Ganga has evoked a deep religious and spiritual sentiment besides being an eternal source of water for millions of people living in Indo-Gangetic plains. The river enjoys a special place in Indian polity. In recognition of its paramount significance the government launched Ganga Action Plan with great fanfare announced by no less than the then Prime Minister of India , Shri Rajeev Gandhi. Despite the massive cost involvement in the GAP and the national priority, the project could not succeed in restoring the pristine purity of Ganga Water. Naturally, a question arises what went wrong? And where it faltered? Therefore, it seems necessary to examine issues and facts involved vis-à-vis health of the river Ganga and plan for its restoration.
A 'Ganga Dialogue' was organized by Eco-Friends to bring together representatives of civil society, governmental and non-governmental organizations, scholars, experts, scientists and administrators to discuss and debate over this vital issue. The dialogue held at Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehra Dun is the first in the series of dialogues to formulate issues, and terms of reference for future discussions and arriving at conclusions. Participants deliberating in this dialogue included scientists from IIT Kanpur, IIT Roorkee, Central Water Commission, Central Groundwater Board, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, representatives from Toxics Link, Matu Sanghtan, Rashtriya Jal Avam Vayu Pradushan Nivaran Sansthan, USAID and Ganga lovers.
This one day dialogue was split in three sessions: Inaugural Session - Wherein Dr BR Arora, Director, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology welcomed the participants and outlined significance of Ganga and need to restore purity to its water. Rakesh K Jaiswal, Executive Secretary of Eco-Friends presented the theme of dialogue and raised issues for a detailed interaction. He pinpointed certain issues viz. Do we have a Ganga Vision? Is there a threat to the existence of Ganga ? Are we satisfied with present state of affairs vis-à-vis Ganga ? What kind of Ganga we want? What should be the Plan approach- River or Basin Approach? What is the over all view of dams, water diversion, pollution and projects? What are the problems arising out of Ganga management and its commercialization, displacement of people and impacts on ecology? And what is the state of Gangotri glacier and its impact on flow of water in river Ganga ? Documentation was also presented showing the problems of Ganga , from source to Kanpur . These issues were discussed in session II and III.
While launching the Ganga Action Plan Shri Rajeev Gandhi spelt "Water from various rivers flowing in different parts of the country has been mixed in the Ganga here at Varanasi today...similarly we have to assimilate the powers of the different corners to make a strong India, to make the unity of India.When we talk of protecting the environment, it means protecting India. If environment is damaged, a piece of India dies..The program which is starting today will reach every corner of India, reach every river of the country and in coming years all the rivers will be cleaned as they used to be thousands of years ago...The purity of Ganga was never in doubt. Still the river which was keeping our spirituality intact was being allowed to be dirty. Deforestation is resulting into massive floods, silt and soil is flowing into Ganga . Boats can't ply as they used to. We can see that city waste, industrial waste, dead animals and all other filth is being floated in the river. We'll stop it. We'll see that Ganga water becomes clean again. Ganga Action Plan is not a government plan, it's not meant for PWD and government officials, instead its for the people of India so that people could participate in it, people could come forward.." and accordingly objectives for GAP were laid. Ganga Action Plan was launched and devoted to river development. The first Plan was aimed to prepare a physico-chemical and biological profile and consequently, taking measures to minimize pollutant input load into the river and take up civic measures to improve civic conditions conducive for maintenance of Ganga water quality. It was felt at the dialogue that perhaps, the GAP lost its original objective and the integrated approach and was dragged into engineering efforts to cut down the pollution input load. It could not lay due emphasis on importance of biological profile of water and anthropogenic factors that also impact the health of the river. It was pointed out that education and awareness of people and their interest in conservation of water quality could play a significant role in up-gradation of water quality. It was felt that in a big governmental project, the participating departments try to seek primacy for survival and prominence. It was suggested that instead of treating the GAP as a milk cow by respective departments participating in GAP, there should have been more realistic integrated approach keeping in view the health of the river. The GAP boiled down to a civic-engineering project trying to improve the sanitation, disposal of waste, laying sewer lines and constructing roads and drainage channels that were ancillary to the Ganga health and were indirectly affecting the river. This meant that funds and efforts allocated for Ganga were spent on civic issues that diluted the main thrust on the river. Admittedly, in management of river, basin approach is essential. Civic works should be addressed by civic administration and the river issues such as cleaning of water and river health be taken up in strict sense of river approach with special reference to allocation of funds and its utlilization.
Ganga Action Plan lacked in objectivity and enforcement. The Plan suffered from its narrow objectives, technical feasibility and economic viability. No effort was made to make it sustainable and self-financed. A fiscal accounting of river action plan was done with the result that most of the infrastructure developed is lying unused for want of running cost and maintenance. The loophole in such massive plans magnifies when there is enforcement gap .
It was emphasized that multiplicity of agencies involved in Ganga cleaning and restoration under Gang Action Plan increased generation of conflicting data and also no homogeneity in policy and plan could be formulated and therefore, making mitigation of pollution increasingly difficult. As several agencies were involved in monitoring same parameters and studying same problems, the data were either duplicated or were conflicting. At the same time in repeated efforts the cost preposition rose enormously. The money if economized by reduction in multiplicity of agencies could have been used in tackling other important problems. An example to this could be cited that same parameters viz. BOD, COD, TSS, etc were recorded by Central Pollution Control Board, State Pollution Control Boards, Central Water Commission and other institutions, consequently making repetitive expenditures without any avail. Instead of multiple agencies, the entire exercise should be carried out by one nodal agency.
A natural question was raised, do we have a vision for Ganga . Perhaps, the answer was in negative. It was felt that though we have a national water vision but Ganga being a special river we should also have a Ganga vision. The Ganga Action Plan has its objectives but there is a need to recognize the thin difference in vision and objectives so as to strive formulate objectives from time to time keeping in view long-term vision. A broad Ganga vision was spelt as making "Ganga an unpolluted river with sufficient flow of water at various places of religious interest where people could bathe, perform religious ritual of taking 'aachaman' of water without fear and danger to personal health, and there be sustainable development of water". As Swami Chidanand of Divine Life Society has rightly pointed out "We should not think of Holy and Divine Mother Ganga in terms of kilowatts of energy, in terms of hectares of irrigated land, in terms of drinking water facility for any city, whatsoever it be. It is very narrow way of understanding. Ganga is not only a holy river but is most important for national integrity and cultural unity and oneness of our nation". It was pointed out that people call Ganga "Mother Ganga" and therefore they should be educated to keep their mother clean and not pollute mother Ganga . This vision needs expansion and more in-depth consideration in future dialogues.
Emanating from stand point of this vision was the question of ever diminishing flow of river waters and spectre of it's drying up in time and space. During the lean periods of summer and winter, the flow gets discontinued between Haridwar and Narora; posing a grave question- do we have real Ganga in down stream of Narora or is it simply the surface water washout and accumulation of precipitation.
It was felt that a controversy over the receding or melting of Gangotri glacier is fast brewing, posing a million dollar question - Is there a real threat to Ganga due to de-glaciation of Gangotri glacier? There were two schools of thought, one maintaining that due to glaciers receding there is threat to very existence of the river but others were of the opinion that if glaciers melt it would mean more flow of water in the river and the rate at which the glaciers are receding it would take hundreds of years for it to pose a real threat to the river flow. Glaciations and de-glaciations are historical and cyclical processes. We are in the beginning of ice age again, so a threat to glacier is unfounded. It was also pointed out that Ganga is not the outcome of one glacier alone but over two hundred glaciers contribute to it and all are not receding simultaneously and therefore, the threat perception further diminishes.
It was also felt that wrong notions and information should not be allowed to percolate as it gives threat perception and creates unnecessary panic. The data circulated through media should be authenticated. Scientists should restrain in revealing controversial and conflicting information to the media.
Ganga is a trans-boundary river bogged in bureaucratic decision making. The basin development plan was never discussed and disclosed. It needs bottom up approach in utilization of water and its sustainable management.
It was felt that excessive irrigation is eroding fertile soil and also wasting water. Use of fertilizer increases with the corresponding increase in irrigation. It becomes incumbent therefore that use of fertilizer and irrigation should be optimized for water conservation and better management. This will also help in conversion of fertile soil.
It was also emphasized that Mother Ganga should be treated like a cow. Give what the river needs for it and in return take what it gives like water, hydropower and other utility products. This under pinning dictum lays emphasis on judicious use of Ganga water
The issue of construction of dams over the river, storage and diversion of river waters was also discussed with special reference to the health of the river. A consensus of opinion was not opposed to the use of river water for energy production, irrigation or industry as they are part of development process . But injudicious exploitation of water threatening the basic existence of river itself is against the dictum of sustainability. Dam is essential but human dimensions of dam construction need careful consideration. The experience of Tehri Dam construction was discussed for its technical feasibility and economic viability and human problems arising out of it. The recent controversy weather the Tehri Dam will be filled or not, was also brought on the discussion. The Central Water Commission view was that once all the tunnels are closed, it will fill the dam by March 2006. Others referred to the news that the water was going into ground and therefore the dam was not being filled and there were apprehensions that internal reactions deep under the ground could lead to some or the other catastrophe. It was also pointed out that water storage in dams may or may not influence the river water flow but it will certainly have impact on ecology of water, impacting the aquatic flora and fauna which are vital ingredients of water quality. "If society in its wisdom some day decides that food and game fish are more valuable to the nation than electricity .. " explicit what is the importance of natural river as compared to impounded water bears lot of substance. It was questioned if the mega or small dam projects are the need of the hour. This issue was proposed to be discussed in future dialogue.
There has been a diversification of views over Ganga for its exploitation as a river water resource. The diversion of its water, damming, canalization of water and now its piping and subsequent bottling speak of the vast milieu of the onslaught on the natural flow of water. During the British India , Upper and Lower Ganga Canals were built for irrigation purposes. A question was raised how many people knowingly or unknowingly perform rituals at Har Ki Paudi taking it as real Ganga . The recent transfer of water from Upper Ganga Canal to Sonia Vihar Delhi through a pipe line is no less than piping of the river and who know this water may be bottled and sold by Suez Ondeo. The discussion on massive privatization and commodification of Ganga was deferred along with diversion of water and its impact on the river health under proposed river linking project for the next dialogue.
The Ganga Dialogue was declared closed with the valedictory address of Mr Aloke Behari Lal, ADG of Police, Uttaranchal wherein he spoke on related geology and morphology of the river having a direct bearing on its water quality, river water flow and role of glaciers in Ganga health and continuance. The Dialogue was culminated with the concluding remarks of Dr AC Shukla heightening the salient features of the dialogue and its recommendations. Finally, a vote of thanks was proposed by Rakesh K Jaiswal, Executive Secretary of Eco-Friends to the Chief Guest Mr AB Lal, The Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology for facilities and participants of this dialogue for sparing their precious time and making the Ganga dialogue a success.
Ganga Dialogue proposed following points for consideration of various agencies involved in restoration and utilization of Ganga water.
- There is a need to develop Ganga Vision as the river is special in many ways.
- Multiplicity of agencies involved in utilization, management and restoration of the river and its health should be brought under an umbrella agency such as Central Ganga Commission for better and effective coordination and to fix accountability for success or/and failure.
- There should be a holistic approach and integrated plan for the ecological health restoration of river Ganga . The Nodal Agency should look into various aspects of the river and coordinate studies regarding the melting of the glaciers, flow regimes, dams, pollution and various other related issues.
- The Ganga Action Plan should be revamped. Instead a new Ganga Restoration Plan should be launched as per the needs of Ganga Vision.
- Data on Gaga should be put into public domain and made easily available for research and management purposes.
- More Ganga Dialogues should be held with a wider participation, especially government agenci
(Dr AC Shukla was a dialogue participant and moderator)