- Projects worth Rs 4,100 crores approved over the last 3 months
- Majority of the amount to be used to construct STPs
- Namami Gange has a total budget of Rs 20,000 crores
New Delhi: The problem of untreated sewage disposal in Ganga has plagued the river and its surroundings for years, resulting in large scale pollution. Namami Gange, the Union Government’s multi-crore ambitious programme to cleanse the Ganga of pollution and restore its water flow has finally gathered steam. To tackle the problem of sewage disposal, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) approved projects worth Rs 1,917 crore to create sewage treatment infrastructure in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand and Delhi. These states will see 100 per cent sewage treatment once the sewage treatment facilities are functional. Haridwar, Rishikesh, Vrindavan, Varanasi, Allahabad and Delhi have been identified as the key centres where these treatment plants will be built.
In total, projects worth Rs 4,100 crores have been approved in the last three months for all the states which are a part of the Ganga basin. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s review of the programme in May, several meetings have been held by NMCG officials to speed up the progress of Namami Gange.
In the last three months, several meetings have been held by NMCG officials, along with representatives of state level management committees. When Namami Gange began, construction of sewage treatment plants (STPs) was the highest priority. The newly built STPs will ensure that there is complete stoppage of flow of untreated sewage into the Ganga, said Samir Sinha, Spokesperson, Ministry of Water Resources.
While it is heartening to learn that several thousand crores are being sanctioned to build STPs around Ganga, as well as undertake afforestation projects worth Rs. 61.5 crore in the five Ganga dependent states, it remains to be seen whether the construction of STPs is rapid enough to meet the deadline of October 2018, as set by Water Resources Minister Uma Bhart to clean Ganga. Ms. Bharti had assured that waste disposal in Ganga would come to a full stop by October next year.
Sanctioning of money is not new, as thousands of crores were allotted for the cleaning of Ganga under the Ganga Action Plan launched by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. There are several other factors which need to be taken into account when STPs are being prioritised. Sanctioning of land, availability of skilled labour, monitoring the progress of construction, all need to be simultaneously factored in. We do not know whether these are being considered by the Ministry or not, said Avnish Kumar, Programme Officer at Ganga Action Parivar.
The concern regarding other factors of STP construction is valid considering how sluggish the progress of construction has been under Namami Gange. As per an annexure released by the Union Ministry of Water Resources, out of the 63 new STPs to be constructed under Namami Gange, only 7 were completed by the end of 2016. Till 2016, sewage treatment capacity of 126.50 million litres per day (MLD) was created against the target of 1187.3 MLD. Work is on to create capacity 681.73 MLD. Despite a little over a year being left for the Ganga cleanup deadline, not enough STPs have been constructed to meet the required capacity for treating sewage.
In Delhi, 7 STPs each having a capacity of treating 94 MLD sewage has been approved, costing a total of Rs. 344.81 crore. In March 2017, a state-of-the-art STP construction project at Okhla was approved. The STP was to cost Rs. 665 crore and have a capacity to treat 564 million litres of sewage every day. Construction on the project is yet to begin. Delhi too has seen several problems in the construction of STPs due to conflicts between NMCG, The Delhi Jal Board and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD).
Maintenance of STPs is the Delhi Jal Board’s responsibility. The allotment of land is a responsibility of the MCD. Though the target to clean Ganga is October 2018, it is a shared responsibility in which all the stakeholders should cooperate equally. The target can only be achieved when the process flows seamlessly with go ahead from each official body. Along with sanctioning money, these factors should also be looked at by NMCG, said P.K. Gupta, Commissioner, North Delhi Municipal Corporation.
Projects worth Rs. 744 crore in Bihar, to set up STPs are a welcome move on behalf of the NMCG. The 6 STPs in Bihar are all under utilised, resulting in much of sewage being directly disposed off in the river in Patna and Bhagalpur. The recent meeting between Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Uma Bharti on tackling pollution and silting in Ganga has raised hopes that the Namami Gange programme will finally take off in the state, despite Bihar not forming a state level Ganga management committee yet.
Though we have renovated ghats and built crematoriums near the Ganga to address the issues of waste disposal, the STPs in the state are running under capacity. New STPs will ensure that the state is better equipped to handle treatment of sewage. With 200 MLD capacity, much of Patna’s sewage disposal problem will be addressed, said Arun Kumar Singh, Secretary, Water Resources Department, Bihar.
It remains to be seen how soon the construction of the planned STPs conclude. The tenders for construction of two STPs in Haridwar had to be renewed for bidders in March 2017 as the December 2016 bid did not attract many interested parties. Acquisition of land remains another issue which could pose potential problems, especially in the states of Bihar and West Bengal which have till now been mildly uncooperative with the NMCG in implementation of Namami Gange’s objectives.
The Namami Gange programme has finally gathered acceleration since its announcement in 2014, which is a great sign. However, considering that a lot of time has already been lost, it will be difficult for the programme to commit to all its promises of building new STPs, renovating some of the existing STPs and the various other initiatives of cleaning ghats etc. by 2018. Maybe a step-by-step focus on each of the primary objectives, rather than just looking at the deadline will be more beneficial for the programme itself, said Abhishek Anand, Project Manager, Water.org.