India’s holiest river is due for a clean-up, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi taking personal responsibility for restoring the Ganga and ridding the 2,500 km long river of industrial effluents and untreated sewage.
Uma Bharti, Modi’s minister for water resources and Ganges rejuvenation, has said the river would be clean in three years. Earlier this month, India’s Supreme Court asked the government for a roadmap on the project so that the court could monitor it.
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), spoke to Reuters on the Ganga project, the need for transparency and how the public could help.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Q: A lot of government money has been spent since 1986 on cleaning the Ganga and the new government has created a separate ministry for it. Where do you think we have fallen short?
A: Frankly, this is symptomatic of many other programmes where government money has been spent on a large scale, without commensurate results. Government cannot implement this as an activity which is going to be totally under government control. If you look at the sources of pollution, they come from a whole range of activities. Even if you have sewage treatment plants, they are not functioning. Another major problem is the community is not really being involved. I personally think it will work if you make it a movement involving all the stakeholders. Central government can be releasing money, but where is the assurance that the money is utilized properly for the right purposes? What you really need is the mobilization of all the stakeholders … I have talked to her [Bharti] on the subject and I think she realizes fully that this is not something the government alone can do. In the community, you might set up bodies that act as whistle-blowers. If somebody continues the violation, then there has to be some means through which it is reported, and action can be taken.
Q: The project is also largely in the hands of bureaucracy – there is hardly any public involvement.
A: I won’t minimize the role of bureaucracy, but what you would like to see is an enhanced role of the public and other stakeholders, for they have not actually been brought into the efforts to clean the Ganga. They have to feel part of it, they have to feel responsible for achieving results. You can set up citizen bodies in the habitations you have along the river.