Neglect makes Ganga experts quit

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By JAYANTA BASU
  • Published 12.03.12
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Calcutta, March 11: Three non-government members of a central body tasked with the Ganga’s clean-up have quit after accusing the government of “gross negligence” towards the river’s worsening condition.

Magsaysay winner Rajendra Singh, Ravi Chopra and Rashid Hyatt Siddiqui have written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who chairs the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), saying the body has been reduced to a “toothless tiger”.

The committee has around 20 members, including senior officials and the chief ministers of states through which the Ganga flows. It has nine non-government members.

“We are disappointed with the government’s gross negligence towards the worsening condition of the Ganga and rendering the National Ganga River Basin Authority virtually a toothless tiger without any work,” the experts said in their joint resignation to the Prime Minister yesterday.

The trio also criticised the government’s alleged indifference towards the deteriorating health of environmentalist G.D. Agarwal, who has been on a fast since mid-January to highlight the river’s condition.

But they raised other issues, too. “Although the authority was constituted nearly three years back, it has met only twice. There has been no meeting for the last one and a half years despite our repeated requests.”

Rajendra Singh criticised the Prime Minister today at a news conference in Delhi for “not understanding his responsibility”. “He is a sober Prime Minister but I am angry that he did not understand his responsibilities towards the Ganga.... The Prime Minister never tried to understand suggestions and activities of the members,” Rajendra Singh, known as “Waterman” for his work on water-harvesting, was quoted as saying by PTI.

He said the NGOs would bring in a week the draft of a Ganga Lok Bill, proposing strong and effective legislative measures to protect the river, with a request to have the blueprint discussed in Parliament.

Late this evening, Rajendra Singh hinted that they may reconsider their resignations. “We are open to reconsidering only if he (the Prime Minister) assures us that the government will seriously consider the issues raised by us,” he told The Telegraph.

But some of the other six NGO representatives frowned on the extreme action. “It’s a fact that there have been some issues regarding the manner the authority has run so far. However, the problems of Ganga are too diverse and complex to be settled through fasting and resignations,” said K.J. Nath, a member from Bengal.

The government conceded there were issues but urged the members to sort them out internally. Panel official Rajib Sharma said: “I am yet to see the resignations. Their main complaint is about the infrequent meetings. The last meeting could not be held because of the election embargo (for the state polls). I request them to settle outstanding issues within the authority itself.”