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Ganga cleanup: Some unanswered questions
By Sudhirendar Sharma

The euphoria and cynicism generated by the World Bank's $1 billion loan is similar to the enthusiasm Rajiv Gandhi's Ganga Action Plan had generated in 1984. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the Parliament had found in 2004 that Rs 960 crore spent on the project (till then) only ended-up increasing the level of pollution in the river.


This article was first published in March 1985 issue of Manthan (“But can the Ganga be purified? Ten pertinent questions to the Government of India”), a quarterly published by the Deendayal Research Institute). It had raised some questions on the Ganga Action Plan, which are as relevant today as these were then.

1. Can Rs 250 crore project cleanse the Ganga, when the State Pollution Control Boards and the Central Board for Pollution Control could not do so with the help of a legal weapon called the Water Pollution Control Act, 1974?

2. If the existence of Pollution Boards and the Act during the past decade is a testimony to an increase in the levels of pollution, isn't there something wrong with the functioning of the Boards and the implementation of the Act?

3. While providing sewerage treatment facilities to 29 Class 1 cities along the Ganga may not reduce pollution to even 50 per cent, how is the complete check on waste disposal to be achieved?

4. It is believed that 25 per cent of the pollution in the Ganga is caused by 132 major industries along its 2,000 km route from Haridwar to Howrah. Out of these units, 66 are on the banks of the river at Kanpur alone. Whereas providing sewerage and sewage treatment facilities is a government responsibility, industrial units are supposed to have their own treatment facilities for the wastes they generate. But none of the industries have a fool-proof waste treatment facility, though under Sections 25, 26 of the Water Pollution Control Act, the industries cannot dispose their untreated effluents into the natural water courses.

5. On the other hand, Section 33 of the Act has provided the Boards with legal powers of punishment and imprisonment to erring authorities. Also, under certain conditions the Boards can purify the effluents for the industry and recover the expenditure incurred. What then prevented these Boards from implementing the provision?

6. Political interference, business lobbies and lack of technical manpower curtailed the functioning of most of the State Pollution Boards, but it has not indicated any measures to strengthen their functioning. If, along with these Boards and the Act, a separate Ganga Authority is required to clean the river, then what will be the future role and status of these Boards?

7. The project on paper seems alright and there is every possibility of treating sewage and sullage, provided funds are available. Can all the population (informal settlements) living along the Ganga be covered under the sewerage schemes of municipalities?

8. The Ganga plan indicates a net profit of Rs 14 per person by way of gas/manure on an investment of Rs 23 per capita per year towards expenditure on pumping and treatment of waste. Had this idea been sold to the State Pollution Boards, they would have earned a significant profit to the States?

9. It is said, ‘The poor simply defecate into the river, the rich dispose their wastes and religious throw their dead into it.’ Sewage is the major culprit, for which a massive awareness drive needs to be launched and, shockingly, this doesn't form part of the Ganga Plan. Why?

10. When Ganga is mother to millions of Indians, let this Ganga Plan be a peoples’ plan. Let's inculcate into millions of Indians the spirit of saving the mother, by awareness and education. Why Not?

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Sudhirendar Sharma  |  sudhirendarsharma@gmail.com

Dr Sudhirendar Sharma is an environmentalist and development analyst based in New Delhi. Formerly with the World Bank, Dr Sharma is an expert on water, a keen observer on climate change dynamics, and a critic of the contemporary development processes.

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