New Delhi, Nov. 4: The Ganga was today declared a national river in a politically symbolic move months before the general election.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke of the special place the Ganga has in the hearts and minds of all Indians at a meeting that took the decision, a release put out by his office said.
This is the first time a river has been given this status in the country.
The decision would facilitate the creation of a Ganga River Basin Authority that, unlike the Ganga Action Plan, will be empowered to plan and implement decisions and monitor them.
The authority will be chaired by the Prime Minister and have as members chief ministers of the states through which the Ganga flows — Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal.
Singh, who chaired a meeting of the ministries of water resources, environment and forests and urban development, said the emotional link (with the Ganga) needs to be recognised and that the country should set up a model for river cleansing through the new institutional mechanism, the PMO release added.
Asked if the gesture was meant to soften the Hindutva constituency which appeared to be solidifying behind the BJP on Islamic versus Hindu terror, Prithviraj Chavan, the minister of state in the Prime Ministers Office, said: No, this is not the intended message. There is genuine concern on the river water being diverted for power projects and its flow being checked at various places as a result. There is a law proscribing construction for 500 metres along a coastline. Something similar needs to be done for the Ganga.
Official sources linked the decision to research done by Guru Das Agrawal, a former dean of IIT Kanpur.
Agrawal, 76, who once taught environmental engineering at the IIT, had in June this year threatened to fast unto death unless all development work on hydropower projects between Gangotri — the glacier that feeds the Ganga — and Uttarkashi was stopped.
His contention was that unless these projects were halted, the Ganga would be reduced to a series of dry riverbeds, small lakes and tunnels carrying water for electricity.
BJP general secretary Vinay Katiyar alleged that the decision had been influenced by the Lok Sabha polls but welcomed it. Of course, the Congress wants to show people how concerned it is about protecting the river which is worshipped by crores of Hindus. But we will have to see how seriously the government implements it, he said.
The PMO release said the river basin authority will be mandated to take decisions relating to pollution abatement, sustainable use of water and flood management and to integrate these aspects. The final blueprint is expected to be placed on the table within two months.