By Sudha Ramachandran
September 15, 2014
Narendra Modi will need more than just rhetoric to clean up India’s most important river.
Already, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cleanup plan for the Ganges river has come in for criticism from various quarters. The sharpest censure came recently from India’s Supreme Court, which observed that the government’s action plan may not result in a clean Ganges “even after 200 years.”
The apex court has ordered the government to provide a cleanup plan with stages and a schedule.
Promises to clean the Ganges figured in Modi’s election speeches and in his party’s election manifesto. Soon after coming to power in May, he signaled that the Ganges would be a priority by creating a Ministry for Water Resources, River Development and Ganges Rejuvenation. A flurry of meetings followed. In July, the government announced “Namami Ganga,” (in Sanskrit it means “obeisance to the Ganges”), an Integrated Ganges Development Project, and allocated around $334 million for it. It promised a clean Ganges in three years.
However, little is known about the Ganges project or what it entails.
“All we have are some indications in a statement here and a report there of some of the likely elements of the plan: cleaning the Ganges, removing the pollution, environmental flows, at least one branch of Ganges to be free-flowing, construction of ghats [steps leading to the river] at some selected points, and making the Ganges navigable from Allahabad to Haldia,” observes Shripad Dharmadhikary, founder of Manthan Adhyayan Kendra, an NGO that works on water-related issues. “But there is no clarity about each of these components and how they would fit together,” he told The Diplomat.
Modi’s Clean Ganges crusade, while rich in rhetoric, seems parsimonious on details.