Allahabad: A woman takes a dip in the muddy water of River Ganga, in Allahabad, Wednesday, Sept 26, 2018. (PTI Photo) Image Credit: PTI

 EXCLUSIVE: 

"Mother Ganges has called me."

This was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s oft repeated cry on the stump when he chose to contest the 2014 elections from Varanasi.

In every public meeting Modi addressed, he promised to restore the “nirmalta” (cleanliness) and avralta (free flow) of the River Ganges. Modi’s own government and the Parliamentary Committee on Estimates has found that while thousands of crores of rupees have been spent on the “Clean Ganges Project”, it turned out to be yet another Modi jumla (fake claim). 

The “Swach Bharat” (Clean India) flagship project that Modi announced from the ramparts of the Red Fort has also met the same fate –  a very expensive “jumla”.

"No improvement"

The National Green Tribunal has said the Modi government has spent Rs7,000 crores (Dh3500 million) in just two years, but there has been no improvement to the condition of the Ganges.

The Parliamentary Committee on Estimates, which is chaired by senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Murli Manohar Joshi, has pulled no punches in castigating the Modi government. It has expressed concern that expert opinion has been disregarded. The committee has “deplored the casual attitude of the Modi government to the issue”.

A copy of the 24th report of the estimates committee and the action-taken report of the 16th Lok Sabha is exclusively available with Gulf News.

The Ganges is practically dead because more than 1.3 billion litres of sewage; 260 million litres of industrial waste; run-off from six million tonnes of fertiliser and 9000 tonnes of pesticides used in agriculture; and very large quantities of solid waste are released daily into the river held sacred in India.

A man washes himself on the banks of the river Ganges in Varanasi - Reuters

The report says that taking into consideration these facts of pollution “Ganga water can no longer be described as life giving and holy”. On the contrary, the Ganges has been declared as one of the 10 most polluted rivers in the world.

In a shocking admission, the secretary, water resources “candidly admitted the connect between nirmalta and avralta, stressing that unless the river is free flowing it would not be clean”.

The estimates committee report dryly observes that when it asked “secretary, environment whether damming of the river would help pollution or whether it would aggravate pollution, the secretary, environment was not in a position to give a definitive answer as he felt it would depend on multiple factors”.

Even worse, the government could not furnish decadal data of the lean and non-lean season flows of the Ganges right from 1951. The committee also asked pointed questions on whether human ashes pollute the river. Expert hydrologists made it clear that burnt human ashes purify the river.

A man sits next to a damaged idol of Kali which was taken out after its immersion in the river Ganges in Haridwar - Reuters

Where's the money?

Arsenic concentration levels and arsenic genesis in the Ganges Brahmaputra-Meghna basin have long caused concern. The report says: “The committee is appalled to note the way different arsenic genesis studies proposal have been dealt with by the government. The government has repeatedly ensured that funds are not available to reputed institutions such as NIH-Roorkee, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Kanpur for this purpose. Even proposed collaborations with foreign universities, including Herriot Watt University and Edinburgh, UK, for support were declined on administrative grounds in 2015 by the Modi government.

An excerpt from the 24th report of the estimates committee and the action-taken report of the 16th Lok Sabha - Exclusive to Gulf News

The Murli Manohar Joshi-led committee has taken exception to the manner different studies are denied funds and support by various ministries and departments.

So while the Namami Ganges project is a giant failure, the estimates committee also pointed out to the glaring flop show that is the Modi government’s flagship programme of toilet construction under the much publicised “Swach Bharat mission” for which “clean Ganges” project taxpayers pay a cess.

What good are toilets without clean water?

In what is a huge embarrassment to the Modi government, the committee notes the testimony of experts that the toilets being built under the Swach/Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan are not being used by the beneficiaries.

An excerpt from the 24th report of the estimates committee and the action-taken report of the 16th Lok Sabha - Exclusive to Gulf News

This is because they lack privacy, comfort and generate a stench, forcing families to defecate in open fields. This defeats the very purpose of providing toilets at their homes.

Further, the lack of availability of water in sufficient quantities also seems to be one of the reasons for them abandoning toilets at home and opting to defecate in open fields.

Swati Chaturvedi’s book “I am a Troll - Inside the BJP’s secret digital army” has received international acclaim. Her twitter handle is @Bainjal.

Background

In 2014 Narendra Modi, on the day of filing his nomination to be elected into the Lok Sabha, said to the congregation in Varanasi, “I have been called here by Mother Ganga” before vowing to clean up the river – considered holy for most Hindus.

The subject of a clean Ganges has been in discussion for years based on a public interest litigation or PIL filed by environmental crusader M. C. Mehta in 1985 seeking the Supreme Court’s intervention on cleaning of the river.

In 2014 a strong-worded statement was sent out by the bench handling the PIL then, led by Chief Justice T S Thakur. “Don't give us a vision plan, an artist's view. It may take 200 years to implement,” the bench said.

The statement was clear, "We get to know that INR2,000 crore [around Dh1000 million] has already gone down the drain and the river is still polluted. Fortunately, money is not a problem for the government. But we want to see results on the ground. Show us the output which can be objectively verified. Are you serious about completing the clean-up exercise during your current tenure or want to keep it alive as a poll issue for the next general elections also.”

■ This led to an affidavit being submitted by the Joint Secretary to the Govt. of India and Mission Director, National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) to the court detailing the new “Namami Ganga”.

On January 24, 2015 the Supreme Court transferred the 1985 PIL to the National Green Tribunal which was involved in the hearings since 2014. A bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar and comprising Justice N V Ramana said “time constraints unfortunately” did not allow the apex court to do monitoring on a continuing basis while the NGT could do so. The bench also directed the NGT to file interim reports every six months on the progress or lack thereof on the ‘Namami Ganga’ project.

Over two years later in 2017, the National Green Tribunal commented, “Not a single drop of the Ganga has been cleaned.”

In 2018, the National Green Tribunal said that innocent people drank and bathed in the river with reverence, without knowing that it may adversely affect their health. 

Compiled by Dona Cherian