The government is unlikely to be able to clean the Ganga by 2018, a target set by Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti. Key reasons, according to sources in the Water Ministry, include “unreasonable” directions by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) questioning the operating capacity of sewage treatment plants in Uttar Pradesh and a delay in clearances by State governments to execute projects.
According to a senior official, work at developing the sewage treatment plants (STPs) in Uttar Pradesh had stopped because different expert groups, tasked by the court to estimate the sewage in the drains, had conflicting figures.
These estimates are necessary to determine the processing capacity of a treatment plant.
“STPs of certain sizes are commissioned based on studies of how sewage varies daily, existing oxygen levels and several other criteria. There’s a scientific process to it,” said the official. “But when this process is questioned and we are back to basics, it cannot function. The deadline [to clean Ganga by 2018] cannot be met in this way.”
Ever since the Supreme Court had transferred 30-year-old cases, which dealt with the tardiness in cleaning the Ganga, to the NGT, it has routinely pulled up officials in the Central Pollution Control Board and the Union Ministry of Water Resources and Ganga Rejuvenation, and the Uttar Pradesh State Water Board, for poorly executing projects.
The NGT has fined officials for inaccurate information on the 30 drains in the State and “wasting public money” on commissioning projects that didn’t properly account for the pollution load in the city. It has also tasked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) with probing how certain projects were cleared by the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam in Garhmukteshwar.
Out of a ₹20,000-crore clean-up programme, only ₹2,000 crore has been sanctioned to the National Mission for Clean Ganga, the executive authority tasked with commissioning treatment plants, cleaning and beautifying the ghats and setting up improved crematoria. To treat the 12,000 Million Litres Per Day (MLD) of sewage emptying into the river, that meanders through 11 States from Uttarakhand to West Bengal, only capacity worth 4,000 MLD exists and of them, only plants with 1,000 MLD capacity were working.