|File picture of devotees taking a dip in the Ganga in Allahabad; (right) Uma Bharati arrives to attend the first cabinet meeting of the NDA government in New Delhi on Tuesday. (PTI)
New Delhi, May 27: Uma Bharati has been assigned an unfinished task initiated 28 years ago by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi: cleansing the Ganga river.
Bharati, 54, is in charge of what has been renamed as the ministry of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation, the latter half of its title betokening what some environmental engineers say will be an intensely challenging task.
The Ganga clean-up effort has used up more than Rs 3,000 crore since Rajiv launched it in 1986 but, environmental researchers say, the 2,500km river continues to be embarrassingly polluted.
“This is not a technology challenge: we know exactly what needs to be done to keep the river clean,” said Purnendu Bose, professor of civil engineering at IIT Kanpur. “We need to get towns upstream to think of towns downstream.”
Bose and other scientists say that most towns typically tap the river upstream and don’t bother to pay enough attention to the quality of the wastewater that the town discharges downstream.
Scientists say the resources that have gone into cleaning the river haven’t kept pace with population growth and growing urbanisation, which have increased the demand for water.
“About 70 per cent of the pollution in the river is from domestic sewage,” Bose said. “But sewage treatment plants aren’t always maintained the way they should be, and dirty water gets into the river downstream of most towns.”
While the Centre has supported states and authorities in many towns with funds for establishing treatment plants, environmental analysts say it’s the local authorities who are responsible for maintenance and operational costs.
But Bharati, the new minister, seems to have done some homework for her new job.
Earlier this year, she met Vinod Tare, professor of civil engineering at IIT Kanpur and coordinator for a consortium of IIT experts that has been tasked by the National Ganga River Basin Authority to draw up a basin management plan.
Tare and his colleagues in the consortium have estimated that it would cost about Rs 10 per person per day to keep the Ganga and the other Indian rivers clean.
“Given our population, it’ll be a huge expenditure but it needs to be done,” Tare told The Telegraph.
“But if you assume that an average person spends about Rs 50 or Rs 60 a day on food, then Rs 10 for all the water needs isn’t so large.”
When he met Bharati earlier this year, Tare had handed over a draft document that the IIT consortium has drawn up, outlining what experts say are “management solutions”.
“What we’ll need to figure out is who’ll pay for the costs of doing this. When you develop a pay-for-use expressway, some have the option of using an old road and avoid paying,” Bose said.
“Everyone produces waste water and everyone needs water, but you can’t charge equally from the rich and the poor. This makes it a more complex issue.”