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Hema wades into muddy waters

Lucknow, July 2: Hema Malini wowed Varanasi by dancing on the Ganga’s ghats a few years ago. But her recent appointment as the face of BJP-ruled Uttarakhand’s “clean Ganga” project has led many to see only the muddy waters of politics behind the move.

“Getting rid of the garbage in the Ganga is not the job of a fashionable actress,” said Suryanarayan Joshi, a Ganga pollution activist in Haridwar.

Hema, a former MP from the BJP, was on June 27 named brand ambassador for the Sparsh Ganga campaign, launched in May.

Some Congress leaders wondered half-jokingly why the job was not handed to actress Mandakini, heroine of Raj Kapoor’s 1985 hit Ram Teri Ganga Maili which touched on the theme of Ganga pollution. Mandakini is also the name of one of the Ganga’s tributaries, but the actress has been tainted by her alleged links with Dawood Ibrahim.

The Union minister of state for labour, Harish Rawat, who happens to be from Uttarakhand, was quick to fire a salvo. “Why Hema Malini? I thought the chief minister wanted to keep pollution issues above politics, but she is a politician,” Rawat said.

Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, however, said: “Uttarakhand is fortunate to have a committed person like Hema Malini as brand ambassador. This will ensure success of the campaign.”

Environment activists differ. They cite how a series of ashrams in Rishikesh have encroached on the riverbed with the state’s connivance. These ashrams are a favourite destination with VIP politicians from across India.

“Will Hema dare antagonise them?” said Pradip Negi, an activist.

It’s anyone’s guess if Hema knows what a cesspool she has waded into. “Roughly 800 million litres per day (MLD) of untreated sewage is directly discharged into the river from 26 cities on its banks in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh,” a report of the central pollution board says.

By 2025, this is likely to more than double to 1,600MLD, it says, adding: “The capacity of existing sewage treatment plants is around 385 MLD and.. would be increased to 1,039 MLD in the next 15 years.”

Sources said Uttarakhand’s Ganga campaign was actually a race with Uttar Pradesh to get funds from the Centre. Uttar Pradesh recently received the Union environment ministry’s approval to launch its Rs 1,689-crore Nirmal Ganga project in a phased manner in the next 2-3 years.

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