Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used to say “Ganga is my mother”. Similarly, soon after assuming the office of the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi said that “Ganga has called me, now we don’t have to take anything from the Ganga and only have to give it”. Let us see what the two have done for the Ganga.
The construction of Tehri Dam was started during the period of Narsimha Rao. The Vajpayee Government came into power in 1999. At that time, question was raised whether the dam would have a negative impact on the spiritual power of Ganga? To resolve this issue, Mr Vajpayee formed a committee under the chairmanship of Mr Murli Manohar Joshi to look at the impact of dams on the spiritual powers of the Ganga and also the possibility of the Tehri Dam becoming a threat due to earthquake. Four members from Vishwa Hindu Parishad were members of this committee. For the spiritual value of the Ganga, the Committee said that a pipe of ten centimeters (about 4 inch) would be placed inside the dam, which would be sufficient to ensure the continuous flow (“aviralta”) of the Ganga and conserve her spiritual qualities. It was forgotten that the continuous flow is needed because the river water starts fermenting when it becomes stagnant in the reservoir behind the dam and that leads to extinguishing of her spiritual power. Moreover, fish cannot migrate to their upstream spawning areas and they start decreasing. Mahaseer fish has become extinct above the Tehri Dam in river Ganga for this reason. The fish clean up the river waters. Decrease of fish, therefore, also indicates worsening of the water quality. It also gave green signal to Tehri from the earthquake point of view.
Sanand Swami, formerly, Dr G D Agarwal, Professor, IIT Kanpur, says that construction of the Lohari Nagpala, Bhairav Ghati and Pala Maneri dams started after submission of the Murli Manohar Joshi Report. He believes that when the members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad agreed that the construction of the Tehri Dam would not kill the spiritual power of the Ganga, then the road to build other dams on the Ganga was opened. Although, Joshi report was technically only about the Tehri Dam, it gave the green light to other projects on the Ganga and led to the extinguishing of her spiritual powers.
Manmohan Singh formed the “National Ganga River Basin Authority” (NGRBA) in 2009. Ten expert members were given full membership of the Authority. Knowledgeable persons like Rashid Siddiqui, Sunita Narayan, Rajendra Singh, B D Tripathi and R K Sinha were appointed. In 2016, Shri Narendra Modi reconstituted the NGRBA. The members of the new Authority were only chief ministers and union ministers. It was provided that the Authority could discuss with experts. The role of experts was downgraded from full member to only participating in discussions when called for.
Manmohan Singh cancelled the Pala Maneri, Bhairav Ghati and Lohari Nagpala hydro projects under construction on the Bhagirathi, a main tributary of Ganga. In contrast, Shri Nitin Gadkari, Water Resource Minister of the Modi government said that government will restart the closed projects soon. I must report that recently Mr Gadkari has said that no new projects will be started on the Ganga while under-construction projects will be continued. However, it is not clear whether the above three projects are considered as “new” or “under-construction”. Hence, it is possible that the Modi Government may resume these projects that were stopped by Manmohan Singh.
Manmohan Singh’s government had given the task of making the Ganga River Basin Management Plan to Consortium of seven IITs. IITs made this plan and submitted to the Modi Government in January 2015. In this plan, it was said that it is necessary to maintain longitudinal connectivity or continuity of the flow of the Ganga without any obstruction. It was also provided that all hydropower and irrigation projects will release certain percentage of water to sustain the environment. IITs said that any project that obstructs the longitudinal connectivity of Ganga by making a dam or a barrage across her river bed should not be approved. It is telling, then, that the Modi Government has not taken any decision on this report. CAG has said in this connection: “National Mission for Clean Ganga could not finalise the long-term action plans even after more than six and half years of signing of agreement with the consortium of Indian Institute of Technology. As a result, National Mission of Clean Ganga does not have a river basin management plan even after a lapse of more than eight years of National Ganga River Basin Authority Notification”.
Manmohan Singh Government formed a committee under the chairmanship of Shri B K Chaturvedi to review the hydropower projects under construction on Ganga. This Committee recommended that hydroelectric projects may be required to release 20 to 30 per cent of the water as environmental flows. In a petition filed in National Green Tribunal, the Government of Kerala has said that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) is implementing this recommendation. Kerala has stated: The MOEFCC is suggesting “Minimum environmental flow release would be 20% (in the) lean period and 20% to 30% during non-lean period”. From this it transpires that MOEFCC has implemented the Chaturvedi Committee recommendations for the new projects. About ten years have passed since the Chaturvedi Committee submitted its report; yet the Modi Government has not taken any steps towards implementing 20-30% environmental flows in existing projects such as Tehri, Vishnu Prayag, Maneri Bhali and Srinagar.
The plan to carry freight on the Ganga is very old. But till 2014, Manmohan Singh did not take any effective steps to implement the same. Soon after Shri Narendra Modi came to power, in September 2014, the invitation for making of DPR of National Waterway-1 was issued, loan from the World Bank was taken and the project is today being implemented aggressively. The Modi Government has taken the position that even such a large project does not need an Environment Clearance from MOEFCC.
As far as sewage treatment plants are concerned, the situation has become better during the Modi Government. More money is being provided by the Modi Government. However, these projects are not being actually operated at the ground level. Although, the people of Varanasi say that the water of the Ganga has become cleaner during the Modi Government, but the discharging sewage in the Ganga continues, though maybe at a slower pace. The IIT Consortium had suggested that the sewage going to the Ganga should be cleaned and used for irrigation. This report was given in January 2015 but the Modi Government has not taken any action on this. The learned reader may decide who really is working for rejuvenation of the Ganga.
Bharat Jhunjhunwala is a former professor of Economics at IIM Bengaluru.