Ganga, the most revered river in India, has been facing challenges to stay ‘nirmal & aviral’ owing to sewerage, industrial effluents, agricultural waste, and more. To curb the menace of pollution in Ganga, the Ministry of Jal Shakti through its National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) has been making recurring efforts and implementing solutions, says Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, Director General, NMCG, in an interview with Nisha Samant Purbey and Adarsh Som of Elets News Network (ENN).
The National Mission for Clean Ganga commenced in 2011. In your perspective, what are the significant changes seen in the river and its surrounding towns & cities in the past decade?
Ganga is a cultural, spiritual and economic mainstay of the country and attempts have been made in the past right from 1985 for its cleaning with the Ganga Action Plan and later through several other programs. National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) was set up in 2011 in the context of the World Bank assisted National Ganga River basin project as a registered society. The approach was mostly limited to constructing STPs in selected cities. The new approach initiated with the launch of “Namami Gange” during 2014-15 is an integrated mission for rejuvenation of Ganga and its tributaries with assured funding of Rs 20,000 crore.
The NMCG, backed by Ganga River Basin Management Plan by a consortium of seven IITs, has a holistic multi-sectoral, multi-agency and multi-level approach in four broad categories – Pollution Abatement (Nirmal Ganga); Improving flow and ecology (Aviral Ganga); Strengthening People, River connect (Jan Ganga) and Research, knowledge management (Gyan Ganga). Unlike previous efforts, it is not limited to cleaning or piecemeal selected city interventions but follows river centric, basin-based approach for comprehensive rejuvenation. It is based on learnings from the past and also from some of the global best practices for river rejuvenation. Namami Gange’s major components include the creation of sewerage infrastructure, solid waste management, industrial pollution abatement, rural sanitation, and water quality monitoring, environmental flow, riverfront development, afforestation and biodiversity conservation, sustainable agriculture, public participation and policies, research & innovation.
As many as 335 projects have been sanctioned under the Namami Gange at a cost of Rs 29,578 crore. Of these 142 projects have been completed and the remaining are under execution. The pace of execution has increased many folds reflected in the total expenditure of Rs 9,795.62 crore from 2014 till February 2021. This approach is now considered a model for application for rejuvenation of other rivers in the country. It integrates river, tributaries, wetlands, flood plains, springs and small rivers as a single system. An integrated administrative structure from national to district level facilitates shared vision, convergence, effective implementation and involvement of people.
Projects have been taken up as per a comprehensive plan for all the 97 cities/towns on the banks of Ganga including rehabilitation and upgradation of old plants. Subsequently, projects for tributaries have also been started. Major drains falling into Ganga have been intercepted and diverted to STPs.
All projects along Ganga have been completed in Uttarakhand and Jharkhand. Most of the projects in Kanpur, Prayagraj and Varanasi and other Ganga towns in Uttar Pradesh have also been completed. The annual inspection of grossly polluting industries by expert institutions, online monitoring, process improvement, Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) helped in checking industrial pollution. Improving sanitation at ghats, stopping solid waste from entering the river, surface water cleaning and improving process capacity in ULBs have helped. 4500 Ganga Grams to be ODF. These pollution abatement initiatives have shown consistently improved water quality trend as compared to the situation in 2014. This improvement in the quality of water is established through people’s engagement. Kumbh is an example.
The historic Notification of Ecological flow for the river Ganga in October 2018 is a big step for Aviral Ganga. Demarcation and protection of floodplains, protection & conservation of wetlands, especially floodplain and urban wetlands, spring and small river rejuvenation projects are under implementation. Sustainable Agriculture is being promoted through organic farming, eco-agriculture and medicinal plantation and improving water use efficiency. The demand-side management, rainwater harvesting, aquifer mapping and recharge are in progress.
Afforestation along Ganga as per the scientific plan by FRI is a model for similar work for 13 more rivers. The comprehensive program for fisheries and biodiversity conservation include a baseline survey, habitat and species improvement and community involvement in the biodiversity hotspot of Ganga. The conservation of the Gangetic Dolphin, the national aquatic animal is a top priority.
People have started coming forward to help in the conservation and protection of the river. Ghat cleaning, shramdaan activities, plantation have become a regular norm.
What are the major challenges that surface when cleaning projects are carried out on the Ganga River?
During the course of River Ganga’s journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, municipal sewage from urban centres along its banks, effluents from industries, municipal solid wastes and polluting waste from several other non-point sources including agriculture get discharged into the river resulting in its pollution. Large scale abstraction of water from river Ganga for different purposes, most substantial being for agricultural use, leads to depletion of flow in certain stretches.
Treatment of municipal sewage is essentially the responsibility of urban local bodies/state government agencies, while treatment of industrial effluent is the responsibility of industries themselves. The Government of India has been supplementing their efforts by providing financial and technical assistance. In the initial years of NMCG (from 2011), the number of projects sanctioned and expenditure incurred was much less. In 2014, there were only 28 sanctioned sewerage projects for only 462.85 MLD. Further, 16 projects were sanctioned during 2014-16. The Mission further gathered momentum with authority notification for NMCG. Now we have a total of 156 sewerage infrastructure projects sanctioned to create 4856 MLD treatment capacity in the Ganga basin. We have scaled up the efforts to bridge the past gap between sewage generation and treatment capacity and create adequate capacity for 15 years.
All projects sanctioned under Namami Gange are completely funded by the Centre eliminating the delay in the release of State share to expedite execution. The construction and O&M of projects are also ensured for 15 years. Later, we introduced PPP for sewerage infrastructure for the first time in India, through Hybrid Annuity Mode (HAM) with 40 per cent of the capex being paid during construction and 60 per cent with interest by 15-year annuity with separate payment for O&M to bring a paradigm shift from payment for construction to Performance Linked Payments. The ‘One City One Operator’ approach merging rehabilitation of old and creation of new assets and O&M for all of them on HAM to improve governance was introduced. HAM is now accepted by the NITI Aayog and these innovations have now got traction in states and cities even outside Ganga basin also.
Continued support from private sector in technology innovations for water and sanitation systems is crucial. Private sector can play a major role in increased greening of infrastructure activities which can have a deep impact on ecosystems. Innovation must also originate at the local level due to the population being aware of what can realistically and effectively be implemented, considering their resources and culture. We have had NGOs coming up with innovative models of sustainably using pious waste and converting into revenue generation streams. At Namami Gange we endeavour to encourage and support such innovators with local solutions having potential to generate livelihood as well.
Challenges in the accurate information system is another area where Namami Gange has been working. We have been trying to build an integrated and composite database of multiple sectors of Namami Gange including sewerage infrastructure, water quality monitoring, etc. But with multiple organisations in play, data validation takes time and resources.
How is NMCG adopting technology interventions for various projects?
Technology is an integral part of Namami Gange’s vision for Clean Ganga. The Namami Gange programme has high priority for research and evidence based decision making and has a special place for the use of new technology including geospatial technology. The NMCG has adopted technology neutral approach in its procurement policy for contracts for sewerage projects and evaluates them based upon their lifecycle cost. This has encouraged best global technologies to participate in our projects.
Centre for Ganga Management & study was set up at IIT Kanpur for long term basin studies, new technology development. Scientific mapping of different aspects – LIDAR mapping for high-resolution DEM & GIS ready database, mapping of springs, microbial diversity, fisheries, biodiversity, helisurvey for aquifers help in evidence-based decisions. The unique cultural mapping for natural, built and intangible heritage has potential for development of tourism, heritage and traditional livelihood opportunities. Namami Gange has been recognized as India’s leading programme in using geospatial technologies towards our river cleaning work, regulating the proposed protected and regulatory zones along the banks of the river and monitoring pollution sources using cutting edge technologies like LiDAR to attain high-resolution maps and data for the entire length of Ganga with GIS ready dataset for area discharge mapping, public drainage network, features such as ghats, crematoria, STP/ETP/CETP etc. Initiating leading technologies and related engineering, NMCG has managed to enhance capabilities of the people for improving the water quality of River Ganga and its tributaries. Real-time water quality monitoring has been initiated. Bhuvan Ganga Geoportal and mobile app is available for water quality monitoring, hydrological monitoring, geomorphological monitoring, bio- resources monitoring, and a comprehensive geospatial database. We are also studying the impact of climate change with IIT Delhi to assess scenarios in future. New paradigms for planning for river cities to mainstream river health in urban planning and the national framework for reuse of treated wastewater are being formulated. Policy framework for reuse of by-products of STPs is opening several new techno-economic possibilities.
Recently, a report released by Doon University revealed that pollutants including pharmaceutical and personal care products were found in Ganga waters at Rishikesh and Haridwar stretch. What is your take on this?
Yes, we are aware of the study. I will like to inform that the findings of the study have not been represented correctly in the news articles. As per the study, the maximum concentration of any pharmaceuticals recorded in all the sampling over a period of three years was 1104 ng/l which is about 1.1μg/l or 0.001mg/l. The safe dose of such drugs (i.e amoxicillin) to human is about 1500mg/day. Thus if we consider six litres of water consumption, the intake for this compound comes around 6μg/day. Also, I would like to inform you that this maximum concentration was reported for caffeine, which is more of a product present in coffee and chocolates also. The median concentration for this compound was also 86ng/l. For all other compounds, the median concentration was 0.04μg/l or 0.00004mg/l. So, scientific findings have to be reported carefully.
Secondly, the samples were collected in 2017-19, prior to commissioning of STPs. STPs remove such pollutants up to 70-90 per cent as there are no specific standards/limits available in regulatory provision. Even after the STP treatment, these levels will remain in receiving water body. The concentration may be reduced by 90 per cent. If we compare these levels with other best-cleaned rivers, similar levels will be found in those rivers as well.
You may also like to know, that for evaluating river water quality, the standards for bathing water quality are applicable. The Bathing water parameters are Dissolved Oxygen, DO>=5; Biological Oxygen Demand, BOD<=3; Faecal Coliform, FC <=2500mpn/100ml; PH 6.5-8.5. These parameters at Rishikesh (DO – 9.8; BOD – 1; FC – 24; PH – 7.6) and Haridwar Har-ki-pauri (DO – 9.8; BOD – 1; FC – 32; PH – 7.8) the water quality median between January and November 2020 is far better. This indicates that water quality exceeds even bathing water quality.
How is NMCG ensuring citizens engagement in keeping the Ganga clean? How are the citizens being sensitised about adopting healthy practices concerning the cleanliness of the river water?
Unlike previous efforts, Jan Bhagidari is central to this mission. Nirmal & Aviral Ganga is only possible with Jan Ganga. The cleaning of Ganga has the potential to bring about massive socio-economic transformation, improved livelihoods and health benefits to the vast population dependent on the river.
Dedicated Cadres of Ganga saviours are working to reach out to the community and create awareness. They have imparted skills, supported for improving their livelihood, by linking with the conservation of biodiversity and river. Students and youth can play an important role in establishing a sound and strong river-people connect. Many youth volunteers at grass root level from Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (Ganga Doots), Ganga Praharis, Ganga Mitras, Ganga Vichar Manch, Ganga Task Force and from various NGOs and Self Help groups spread across the entire Ganga basin are helping us out to connect with children, youth, students, to sensitize them towards maintaining the purity of Ganga and its tributaries.
Public outreach activities are conducted in the form of awareness programmes, cleanliness drives, plantation drives, Ganga runs, rafting Expeditions-Ganga Aamantran, Ganga Quest, quizzes and competitions, etc. throughout the year to catalyse and motivate community volunteers and people. We also continually engage at various levels and participate in various platforms to engage with stakeholders. These have been helping in behavioural changes transforming the program as Jan Andolan. Riverfronts have been improved, kept clean. Transformation of ghats from dirty to beautiful river banks is taking place with people’s participation. I would specially mention Ganga Quest, an online quiz on Ganga and its ecosystem. It is an annual event and last year we had an unprecedented response of more than one million people participating from every nook and corner of the country and also from 10 international destinations as on a pilot basis quiz was opened to selected countries.
What role do projects like Riverfront Development play when it comes to keeping Ganga clean?
The river Ganga is an intrinsic part of the people living by its banks in its journey of more than 2500 km, which is dotted by ghats interfacing with the river in more than one way. The ghats along the Ganga are vibrant places with people from all walks of life converging for the fulfilment of different aspirations. Religious preachers, performers, boatmen, small shopkeepers, vendors, guides and tourists all mingle together. Small frames of city life can be experienced with a stroll along the riverfronts. Riverfronts are an unprecedented opportunity to create a new public realm facing towards the river that is strongly connected to the city’s urban fabric. They have the potential to become the recreational and cultural hubs of the city and have emerged as lively urban spaces.
Riverfronts add both aesthetic and economic value to the river. It serves as a medium to bring the river to the people and in doing so, riverfronts become a wonderful instrument to connect both. Connecting the people with the river will further create environmental awareness. Clean and attractive waterfront spaces provide room for a wide range of optional and social activities creating an ideal environment for tourism on the river edge.
For Ganga, riverfronts in cities like Haridwar, Patna, Rishikesh have provided ample examples of reviving people connect to the river. Patna’s riverfront project entails the development of 5.7 km long and 15ft wide walkway along the 16 ghats in the city which has amenities like decorative street lamps, public lavatories, 500 seating benches and green cover. For the residents of the city, the riverfront has become a recreational area and a cultural hub. It also helps in spreading awareness about keeping the environment clean. I have seen students from Patna University coming here to study and have group discussions. Nearby residents use the long promenade as a meditative and recreational space. Madhubani wall paintings along the walkway make it more beautiful and also convey the right messages. Atal ghat at Kanpur and Chandi ghat at Haridwar are new attractions to the cities. We have a Ganga Museum at Chandi ghat, Haridwar. Similar museum and interpretation centres are being planned at many other places. Ganga Aarti at ghats of Varanasi, Haridwar, Rishikesh are a regular feature for the tourism circuits and for locals to feel closer to the river. UP is going for Ganga Aarti in most of Ganga Grams.
NMCG has taken up extensive Ghat development along the banks of Ganga and provided better amenities like changing rooms, restrooms, benches, drinking water facilities, etc. for the pilgrims and tourists. Similarly, modern crematoria are also being constructed with improved sanitation and amenities. We have already completed more than 150 ghats and crematoria..