- The bill focuses on cleanliness, uninterrupted flow and penalties
- The draft has been sent to state governments and ministries
- The draft is expected to be tabled in Parliament’s Winter session
With the Union Government stepping up its initiatives to clean the Ganga of pollution, numerous measures, announcements and projects have been announced. Namami Gange, the Centre’s flagship programme has announced a range of projects to restore the river’s flow and put a total stoppage to the flow of untreated sewage into the river. Among many such measures, the National River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Bill 2017 was proposed in July 2016. The Bill is aimed to address various critical issues pertaining to the river. Since its submission to the Ministry of Water Resources in April 2017, the Bill has been reviewed by experts and the constitution committee to incorporate additional inputs, as well as modify existing clauses. The draft Bill has been prepared by keeping its nature similar to the Highways Act, which gives the Centre absolute authority over roads designated as national highways. The Bill will empower the Centre to have final say on disputes over the river’s water management between states.
What the Bill Consists of?
The Bill addresses three major issues related to the Ganga. The three issues the Bill primarily focuses on are the river’s cleanliness, its uninterrupted flow and corresponding penalties in violating norms of pollution which affect the river. Apart from these, the Bill also recognises the numerous challenges faced regularly by authorities in maintaining the wholesomeness of the river due to continuous demand of water from both industrial and domestic sources.
On addressing the river’s cleanliness issues, the Bill recognises how the river is still unclean in numerous parts of the five basin states through which the river flows. Each basin state’s behaviour in terms of the river flow was studied carefully by the drafting committee. The unclean nature of the river in certain parts contaminates the water, making it unfit for domestic or industrial use.
The Bill studied the principal reasons behind the unclean nature of the river in the states and pointed out how disposal of waste and human activities in these states have resulted in grave uncleanliness in the river. The Bill proposes measures to be undertaken by the state authorities and other ministries. One such measure proposed by the Bill is the declaration of areas a kilometre from the Ganga and its tributaries as water saving zones. This will ensure that no water is wasted within a kilometre of the river, gradually lessening the amount of water used or wasted from the river.
The Bill also stresses on uninterrupted flow of the river. The flow of Ganga, is severely inconsistent across all its five basin states. Due to less water flow in many parts, particularly Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, ecological life in Ganga has nearly become nil in many parts of these states. The Bill proposes extensive studying of the areas where water flow is drastically low and proposes measures such as non-withdrawal of water from such areas, to be implemented by state governments, as well as redirecting water from more populous regions of the river to the low level ones. The Bill also proposes continuous monitoring and studying of such areas to ensure the gradual increase in water flow.
The most unique aspect of the Bill, is the number of penalties it proposes to be imposed on those engaging in violating the river’s ecological balance. The penalty section of the Bill addresses all major violations which have been known to contribute to Ganga’s dismal state. The panel recommends absolute prohibition of activities such as illegal sand mining, quarrying, fishing, causing discontinuity in the river’s water flow, contaminating the river by disposal of pollutants, withdrawing water without permission from authorities and other similar acts. Causing discontinuity of water flow in the river has been particularly pointed out as a severe offence in the Bill, which can result in imprisonment of up to two years and a hefty fine of up to Rs 100 crore. Fines for violations such as illegal sand mining and disposal of waste are to be set at Rs 50,000.
The draft, if it becomes legislation will be first of its kind in India. We have focused on the three major aspects of the river’s problems which need to be acted upon. The penalties proposed in the draft will ensure that violations of the river do not go unchecked anymore, said Arun Kumar Gupta, Advocate and one of the members of the drafting committee.
The Bill is still being reread and reviewed by not only the Draft Committee members, but will soon be sent to the five basin states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, as well as other Central Ministries for their inputs. The committee is open to accommodating suggestions from the basin states, especially if they are to highlight any particular problem related to the flow of the river or its ecological state. The Ministry of Water Resources plans to table the draft in the Winter session of the Parliament in December, for passage in the lower house.
In less than a year, the draft has been readied and sent to ministries and state governments for their inputs. We want suggestions and inputs from all necessary bodies which are related to the Ganga. We are hopeful of collating their suggestions soon so that the draft can be presented in the Parliament’s Winter session, said Samir Sinha, Spokesperson, Ministry of Water Resources.