Cleaning of Rivers and other water bodies

A number of initiatives have been undertaken in the past three decades, and around 40,000 crores have been spent on the cleaning and conserving the river and water bodies but failed to deliver the desired results. The reasons are many including corruption, lack of technical expertise, poor environmental planning, self-will of the people and lack of support from the religious authorities.

These kind of programs have been running since long which includes Ganga Action Plan, Yamuna Action Plan, Nirmal Dhara, Aviral Dhara. Lately, there has been few more programs to beautify the ghats and the river fronts for e.g. Sabarmati river front at Ahmedabad and similar beautification programs to be run at Delhi, Kanpur, Haridwar, Kedarnath, Allahabad, Varanasi, Patna etc. While these appears to be mere cosmetic changes, there have been some profound planning to deal with the situation at hand. Although the Swach Bharat Mission has given much of the fillip to the cleaning around and the sensitization required even with the funds that are generated out of the cess are pumped into the mission, however the much grave problems of the river pollution and water bodies with disastrous BOD and COD remains a challenge.

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Cleaning the banks of the river Yamuma, near The Taj Mahal, Agra

The learnings from the past phases of such programs should be assimilated in the one to be adopted in the programs like Namami Gange or the Yamuna action plan. One of the reasons for the failure of government schemes lies in the fact that government has so far adopted only engineering centric approach to solve the problem with undue emphasis on creation of sewage treatment plants. It should also approach it as a social engineering problem through which people living on or around the banks of the rivers are involved.

Recognizing the multi-sectoral, multi-dimensional and multi-stakeholder nature of the rivers, the key Ministries comprising of WR, RD , MOEF, Shipping, Tourism, Urban Development, Drinking Water and Sanitation have been working together since June, 2014 to arrive at an action plan. However even being reprimanded by the Supreme Court, the concerned ministry has not been able to come up with a convincing blue print to be submitted to the Apex Court. It further stated that the ministry might take 3 years just to present the blue print of the action plan. Therefore, it is not only at the planning level but also at the implementation level, for e.g. only 3 members are in the rolls out of the 27 sanctioned in the much hyped National Mission on Clean Ganga. What has compounded the misery is that these officers are also playing important roles in other departments of the Government, which means that they are unable to devote their fullest time to the more important project of cleaning the rivers.

The authorities must first iron out these lacunae and then should come with better and stricter regulations. Any new regulation say for instance, to the factories at banks of the rivers which are to be made wholly responsible for the effluent discharges should be taken on the line of polluter pays principle however with utmost logical thinking as the fallout could be a challenge to the government. The polluter pays principle in a way of ‘internalizing the externality’. It makes the firm / consumer pay the total social cost, rather than just the private cost. (Social cost = private cost+ external cost)

Some of the other additional mechanism apart from establishing the STPs and ETPs, could be the maintenance of minimum flow requirement to be considered while approving major projects like dams. Encouraging the improved wood based crematoria to replace electric crematoria. The government should consider the services of various institutes of social sciences, apart from IITs to seek a viable solution of the river pollution.

By – Niraj Chourasia

Fiinovation– Programme Team

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