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BJP polarising Ganga clean-up: Ramesh

Calcutta, July 3: Former Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh today accused the BJP-led government of “politicising” the exercise to clean up the Ganga, polarising along religious lines what should essentially be a science-driven effort.

At least one expert said the initial signal was “not good”, especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi “submitted puja offerings” directly into the Ganga after the BJP’s victory.

Ramesh, a Congress Rajya Sabha member, said over the past month there has been an effort on the part of the central government to “polarise” the clean-up drive on religious lines. “The real effort is not to clean the Ganga but to gain political advantage by acting with a certain ideology in the name of cleaning the Ganga,” he told The Telegraph on the sidelines of an event in Calcutta.

“The Ganga cannot be cleaned only by sadhus, you need a science-driven process…. Religious practices actually often pollute the Ganga.”

According to the Central Pollution Control Board, the holiest places along the river are generally the most polluted points.

As environment minister, Ramesh had set up the Prime Minister-led National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) in 2009 to carry out a multimillion-crore clean-up drive. Several institutions, including IITs, were asked to come up with “prescriptions”.

The new government too has been focusing on cleaning the river. Modi, who won from both Varanasi and Vadodara but retained the Uttar Pradesh seat, offered puja to the Ganga in the temple city after the BJP swept Uttar Pradesh. “Exactly the opposite is professed for curbing the river’s pollution,” said Biswajit Mukherjee, a retired state environment official.

Subsequently, Uma Bharti was made minister for water resources and Ganga rejuvenation. Many believe it was the first signal that prominence would be given to religion in matters related to the river, though technically it’s the environment ministry’s responsibility to clean up the Ganga. “It is confusing which department actually controls Ganga cleaning now,” said NGRBA member R.K. Sinha.

“I have nothing against religious leaders. But, as a scientist, I want the process to be science-driven,” the Patna University professor added.

The government has lined up a mega “Ganga Manthan” programme next week where religious leaders will discuss ways to clean up the river. “We will spare no effort to ensure that the river flows relentlessly,” Bharti said recently, adding that not even treated waste water would be allowed to pollute the river’s sacred waters which she referred to as “Brahma dravya”.

Such claims, an expert said, don’t make any sense. “We cannot even stop sewer water from flowing into the Ganga,” the NGRBA member said. “Also, treated water forms a reasonable bulk of the water in the Ganga.”