Editorial Articles

Issue no 10, 4 - 10 JUNE 2022


Namami Gange: Holistic Conservation And Rejuvenation of River Ganga

G Asok Kumar

Fifty years ago, on 5 June 1972, the first World Environment Day was celebrated with the theme 'Only One Earth'. Fifty years later, in 2022, people across the globe are gearing up to celebrate the Day with the same theme once again - reminding us that there is only one earth, and we must protect its limited resources with utmost priority and urgency.

Back home in India, in recent years, issues pertaining to environment and climate change have increasingly gained center stage in all policy interventions of the Government of India. Initiatives such as the Swachh Bharat Mission, Ban on Single Use Plastic, National Action Plan for Climate Change, Catch the Rain Campaign, National Clean Air Program, Green Skill Development Program and Namami  Gange, exemplify some of the many interventions that are being implemented. Earlier this year, during the COP26 Summit in Glasgow, the Hon'ble Prime Minister also announced India's commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2070.

Diving deeper particularly into the water sector, the Government of India has initiated several measures for achieving a water secure future. The Ministry of Jal Shakti was launched in 2019 to bring all water related initiatives, departments and schemes under the aegis of one Ministry. Schemes and policies which were erstwhile operating under other Ministries such as Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change were all brought under Ministry of Jal Shakti to ensure that all work being planned or undertaken were working together and not in silos.Jal Jeevan Mission, Atal Bhujal, Jal Shakti Abhiyan, Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen), Catch the Rain Campaign are examples of some schemes which are doing ground breaking work for water conservation. In fact, under the Catch the Rain: Where it falls. When it falls campaign, over 46 lakh water related works have been sanctioned, and 36 lakh afforestation activities have been carried out.

Similarly, the Namami Gange mission has also emerged as a leading case study of river rejuvenation in the world. People across the globe are taking note of the many efforts being undertaken to rejuvenate the river and the riverine ecosystem and wish to contribute in some way. It is not an unbeknownst fact that in India, the Ganga River is not just a river, but symbolizes the collective faith and consciousness of the people- its sacred value and reverence dating back to early centuries. Today, it contributes to 26% to India's water sources and is the source of life and livelihood for the 520 million people residing in the Basin! Launched in 2014-15, with a budget outlay of Rs 20,000 crore, the mission has adopted a holistic and multisectoral approach for the conservation, protection and rejuvenation of the Ganga River Basin. Prior to its launch, efforts to clean Ganga existed as early as the Ganga Action Plan in 1985 which covered 25 towns in the main stem of the river. This was followed by the Ganga Action Plan II in 1993,the National River Conservation Plan in 2005, and finally, the establishment of National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) in 2009. Initially registered as a society in 2011, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) was later notified in 2016, as an authority with statutory powers under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. The 2016 Authority Notification gave NMCG regulatory, financial and administrative empowerment, leading to faster decision making.

 However, unlike the previous efforts which were characterized by a piece meal approach, what sets Namami Gange apart is its holistic vision which allows the management of the river as a single system including its tributaries, smaller rivers, floodplains, wetlands, groundwater, biodiversity, springs, and maintenance of a minimum flow of the river. Four key pillars of interventions have been identified, i.e., Nirmal Ganga (unpolluted flow), Aviral Ganga (unrestricted flow), Jan Ganga (strengthening people river connect) and Gyan Ganga (research and knowledge management)

Nirmal Ganga

For the mission to be successful, it is vital that concrete steps be undertaken for pollution abatement of the river from both point and non-point sources of pollution. Today, 159 sewerage infrastructure projects worth Rs 24,223 crore have been sanctioned to create a treatment capacity of 4930 MLD and lay down 5,137km sewer network. Against this, the work for 1501.11 MLD treatment capacity and 3,988 km sewer network has already been completed. This has been a massive achievement, as prior to 2014 only 463 MLD treatment capacity existed in the basin under the various Ganga initiatives.

Further, innovative best practices such Hybrid Annuity Mode based Public Private Partnership model and One City One Operator model, pioneered by NMCG have brought a paradigm shift in wastewater management in the country. The models have increased accountability and ownership, along with adherence to various standards and norms. Industrial pollution from industries, especially tanneries are also considered as a major source of pollution in the river. Steps taken include annual inspection of Grossly Polluting Industries, establishment of Common Effluent Treatment Plant in Kanpur, Unnao, Banthar and Mathura, elimination of black liquor discharge from paper & pulp industries, release of Charters, amongst others. In rural areas, the mission has also collaborated with Swachh Bharat Mission-Grameen, has successfully eliminated open defecation in 4,507 Ganga villages.

Today, the need of the hour is to step away from the linear approach and adopt a circular water economy approach, prioritizing reuse and recycle of water. Along with encouraging all Ganga Basin towns to adopt this approach, the mission has also established a 20 MLD tertiary treatment plant in Mathura to supply treated wastewater for non-potable purposes the Indian Oil Corporation Limited's Refinery in the city. In December 2021, a Centre of Excellence on Water Reuse was also launched in collaboration with The Energy Resource Institute (TERI). This is the first of its kind Centre of Excellence in the country. Additionally, a framework for reuse of treated wastewater under the Indo-EU Collaboration is also being under process of development. Apart from this, it has also mandated the use of treated wastewater from STPs within 50km of thermal power plants located in the basin.

Aviral Ganga

Maintaining the flow of the river is vital for the overall health of river and its ecosystem. Through the ecological flow notification 2019, the Mission is ensuring that there is minimum ecological flow in the River Ganga. This stems from the recognition that first and foremost, the river has the right over its own water. Simultaneously, the mission is also implementing several measures focusing on biodiversity, natural flora and fauna, groundwater management, wetland conservation, springs and small river rejuvenation, floodplain management, amongst others to protect the riverine ecosystem. For instance, a heli-borne study has been conducted for aquifer mapping with focus on paleochannels in an area spread across 8500 square meters. For wetland conservation, State Wetland Authorities have been established in the Ganga basin states in cooperation with the concerned State Governments. NMCG has also mandated protection and regulation of flood plains for construction free zones and formed committees for floodplain demarcation from Haridwar to Unnao for no development zone. The concerted efforts of the mission has led to the increase in biodiversity sightings of species such as Gangetic dolphins, Otters, Hilsa, Ghariyals, etc. Projects have also been sanctioned to Wildlife Institute of India and Central Fisheries Research Institute.

Jan Ganga

The success of Namami Gange mission can be attributed to the Jan Bhagidari, which has transformed the mission into a Jan Andolan. River front development, especially through ghats and crematoria is a key area of intervention, and till date 190 ghats (including 8 kunds) and 47 crematoria have been successfully completed under the mission. Additionally, the mission also regularly conducts public outreach activities with the help of its dedicated cadres of Ganga saviours such as Ganga Vichar Manch, Ganga Doots, Ganga Prahari, Ganga Mitra, Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan, and other volunteers. District Ganga Committees headed by District Magistrates have also been constituted and empowered to raise public awareness. Examples of activities include Ganga Utsav, Ganga Quest, Nadi Utsav, Rag Rag Main Ganga, Sponsored Thesis Competition, Ganga Amantram, amongst others. Moreover, a first of its kind Ganga Museum has also been established at Chandi Ghat, Haridwar dedicated to the Ganga River, its biodiversity, landscape and vibrant culture. Similar ones in Rishikesh and Patna are also under development, along with interpretation centers in Kanpur, Sarnath, Sahibganj etc.

Gyan Ganga

The fourth strategic area of intervention for Namami Gange mission Gyan Ganga, which focuses on research, policy, and knowledge management. The Centre for Ganga River Basin Management and Studies (cGanga) was established at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur in 2016. Additionally, a Ganga Knowledge Centre has also been established in New Delhi. Some of the major studies conducted under Gyan Ganga include

a. Groundwater- Surface water interface: In collaboration with National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI), Hyderabad a study is being conducted on delineating the subsurface aquifers with focus on Paleochannels from Kausambi to Kanpur to provide newer insights into disposition of the aquifers; extent and characteristics of the paleochannel and possible interaction of the aquifers with Ganga and Yamuna Rivers.

 b. High Resolution GIS/LIDAR Mapping of River: A landmark project along with Survey of India (SoI) on "Generation of highresolution DEM & GIS ready database for part of River Ganga" using LiDAR Mapping has been initiated.

c. Study on Special property of river Ganga & Study for Microbial mapping: In partnership with NEERI is studying Water Quality and Sediment Analysis to understand the Special Property of Ganga River and also impact of human intervention on microbial diversity, study the origin of E-coli present in the river Ganga.

d. Study on Climate Scenarios & their impact: In collaboration with IIT Delhi, a study is being conducted to map the high resolution climate scenarios for basinscale water resources management to improve the understanding and conduct scientifically rigorous estimates of climate change and its impact on water resources in the Indo-Gangetic Plain. A key focus area has also been water quality monitoring, which was initiated in June 2013. In collaboration with Central Pollution Control Board, 113 Real Time Water Quality Monitoring Stations have been established enable bio monitoring and community monitoring of water quality of river Ganga. Also, 36 Real Time Water Quality Monitoring stations have also been successfully installed in 2017 which provides data of 36 locations on river Ganga, tributaries and on drains. Additionally, a 40 RTWQM stations project has was awarded in July 2020, and the installation of the same has also been completed. Several guidelines have also been published such as the Strategic Guidelines for Making River Sensitive Master Plans, A Strategic Framework for Managing Urban River Stretches in the Ganga River Basin: Urban River Management Plans, Guidance Note for Environmentally Sensitive, Climate Adaptive and Socially Inclusive Urban Riverfront Planning and Development' and Urban Wetland/ Water Bodies Management Guidelines. Additionally, the first kind River City Alliance, with 30 member cities was launched in December 2021 to ideate, discuss and exchange information for sustainable management of urban rivers.

 Arth Ganga

In December 2019, the first National Ganga Council meeting was convened under the chairmanship of Hon'ble Prime Minister. The concept of Arth Ganga is based on the symbiotic relationship between nature society, which strives to strengthen the people-river connect. Several multi-sectoral interventions ranging from promotion of natural farming to livelihood interventions are being planned and rolled out through synergies at different institutional levels as well as decentralized governance practices. The model strives to improve the quality of life of people in Ganga Basin and contribute up to three per cent of the total GDP of the country.

Under the model, six vertical interventions have been identified for deliberate interventions to be undertaken. These include

Zero Budget Natural Farming

·         Chemical free ZBNF along the length of the river

·         Doubling farmer's income & generating "more income per drop" 

·         "Gobar-Dhan"- for farmers & keeping pollution off 

·         Promotion of brand Ganga

Monetisation of Reuse of Sludge & Wastewater 

·         Reuse of treated wastewater by ULBs for revenue generation z

·         Conversion of sludge into usable products such as manure, pavers, bricks,

Livelihood Generation Opportunities 

·         'Ghat Main Haat' for self sustaining Ganga Ghats 

·         Promotion of local products of Ganga cities along riverbanks 

·         Capacity building trainings of Ganga Praharis 

·         Promotion of afforestation activities like Ayurveda & medicinal plantation (Rudraksh)

 Culture Heritage & Tourism

·         Introduction of boat tourism through community jettis 

·         Promotion of yoga and wellness, medical tourism, adventure tourism, ecotourism, etc. 

·         Aartis to enhance cultural connection with the river

Public Participation

·         Increased public participation 

·         Mandated monthly minuted meetings of District Ganga Committees 

·         Increased synergies with various programs

Institutional Building

·         Enhancement of capacities, especially local administration for better water governance 

·         Sustenance of the projects post asset handover

Some of the key initiatives planned and undertaken under the Arth Ganga model include 

·         Chemical free natural farming has been taken up in 5-10 km wide corridors along the river Ganga 

·         Extensive organic farming being taken in over 1.24 lakh ha. in the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar & Jharkhand

·         Development of multimodal transportation linkages such as community jettis, fairway development, Ro Ro terminals etc. by Inland Waterways Authority of India

·         Comprehensive cultural mapping of river Ganga conducted from Gaumukh to Ganga sector by INTACH

·          Projects sanctioned under PRASHAD scheme for the development of Gangotri and Yamnotri Dham  

·         Development of tourism and boat tourist circuits

·         1500+ Ganga Praharis trained for public outreach and promotion of livelihood opportunities  

·         Projects sanctioned by ICARCIFRI for fisheries and livelihood linkages z Reuse of treated wastewater & STP sludge for agriculture purposes.  

·         Ganga Vatika developed in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh

In the last eight years, Namami  Gange has achieved significant milestones, especially when one compares it to similar interventions implemented across the globe. The improvement in water quality of the river, rise in number of species or the 16 million trees afforested bear testimony to the many efforts that have been undertaken. The strong impetus and focus that Maa Ganga has received in these eight years, has enabled the mission to traverse this successful journey, and will continue to do so in the coming years for which the mission has been extended.

(The author is Director General, National Mission for Clean Ganga, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Govt. of India) E-mail: missionganga@gmail. com

Views expressed are personal.