi and Hoogly on river Ganga in the first stage of its development and eleven terminals are proposed to be constructed along the banks. He said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms.” This was a shocking and arrogant announcement. There is nothing in public domain about this Rs 6000 crores plan, no details as to what exactly is planned, where the barrages are planned, why are they needed, what are their environmental impacts, what are the social impacts, what are the riverine impacts, what is the cost and benefits, who will pay the costs and who will reap the benefits, where is public consultation….there is absolutely nothing in public domain and here is a nine day old government declaring such massive plan! By July 7, 2014, the PIB Press Release declared that the depth will now by 5 meters and not three announced earlier. The PIB PR now said, “He (Mr Gadkari) said barrages are proposed to be constructed at every 100 Kms on the river. Shri Gadkari said his Ministry has sent a proposal in this regard to World Bank for the development of Allahabad- Haldia corridor.”
The minister possibly does not know that there is just one barrage on the Allahabad-Haldia 1500 km long stretch, namely the Farakka barrage and Bangladesh had threatened India to take the matter about building this barrage to the UN! Moreover, that barrage, everyone accepts, has not even achieved the basic objective it was supposed to achieve, namely navigability of Kolkata port, but has had many other severe impacts.
At Ganga Manthan, Mr Gadkari dropped a bombshell when he said this plan is already in advanced stage of appraisal with the World Bank! He said the government hopes to get Rs 4000 crores from the World Bank!! The World Bank has zero track record in achieving any clean river anywhere in the world, after spending billions of dollars every year. In India itself it stands guilty of destroying many rivers. A more inauspicious start to the Ganga Manthan possibly could not have been possible. At the Ganga Manthan itself, there was opposition to this plan, as The Hindu has reported.But Ms Uma Bharti finds nothing amiss about this as was clear by her answers at the press conference. But what about at least some semblance of participatory democracy?
Business as usual at NMCG and NGBRA will not help In reality, this is not all. While this Manthan for Ganga Rejuvenation is happening, the NMCG and NGBRA (National Ganga River Basin Authority) go on with their work in business as usual fashion. So in Varanasi, the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam is going about its task of floating and examining the bids for five-part sewer laying and Sewage Treatment Plants with the help of JICA money. In Kanpur, the effort to divert several streams to Pandu is going on. In Allahabad, “the draft final ESAMP sewerage works for sewerage districts” A & C could be found on the NGBRA website. In Patna, the World Bank is funding the sewerage projects of Pahari in Patna & river front development and the draft social and environmental impact assessments could be found on NGBRA website. All of this (except the Varanasi packages, which are funded by Japanese aid agency) is going on under USD 1 Billion World Bank Funded NBGRA project.
So the business as usual that is going on for 40 years is now going to help rejuvenate Ganga!
The NMCG announced that the Manthan, a “National Dialogue on Ganga”, was supposed “to facilitate interaction with various stakeholders”, “to discuss the issues & solutions to the task of Ganga Rejuvenation”, “to prepare road map for preparation of a comprehensive plan”. The website said the Ganga is “holiest of Rivers”, “purifier of mortal beings” & “living godess”, but now “seriously polluted” and in “extreme environmental stress”.
Where is the dialogue? However, the way the meeting was organized, there was essentially no dialogue. After the inaugural plenary session, the participants were divided among four groups: 1. spiritual leaders, 2. environmentalists, NGOs, water conservationists, 3. scientists, academicians and technocrats, and administrators; 4. public representatives.
I went to the second group and there, when someone pointedly asked, if there is any representative of the government present, there was no response! In fact it was positively shocking that the first panel member that spoke in this group was Dr Arun Kumar of AHEC (Alternate Hydro Energy Centre) whose work on Ganga basin cumulative impact assessment is so discredited that even the official agencies like the Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF, the Inter-ministerial Group on Ganga, the Expert Body appointed by the Supreme Court after the June 2013 flood disaster and the Supreme Court itself has criticized it or found it unreliable. NMCG has discredited itself by appointing such a person to give an overview of achievement of Ganga Action Plans.
Ms Bharti apologized in the beginning for hurriedly-called meeting. But the least she could have ensured was a credible process that will ensure that the officials have to show application of mind to the various suggestions received and conduct of the meeting in credible and confidence inspiring way. But the meeting did not inspire confidence that there will be any credible process that will ensure that there is application of mind to the various inputs given. Many of the participants did not have any opportunity to speak.
Recommendations for the government on Ganga
1. Make an honest effort to learn from the past. Why have the efforts of last 40 years since the passage of Water Pollution Act 1974 not helped Ganga? Similarly why did the GAP I, NRCP, GAP II, NGBRA not helped make the Ganga clean (nirmal) or perennial (aviral)?
2. Understand & recognise that Ganga is a river and what are the essential characteristics of a Ganga that it needs to rejuvenate it as a river. At Ganga Manthan, in post lunch session in the room where the fourth group for public representatives was sitting, I was sitting next to an official of Ministry of Water Resources and I casually asked him does the ministry of water resources understand what is a river? He first said yes, but when I said you are only dealing with water and nowhere in your work have we seen any value for rivers, he said ok, but we can do it in collaboration with MoEF. The trouble is, even MoEF does not understand rivers. [It was also strange to see in this session Mr Madhav Chitale (former Water Resources Secretary) describing Tennessee Valley Authority of 1933 as an effort to clean the river! Such misrepresentation going unchallenged was shocking.] It should be remembered that it is this ministry of water resources through which Sushri Uma Bharti has to achieve a rejuvenated Ganga!
3. Ganga is not 2525 km long river: We kept hearing this sentence that Ganga is 2525 km length of river and Mr Bhurelal in fact said we need to limit ourselves to discussing how to make this stretch clean. The trouble is, if the tributaries are not healthy rivers, how can the main stem of Ganga be rejuvenated? As Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan said, Ganga is not 2525 km, but much more than 25000 km including all the tributaries, as Yamuna is not 1400 km long but 13470 km long including all the tributaries.
4. Ganga in Mountains: Learn the lessons from Uttarakhand disaster, that affected the headwaters of the Ganga river. The Expert body constituted by the MoEF under Dr Ravi Chopra has a lot to say there. Revisit all the existing, under construction and planned projects in the whole basin.
5. Farakka barrage: It is well known that the barrage did not serve the basic purpose it was created for, namely making the Kolkata port navigable. But it has created such havoc in upstream and downstream for millions of people that some of the Bihar MPs of previous Lok Sabhas talked about decommissioning of the barrage in the debate on Ganga. But this government wants to make many more barrages! First do a post facto assessment of the Farakka barrage and its current costs, benefits and risks.
6. Formulate an Urban Water Policy: The footprint of the urban areas on the rivers is increasing in multiple ways, but we have no urban water policy. Some key elements that such a policy will include: Reducing transmission & Distribution losses, water audit from RWA upwards, Rainwater harvesting, decentralised and eco-friendly ways of sewage treatment and recycle, groundwater recharge and bottom up management, demand side management, protection of local water bodies, protection of riverbeds, floodplains and forest areas & democratisation of the Urban water utilities. As the working report for the 12th Five Year Plan on Urban water said, no Urban areas should be allowed to have external water till they exhaust their local potential, including recycling of the treated sewage and other demand side and supply side options. The footprint of the urban areas will increase exponentially if we do not urgently on this front.
7. Agriculture is the biggest user of water and our government encourages use of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture. Most of these chemicals end up in water bodies including rivers. If we do not want our rivers to be dumping grounds for these chemicals, the government should encourage organic farming. Similarly, in stead of encouraging water intensive cropping patterns and methods, government needs to encourage low water use crops and methods like System of Rice Intensification (SRI). SRI is applicable for many crops and can reduce water need by upto 50% and yet increase yields and incomes of farmers. But the government has shown no interest in encouraging SRI. Such methods can free up a lot of water for the river. Similarly, under the influence of powerful sugar lobby, we are producing more sugarcane and sugar than we need and than we are exporting the same at subsidized rates! So essentially we are exporting water at huge subsidized rates, that too from Ganga, but we have no water for the river!
8. Irrigation is the biggest user of water. At Bhimgoda, Bijnor and Narora barrages, we are diverting almost all the water in the river for irrigation. But we have no water for the river. If we change our water resources development and agriculture policies, it is possible to restrict these diversions to 50% and release the rest for the river. We need to review all this.
9. The IIT consortium report is seriously flawed and is not likely to help the river.
10. We need to define the path of the riverbed or right of way for the river, based on its need to carry 100 year flood and silt. In absence of such a defined space for the river, there are a lot of encroachments. There is also no river regulation law to regulate this riverways land. This is urgently required.
11. Our Pollution Control Boards and related mechanism is not known to have achieved a single clean river or nala in 40 years of their existence, anywhere in the country. This is because of the completely non transparent, unaccountable, non participatory and exclusive bodies, where people whose lives are affected by the pollution have no role. A complete revamp of this is required to make its management inclusive from block level upwards, and answerable to the local people through clearly defined management system.
12. One of the major reason for the failure of the GAP, NRCP and NGBRA is that their functioning is top down, with absolutely no clearly defined norms for transparency, accountability, participation and inclusive management. Unless we completely change this, no amount of money, no amount of technology, no amount of infrastructure or institutions is going to help the Ganga. We need management system for every STP, every freshwater plant, every city and town, every 3-5 km of the river, every tributary and so on. At least 50% members of the management committees for each of them should be from outside the government, including community members. The people whose lives and livelihoods depend on river including fisherfolk, boatspeople, river bed cultivators, local sand miners, communities depending on river for different water needs have to be represented in such management system. That will also create an ownership in river rejuvenation effort. This is also applicable to urban areas and all the tributaries.
13. This is also true for our environmental governance of dams, hydropower projects, flood control projects, water supply projects, and so on. Today there is no credible environmental management at planning, appraisal, construction, operation or decommissioning stage.
14. River of course needs water. Urgently. Chart out a road map to achieve 50% of freshwater releases from all dams and barrages in two years. Also no sewage water or effluents entering the river in two years.
In the concluding plenary, after listening to the reports from four groups (there were a lot of positive and useful suggestions there), Ms Uma Bharti and Mr Gadkari said that they won’t make any announcement today but they will ensure that the good suggestions that have come will be given to the decision-makers who will create a road map. This is very vague and unconvincing process with no credible transparency. The least the ministers could have assured is a confidence-inspiring process that would transparently ensure that the decision makers have applied their minds to the suggestions. But even that was not promised.
Despite this seemingly gloomy outcome, considering that the NMCG has invited suggestions even after the meeting, I am going to send this blog link to them and wait for their response! Ganga definitely needs a lot of sewa from all of us if the river is to have any better future.
 Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation
 Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Shipping, Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, Drinking Water & Sanitation
 It’s worth noting here that Mr Gadkari seems to have abiding faith in technology, he said that this is an age of technology and there are technological solutions for all problems! This possibly shows where we are heading!
 Title: “Development of River Ganga for Tourism, Transport and to make it Environment Friendly”