Allowing Swami Gyan Swarup Sanand (formerly Prof. GD Agarwal) to die unheard is perhaps the most tragic but not the only serious faux pas committed by Prime Minister Modi and his team in the matter of Ganga rejuvenation. It was actually the culmination of a series of missteps that began early in his tenure.
It can reasonably be presumed that candidate Modi was sincere and serious when he made those famous statements at Varanasi during his campaign (and even later) regarding Ganga rejuvenation. They seemed straight from his heart and seemed to be convincing to many. Everybody thought, “Here is a Prime Minister, who does not – contrary to his predecessor – need goading to make all the right noises”. Hopefully these noises shall result into right actions as well. So much so that Swami Sanand waited almost four years before making his discomfort on lack of any worthwhile progress on Ganga rejuvenation known directly to the Prime Minister. He wrote a number of letters before and after embarking (beginning 22 June 2018) on his legendary 111 day fast that ultimately led to his martyrdom on 11 Oct 2018.
Ganga is hotter but Yamuna is hot too, with a number of suitors now trying to chase it, thanks to Prime Minister Modi’s often expressed desire for a rejuvenated Ganga.
But Sinya Ejima, the JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) chief in India takes the cake, when he expects to swim and drink the Yamuna waters in Delhi in 2017 (thanks to JICA’s assistance to the Yamuna Action Plan, YAP) .
But is there more to this public declaration of bravado by Mr Ejima than that meets the eye? Let us try and decipher..
It was way back in 1993-94 when Government of India launched Yamuna Action Plan with an objective to “bring the water quality of the river back to bathing level” with JICA’s (then called the JBIC) assistance. In popular scientific ‘pollution’ parlance, it meant achieving a BOD level of 3 mg per liter all through the length of the 1376 km river from Yamunotri till Allahabad.
Yamuna Action Plan was implemented like its predecessor Ganga Action Plan (GAP) as primarily a pollution abatement effort in 21 cities in Haryana and UP and the National Capital territory of Delhi and claimed to have created a total sewage treatment capacity of 753 MLD at a total cost of Rs 682 crores (1 Crore = 10 million).
YAP II began, again with JICA assistance, in 2003 at a total cost of Rs 624 crore for abatement of pollution of river Yamuna in Delhi, UP (98 towns) and Haryana (6 towns). It claims to have created additional sewage treatment capacity of 189 MLD.
Yamuna Action Plan III, again with JICA assistance with a projected life span of 7 years is currently underway since 2012 and is aimed again at the pollution abatement in the city of Delhi. The cost estimate of YAP III is Rs 1656 crores and its components include rehabilitation of damaged trunk sewers in the Kondli and Rithala catchments; rehabilitation and modernization of STPs at Okhla, Rithala and Kondli in tune with the under preparation sewerage master plan for the city.
Against all the above mentioned efforts, tall claims and money spent (largely national debt), the Central Pollution Control Board, in response to the Supreme Court of India, reported in March 2012:
“River Yamuna is not conforming to the desired levels from Panipat downstream to Agra downstream due to higher concentration of one or the other criteria pollutants.” The report added that “efforts of state governments of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and the National Capital Territory of Delhi for collection and treatment of waste water are not showing improvement in the water quality of river Yamuna.”
Clearly, all the past efforts at the ‘cleaning’ of river Yamuna mostly with JICA assistance (read loan) have failed.
So, what could have prompted this new found source of energy and bravado as shown by Mr Ejima, the JICA chief in India at a presentation the other day at the India-Japan joint working group meet on Urban Development on ‘JICA’s Operations In Urban Sector in India’ in Delhi?
It is no longer a secret that following Prime Minister Modi’s clarion call from the ghats in Varanasi for the rejuvenation of river Ganga (and by implication its other tributaries like Yamuna), there has been a sudden and newly-found interest in rivers of India by countries like Holland, Germany, France and Australia (to name but a few) and a regular stream of experts/visitors (read consultants) there from can be found making the rounds of the corridors of power in New Delhi.
All this could be unnerving and a turf threat to any ‘established’ provider of goods and services in the name of river cleaning in India, say the likes of JICA, and possibly thus the said show of bravado by its chief in India.
However, the so-called river ‘cleaning’ route focused on pollution abatement as the primary means of river ‘rejuvenation’ is in our understanding fundamentally flawed and hence destined to fail. Results of all past similar efforts validate our stand.
If only we could begin practicing the basic principle of a ‘River’ and ‘Sewer’ not meant to mix, and that all sewerage improvement works (main component of JICA assistance) in cities of India be treated and planned as a strategy of ushering in a sound urban management, rather than river rejuvenation?
Sine qua non for any river rejuvenation is the restoration of its flow in its most natural state.
However, if true to his words, Mr Sinya with his tested and failed (unfortunately) primarily pollution abatement efforts can still manage to restore the Yamuna enough to swim and drink its waters in the year 2017, we would love to toast him as a national river restoration icon. AMEN.