Despite Rs 50-bn allocation, Bihar still far from the dream of clean Ganga

The CAG in one of its reports has said that the water of the Ganga in Bihar is poisonous and endangers aquatic life. While ghats have been cleaned in the last few months, the river has shifted 2-3 kilometres from the state, making the expenditure fut
When Uma Bharti visited Bihar  in April last year to review the various works being done under the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), now better known as the Namami Gange project, she expressed satisfaction over its progress. The then minister for water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation was only displeased about one thing — the “Namami Gange Project” signboard was not on display at the Gandhi Ghat near Patna Law College.  

Yet even a year after her visit, the dream of a clean Ganga remains elusive in the state. The CAG, in one of its reports to the state government, has said that the water of the Ganga in Bihar is poisonous and endangers aquatic life. While ghats have been cleaned in the last few months, the river has shifted 2-3 kilometres from the state, making the expenditure futile. 

The Bihar stretch of the river has been allocated an estimated budget of Rs 50 billion under the Namami Gange project. Nitin Gadkari, the current Union minister for Ganga rejuvenation, insists that 70 per cent of the holy river will be cleaned by March, 2019. According to officials figures, Bihar discharges almost 619 million litres per day (MLD) of sewage into the river. Of this, more than 286 MLD of sewage comes from Patna alone. 

Of the 19 sewage treatment plants (STP) projected for Bihar under Namai Gange, 11 are in Patna. Others are being set up in Buxar, Mokama, Sultanganj, Barh, Hajipur, Begusarai, Munger and Bhagalpur. Officials say the new STPs will create a total of 216 MLD of additional sewage treatment capacity. A further 150 MLD capacity are under tendering. 

It isn’t enough, say experts. “It’s just the official figure,” says activist Vikas Chandra alias Guddu Baba. “In reality, the situation is much worse. There are nine major drains and more than 100 small drains in Patna that flow into the Ganga. Not less than 400 MLD of dirty water is discharged through these drains. If you add the sewage discharge of other areas, it becomes clear that these projects would not be enough to clean the Ganga.”

Moreover, the STPs for Bihar under this scheme were awarded after other states, an official said. To add to the woes, construction work is going on at a much slower pace than expected. The agreements for STPs in Buxar, Hajipur and Begusarai were terminated last year because of the slow progress by contractors. And agreements for setting up STPs in Mokama, Sultanganj, Barh, Bhagalpur were signed only this year. 

However, state government officials insist that work on the projects in Patna is mostly going as per schedule. “STPs in Patna are on time. We expect them to be completed by March, 2019. In some cases the plants will be operational as early as December this year,” Bihar urban development department’s principal secretary Chaitanya Prasad told Business Standard over the phone.  

NMCG Director General Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, who prodded the state government to speed up the projects under Namami Gange in June this year, said the Centre was also determined to clean up Ganga’s tributaries in Bihar. The rivers Koshi, Gandak, Burhi Gandak, Mahananda, Sone, Kiul and Bagmati have been chosen for this although the plan for this is still on the drawing board.

The problem of tackling pollution in the Ganga is not limited to sewage treatment alone. Experts and social activists said that dead animals were being thrown into the river. “In many parts of the state, carcasses are dumped in the river even today. There is just one crematorium for animals in Patna, which can only cater to 3-4 bodies a day. About 100-120 animal cadavers are found every day in Patna itself,” Guddu Baba said. 

The menace of polythene bags being dumped into the river is difficult to tackle as well. Despite the Patna High Court issuing several orders in this regard, it is only last week that the state government finally banned them from urban areas. The ban on the use of plastic bags in rural areas is expected to be implemented from October 25. 

However, given its past failure to implement the ban on plastic bags of less than 50 microns, few are convinced that the government will be able to enforce it this time round. When it comes to cleaning the Ganga, every bit of effort helps. And Bihar still has some distance to go to make an impactful difference to the ongoing effort to free the river of the pollutants that pour into it every day. 

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