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Experts slam Bengal’s Ganga neglect

River experts have urged the Bengal government to pay as much emphasis on cleaning up the Hooghly as riverfront or ghat beautification.

“Riverfront beautification is important and required, but cleaning up the river is the core issue and equally important,” said K.J. Nath, a former director of the All India Institute of Public Health & Hygiene and a member of National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA).

The authority, which monitors the cleaning up of the Ganga, is chaired by the Prime Minister and includes the chief ministers of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal, apart from several key central ministers.

Nath as well as other experts alleged that Bengal had hardly submitted any “substantial proposal” on treating effluents discharged into the river despite having one of the most polluted stretches.

According to data from the Central Pollution Control Board, Bengal pollutes the river the most. It pours close to 1,400 million litres of effluents each day, against the countrywide figure of 3,000 million litres.

A high court-appointed expert committee — set up to monitor river pollution — reported that more pollutants are dumped into the river in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) area than anywhere else in Bengal.

“The pollution in the stretch of the Ganga along Calcutta may be second only to the stretch of Kanpur in the country,” said a senior official of the environment department.

The river basin authority had approved 27 proposals, mostly related to greater Calcutta, of the previous Left Front government. Of them, only four were directly related to the abatement of the pollution of the river.

Experts alleged the trend was continuing even after Trinamul came to power, though both chief minister Mamata Banerjee and central minister Sudip Bandyopadhyay referred to river pollution while unveiling a riverfront beautification project around the city recently.

“I have repeatedly highlighted the issue at the Ganga river basin authority meetings and spoke to Union minister Sougata Roy and former state urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya about it. I even mentioned it at a meeting with the chief secretary about a year back but the trend continues,” Nath said.

Debasish Sen, the principal secretary in the urban development department and the focal person for implementing the authority’s plan in the state, said it wasn’t true that the cleaning up of the river was being neglected.

“It’s not true that we are neglecting the core areas of sewage treatment. We already have a few projects cleared while others are awaiting clearance. We are giving equal importance to both pollution control and developing the riverside,” he said.

“We have learnt from the Ganga Action Plan, which mainly focuses on sewage treatment, that only such treatment would not be able to save the river. Holistic development is required,” Sen added.

Municipal commissioner Arnab Roy said a project to control pollution at the Beleghata circular canal, opening into the Hooghly, was already under way. Other pollution control projects would be initiated once the city sanitation plan was finalised, he added.

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