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The Namami Gange Project is a national mission to clean and protect the River Ganga. The Union Government established this mission in 2014 with a budget of 20,000 crore rupees. The mission focuses on reducing pollution, conserving, and rejuvenating the Ganga River. The main pillars of the project are:
1. Sewage treatment infrastructure
2. River-front development
3. River surface cleaning
6. Public Awareness
7. Industrial Effluent Monitoring
8. Ganga Gram Panchayat
The Government has involved people living on the banks of the Ganga to help them achieve the desired results. The Government has also involved urban local bodies and Panchayat Raj institutions in implementing this project.
The project covers eight states and 47 towns through which the river flows. The Government has identified 1,632-gram panchayats on the banks of the Ganga. Many of the people from these villages do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities. As a result, many of them openly defecate along the banks of the river, contributing to water pollution in the Ganga. The Government has therefore targeted to make these villages open-defecation-free by 2022. Rapidly increasing population, industrialization, and urbanization along the river have exposed its waters to various forms of degradation. The inferior water quality of the Ganga directly impacts the villages and cities along its banks.
Rising in the Himalayas and flowing into the Bay of Bengal, the Ganga traverses a distance of more than 2,500 km through north and east India. It has economic, cultural, and environmental significance for India. The river basin accounts for 26% of the country’s landmass. The Ganga is also one of the holiest rivers in India. Its spiritual significance transcends the physical boundaries of the basin. All these factors make it extremely vital to protect the river’s waters and conserve its biodiversity.
The Government has constructed 82 sewage treatment plants along the river banks in the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan. There are an additional 63 sewage management projects under construction. These sewage treatment plants will treat wastewater before authorities release it into the river through bioremediation and other innovative methods.
One of the project’s visions is to restore all endemic and endangered aquatic species of the river. It aims to restore the species so that they occupy their entire historical range. Restoring the species will also help maintain the integrity of the river ecosystems.
The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has identified high biodiversity areas in the river. These areas will be the focus of conservation action. The WII has also set up rescue and rehabilitation centers for rescued aquatic species. The organization has also developed and trained volunteers to support conservation actions in the river. The Government has also developed an interpretation center to help spread public awareness about biodiversity and conservation efforts in the Ganga.
The Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI) of India has assessed the fish species in the river. They have mapped the species in various GIS platforms to better understand the distribution of fish in the Ganga. Some fish species have also been tagged so that CIFRI can track their migration patterns. CIFRI has also conducted awareness programs at various locations along the river to conserve and restore major Indian fish species in the Ganga.
The Uttar Pradesh State Forest Department has implemented conservation programs for breeding freshwater turtles in the river.
Afforestation efforts under the Namami Gange Project aim at enhancing the productivity and diversity of forests in headwater areas and along the Ganga and its tributaries. The Forest Research Institute (FRI) identified an area of 1,34,106 hectares along the banks of the Ganga for afforestation efforts. This area spans the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal.
The afforestation efforts will contribute to the holistic conservation of the river. It aims to enhance and redefine Ganga’s riverscape. The afforestation efforts will also improve water flow in the river.
By 2019, the Government identified 1072 Grossly Polluting Industries (GPIs) along the banks of the Ganga. The Government carries out regular and surprise inspections of these GPIs to ensure that they’re complying with environmental norms. The GPIs also undergo regular annual checks for pollution control. In 2018, the Government inspected 961 GPIs. Out of these, 636 were found to be complying with environmental regulations. The Government directed the non-complying GPIs to close down.
Officials have also connected 885 GPIs to online effluent monitoring stations. This makes it easy for them to monitor the industries and identify which ones are not complying with environmental norms.
Even after so many years and allocations of huge sums of money, the river is far from being clean. In fact, the river is today so filthy that it isn’t even fit for bathing. There are three main reasons for the river’s continued bad state. They are:
The Namami Gange Project sanctioned 68 treatment plants along the banks of the Ganga. But, up till August 2018, only six were completed.
Another problem with sewage treatment plants is that there is insufficient sewage water flowing through them. The lack of flow of sewage water through the plants results in an inaccurate reading of the total amount of influents. Inadequate sewage networks in cities are to blame for this problem. Take Kanpur, for example. The city has sewage treatment plants with a capacity of 414 million liters per day (MLD). But, the plants register only 230 MLD as influents. The Namami Gange Project sanctioned the construction of 2,071 km of sewage lines. But so far, only 66.85 km of sewage lines have been laid.
A river can purify itself only when water flows through it. Diversion of the Ganga’s water through canals has significantly decreased the velocity of the flow of water in the river and increased siltation. Increased siltation does not allow water to flow. Boatmen on the river say that the river does not contain even knee-deep water during the summer months.
Additionally, hydroelectric projects along the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda basins have turned the upper reaches of the Ganga into ecological deserts. Fishes die because of no or a reduced amount of water flowing through these areas, and entire ecosystems collapse.
Villages fitted with toilets along the banks of the Ganga have reported that the toilets are overflowing with waste. This has caused people to go back to defecating in the open.
Though the Government constructed toilets to reduce the amount of fecal sludge entering the Ganga, it did nothing to ensure its appropriate management. The Government did not put sludge management practices in place at the toilets, which resulted in them overflowing and people resorting to open defecation.
Fecal sludge is a more significant pollutant than sewage. Officials from pollution control boards tested the river water along with cities. They found that the water contains 2,500-2,40,000 fecal matter per 100 ml of Ganga water. The safe standard is 2,500 per 100 ml.