In April 2023, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research – National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (CSIR-NEERI) submitted its report to the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), highlighting certain special properties of the Ganga River water.
A previous study conducted by the same group of institutions concluded that “the Ganga finds its own way to survive despite unabated disposal of waste, yet warranting immediate attention to protect its special properties.” These studies scientifically reinforce the collective faith of the country, which considers the river to be sacred.
Despite the deep reverence that remains intrinsic to the river’s imagery, the health of the river has suffered in recent decades. The Government of India has been making concerted efforts to clean River Ganga. These include the launch of Ganga Action Plan I (1985), Ganga Action Plan II (1993), National River Conservation Plan (1995), and National Ganga River Basin Authority (2009). However, the outcomes of such efforts were marred by more failures than successes.
In 2014, the Government of India announced the Namami Gange Mission as a flagship initiative. This ushered in a paradigm shift in river basin governance and management, as unlike its predecessors, the Namami Gange Mission is armed with a multi-sectoral and holistic vision that strives to rejuvenate the Ganga River and its riverine ecosystem.
The rationale echoes the UN-mandated Sustainable Development Goal 6.6 – “By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers, and lakes.” In simpler terms, the goal is not just to clean the river in silos but to rejuvenate the riverine ecosystem in its entirety. In fact, in March 2023, NMCG participated in the UN Water Conference 2023 held in New York, United States of America, and submitted two commitments: “River Cities Alliance: Partnership for Developing International River Sensitive Cities” and “Scaling up Technology Driven Nature-Based Solutions for River Rejuvenation,” which reflect its commitments to achieve the SDGs.
In the newly launched mission, the Government of India has ensured that no stone is left unturned to yield successful outcomes for Ganga rejuvenation. The first step in this direction was the empowerment of NMCG, i.e., Namami Gange’s implementing agency.
Accordingly, in 2016, NMCG was notified as an authority with statutory powers under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, which gave it regulatory, financial, and administrative empowerment, leading to faster decision-making. Additionally, the Authority Notification Order 2016 has also enabled NMCG to adopt a collaborative governance model, ensuring that there is an amalgamation of a top-down and a bottom-up approach to its policy-making decisions.
As of 31st May 2023, 441 projects worth Rs 37,300 Cr are sanctioned under various project components, Against this, 251 projects are completed, and the remaining are under various stages of execution
To ensure the unpolluted and unrestricted flow of the river, extensive efforts are being made to augment the treatment capacity of the Ganga River Basin. As on 31st May 2023, 193 sewerage infrastructure projects worth Rs 30,797 Cr are sanctioned to create/ rehabilitate a cumulative treatment capacity of 6,030 MLD and lay 5251 km sewer network.
Against this, 105 projects are completed to create/ rehabilitate 2,610 MLD treatment capacity and lay 4,423 km sewer network. The introduction of the two innovative models of Hybrid Annuity Model for Public-Private Partnership and One City One has also been a game changer. For industrial pollution abatement, sector-specific interventions are being carried out to minimize pollution.
In parallel, deliberate interventions focusing on the softer components of ecosystem restoration are also being rolled out. Recognizing the right of the river over its own water was key to ensuring the minimum flow and river health in the long run. This was achieved through the release of the Ecological Flow Notification 2018. Other efforts include the enumeration of floodplains within ten kilometers of the river through inventorization, developing integrated basin management plans for recharging groundwater and other water bodies, wetland conservation, and small river rejuvenation, etc.
For the long-term sustainability of the interventions, the need of the hour is to strengthen the connection between people and rivers. Regular activities are being conducted with the support of dedicated cadres of Ganga saviors for community mobilization and public awareness. Fostering research studies and implementing sustainable policies have also played an influential role in the decision-making process for Ganga River rejuvenation.
Striking the optimal balance between natural resource management and the generation of livelihood opportunities, the Arth Ganga concept has taken center stage since January 2022. These include collaborations with the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Art of Living, Patanjali, and Sahakar Bharati for the promotion of natural farming; Ranching of over 81 lakh IMC, 8,000 Mahseer, and 90,000 Hilsa in the Ganga River; the launch of the JALAJ Livelihood Model (a biodiversity- sensitive livelihood) at 36 locations; the release of the National Framework for Safe Reuse of Treated Water; MoUs with the Ministry of Power, Ministry of Railways, and Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare for the reuse of treated wastewater; the commissioning of the 20 MLD Mathura Tertiary Treatment Plant for the supply of treated wastewater to IOCL’s Mathura Refinery, and more.
Under Namami Gange Mission’s collaborative ‘Urban Agenda’, a historic moment was the launch of the River Cities Alliance (RCA) in November 2021. With 123 member cities, RCA provides opportunities to ideate, discuss, and exchange information for the sustainable management of urban rivers.
RCA is a collaborative effort of the National Mission for Clean Ganga, the Ministry of Jal Shakti, and the National Institute of Urban Affairs, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. The recently held RCA Global Seminar on May 4th, 2023, welcomed international river cities to share their experiences with Indian counterparts.
The Mission’s endeavors to restore the riverine ecosystem are reflected in its approach to promote river-sensitive cities. Central to this is the development of Urban River Management Plans (URMPs) for river cities, which comprise three key elements: Environmental (the river to support a habitat for biodiversity to thrive), Economic (the river to provide opportunities for economic development), and Social (the river to be celebrated among the citizens). Together, they propose the 10 River Development Goals (elucidated below), thereby exemplifying the multi-pronged initiative to restore the riverine ecosystem in alignment with SDG 6.6.
- To ensure effective regulation of activities in the floodplain
- To keep the river free from pollution
- To rejuvenate water bodies and wetlands in the city
- To enhance the riparian buffer along riverbanks
- To adopt increased reuse of treated wastewater
- To ensure maximum good quality return flow from the city into the river
- To develop eco friendly riverfront projects
- To leverage on the economic potential of the river
- To inculcate river-sensitive behavior among citizens
- To engage citizens in river management activities
In the last nine years, the Namami Gange Mission has achieved significant milestones to actualize its long-term vision. The water quality has considerably improved with the Dissolved Oxygen (DO) levels now within acceptable limits throughout the length of the river, and the Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) is under the set standards, except for two stretches wherein it exceeds the limits by a few points.
The stretch up to Haridwar, Uttarakhand has reached Class A, which is the highest standard of water quality. Over 30,000 hectares in the basin have been afforested. Improved biodiversity, as evidenced by increased sightings of dolphins, turtles, Hilsa, otters, Gharials, etc., also reflects the improved health of the river and its riverine ecosystem.
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On December 13th, 2022, the Namami Gange Mission was recognized as a World Restoration Flagship by the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration during the Conference on Biological Diversity (COP15) in Montreal, Canada. The selection was made based on the tireless efforts to restore the Ganga – by reviving both nature and people’s connection to the river. The award of such a prestigious recognition by the UN has further bolstered the morale of the mission and its stakeholders, along with attributing international legitimacy to the efforts undertaken.
Views expressed by:
G Asok Kumar, IAS, Director General, NMCG
Dheeraj Joshi, Deputy Secretary, NMCG
Sumit Chakraborty, Urban Planning Lead, NMCG PMC
Sharmi Palit, Institutional Associate, NMCG PMC