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Ganga pollution rose in Uttarakhand in 2014-18, no change in UP, Bihar, WB

In June 2014, the Union government had approved the Namami Gange project under the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) as a comprehensive mechanism to take up initiatives to check pollution and rejuvenate the river and its tributaries
After coming to power, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government made cleaning of the Ganga one of its top priorities. It renamed the Ministry of Water Resources as the ‘Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation’ and launched the ‘Namami Gange Programme’ “to accomplish... effective abatement of pollution, conservation and rejuvenation of National River Ganga” with an outlay of Rs 20,000 crore in its first Budget. Since then, it has already spent more than Rs 6,100 crore on the programme. 


But have the government efforts improved the quality of water in the Ganga? 


A recent report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which the government has put under wrap for several months, shows that the Ganga became more polluted along its stretch in Uttarakhand between 2014 and 2018, while in the remaining stretch in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal it remained as polluted in 2018 as it was in 2014. 


The CPCB scientists classified the Ganga’s water quality into five categories — clean, slight, moderate, heavy and severe — in the increasing order of pollution. They conducted pollution monitoring at 36 locations along the stretch of the Ganga in two seasons — before and after monsoon — in 2017-18. They then compared the water quality at 23 of these locations for which data were also available for 2014-15. 


“The average biological water quality, according to the biological testing study of River Ganga conducted during past three consecutive years (2014-15, 2015-16 and 2017-18) in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal states remained the same i.e. moderately polluted. In the Uttarakhand stretch, average biological water quality reflects deterioration from slight to moderate pollution,” said the CPCB report. 


According to the report, in Uttarakhand, though the water quality improved by one degree (from slight to clean) at one location in Haridwar, between 2014 and 2018, it deteriorated by four degrees (from clean to heavy) at another site, Jagjeetpur, during the same period. The scientists concluded that overall there was a deterioration in the quality of the river within the state.


In the remaining stretch, water quality improved by one degree (from heavy to moderate) at one location in Moradabad, deteriorated by one degree (from slight to moderate) at a location in Allahabad, and remained unchanged at ‘moderate’ pollution levels at 18 other locations in Bijnour, Muzaffarnagar, Anupshahr, Narora, Badaun, Ghatia Ghat, Bithoor, Kanpur, Fatehpur, Varanasi, Patna, Behrampore, Srirampore and Belgharia. The report, thus, concluded that the pollution level remained the same in the remaining stretch of the Ganga. In some cities, monitoring was done at more than one locations.


In the latest monitoring, the post-monsoon round of 2017-18, the Ganga’s water could meet the drinking-water standards only at one spot — just before it enters Haridwar — throughout its entire stretch of more than 2,500 kilometres. At the remaining 35 locations, it was moderately or heavily polluted. 


The highest levels of pollution during the two rounds of monitoring in 2017-18 were recorded in Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, where the water quality was found to be “severe” in pre-monsoon period. However, it improved slightly after monsoon. At the time of filing his nomination for the 2014 general elections from the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat, Modi had said: “Maa Ganga has called me,” referring to his emotional connect to the river and the city. 


Hidden, disclosed, hidden again


The CPCB had prepared the report in June 2018 but not put it in the public domain. It did so only last month after the Supreme Court directed the board to place all reports “commissioned or ready” since 2010 on “consequences of air pollution and other environmental pollution” on its website. It, however, withdrew the report again on January 14, within 12 hours of Business Standard sending queries to the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation regarding the report’s findings. 


The ministry has not responded to the queries despite several reminders. When called on January 14, the Press Information Bureau (PIB) staff attached to the ministry sought to know if the CPCB report was available on the board’s website. While about 15 reports were initially uploaded on the board’s website in compliance with the Supreme Court’s order, only six air-pollution related studies were present on it on January 15. All studies related to the biological monitoring of Ganga pollution done in the past two years were removed the previous day. 


The government also did not disclose the results of the report in Parliament. In response to a question in the Rajya Sabha on “whether water of the Ganga is getting dirtier day-by-day” on January 7, the ministry said, “the water quality monitoring results do not indicate any conclusive evidence”. In response to Business Standard queries, the PIB on January 15 sent details of various projects being taken up under the Namami Gange programme. 


The CPCB has been traditionally monitoring the water quality of the Ganga on the basis of its physical and chemical parameters, such as the amount of ‘dissolved oxygen’ at various locations. This method of water testing gives the quality of water only at the time of monitoring, according to the report. For the past few years, however, the board has also started the ‘biological water quality assessment’ at 36 locations along the stretch of the Ganga. Based on the survey of specific categories of aquatic animals, this method gives results of long-term water quality of the river, according to the report. The assessment of the change in water quality between 2014 and 2018 has been done through this method. 


“Cleaning... is a continuous Process”


On January 7, the Ganga rejuvenation ministry told the Rajya Sabha that the Namami Gange programme was launched with a total budgetary outlay of Rs 20,000 crore for the period until December 31, 2020. Of this, Rs 4,994 crore had been spent against the total released amount of Rs 6,131 crore till November 2018. 


“Government of India is supplementing the efforts of the state governments in addressing the challenges of pollution of river Ganga by providing financial assistance. Under Namami Gange programme, a variety of coordinated activities meant for cleaning of river Ganga have been taken up. These include treatment of municipal sewage, treatment of industrial effluent, drain bio-remediation, river surface cleaning, rural sanitation, river front development, construction of ghats and crematoria, afforestation & biodiversity conservation, public outreach programme, etc. A total of 254 projects were sanctioned as of November 2018 at an estimated cost of Rs 24,672 crore, of which 75 projects had been completed,” the ministry said. 


“Cleaning of the river is a continuous process and efforts are being made to complete these projects by the year 2020,” it added.

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