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Ganges clean-up in shambles, Narendra Modi intervenes


Ganges clean-up in shambles, Narendra Modi intervenes

Contaminated Ganga river (Photo: AFP)

New Delhi/Kanpur: India’s $3 billion plan to clean the Ganges river is badly behind schedule with large stretches contaminated by toxic waste and sewage, forcing Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene.

Much of the money allocated to the project, a flagship initiative for Modi’s government, remains unspent, say officials from the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), a government body overseeing the project.

In one slide of a presentation to a top Modi aide in late January, NMCG officials marked almost the entire length of the river within three big circles to highlight “pollution in river Ganga”.

A 2018 deadline to clean the river is “impossible”, one NMCG official said. “If we want to meet the 2018 deadline, we should have commissioned plants to treat half the sewage already,” he said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

State administrations have struggled to find land for new treatment plants, while complex tendering processes have put bidders off pitching for new clean-up projects, officials said.

Recognizing that the clean-up mission is in a shambles, Modi has decided to take personal control, a senior NMCG official said. The clean-up drive is important as Modi wants to show tangible improvement before the next election in 2019.

His principal secretary, Nripendra Misra, has met NMCG officials almost monthly since November, demanding to see updates on the project’s progress, the NMCG official said. Misra did not respond to messages and calls seeking comment.

Modi, voted to power in 2014, committed $3.06 billion for the clean-up in the five years to 2020 but the January presentation showed just $205 million had been spent between April 2015 and March 2017.

Water resources minister, Uma Bharti, who is responsible for overseeing the clean-up and announced the 2018 deadline, did not respond to requests for comment.

“I have lost hope,” said Rakesh Jaiswal, head of a small Ganges-focused environmental group in the industrial city of Kanpur since 1993. “There has been nothing on the ground.”

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