Sept. 21: Three of the nine experts assigned the job of saving the Ganga resigned from a high-powered central body today, voicing their frustration at being kept out of the loop and the “furious pace” of clearing projects they had repeatedly opposed.
In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who chairs the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), the three said the government had not convened a single meeting of the committee in the past one-and-a-half-years.
The experts — Rajendra Singh, Rashid Siddiqui and Ravi Chopra — also said the recent Uttarakhand disaster had “confirmed… many of the fears” they had expressed.
“It is with regret that we the undersigned expert members of (the) NGRBA have decided to resign from our membership of the Authority with immediate effect. We are distressed that the NGRBA has not met since April 17, 2012 (while) decisions have been taken on spending several thousand crore rupees on a variety of … projects by steering committees, in which none of the expert members have been included,” the experts said.
A copy of the letter is with The Telegraph.
The 24-member authority, set up to clean and save the Ganga through the country’s biggest environmental project ever, includes, apart from the experts, key central ministers and the chief ministers of the five states through which the river flows.
The ambitious project was launched in 2009 with an expected budget of nearly Rs 20,000 crore, of which the World Bank has already committed Rs 7,000 crore.
In their letter, the experts said they had “repeatedly expressed” their “opposition to the manner in which several hydropower projects” had been approved. “Yet without adequate discussion in the Authority these projects have been proceeding at a furious pace…” they said, adding the “Uttarakhand 2013 disaster confirmed … many of the fears expressed by us”.
At the last meeting, the experts had suggested declaring the Ganga basin in Uttarakhand an eco-sensitive zone and said hydel projects should not be cleared without due consideration.
“Soon after the disaster,” the experts wrote in their letter to the Prime Minister, “some of us had raised this matter with you and sought a brief meeting with you to discuss the issue and seek an early meeting of the Authority. But that never happened.”
Speaking to this correspondent this evening, Rajendra Singh said the Uttarakhand disaster had happened more than three months ago.
“Swami Gyanswaroop Sanand (an expert-turned-saint) has been fasting for nearly 100 days in an attempt to draw attention to the plight of the Ganga. We drew the attention of the Prime Minister’s Office a number of times but there is complete inaction. What purpose will we serve being part of such a useless committee?”
The official concerned in the PMO could not be reached despite repeated attempts.
Professor K.J. Nath, former director of the All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health and the only expert member of the authority from Bengal, said he “fully shared” the concerns of the three members and their frustration.
“The Uttarakhand disaster has raised many questions about the concerns voiced by the expert members and their persistence that the Ganga basin in Uttarakhand should be declared an eco-sensitive zone. However, I don’t believe in the logic of resignation and we don’t gain much by resigning from the Authority,” Nath said.