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Namami Gange: From cleaning India’s largest river to tertiary benefits

‘Ganga’ or ‘Ganges’ is the largest river of India. Starting in the Himalayas, the river has served as the backbone of the North India’s agriculture, serves the needs of over a third of Indian population and plays a very central role in the history of Indian cultural systems.
Since independence, many governments have launched multiple schemes and plans for a comprehensive plan to restore the mighty Ganga river. In 2014, the newly elected Narendra Modi government launched the ‘Namami Ganga’ (or Salutation Ganga) programme as an integrated conservation mission with the mission of effective abatement of pollution, conservation and rejuvenation of the river. An initial commitment of five billion dollars was made to the project. Components of the project involved sewerage treatment infrastructure across the length of the river, river-surface cleaning, afforestation, industrial effluent monitoring, river-front development, bio-diversity, public awareness and model Ganga villages.

In 2022, the Namami Gange programme of India was awarded by the United Nations as one of the top 10 initiatives for revival of nature. G. Ashok Kumar, who is serving as the Director General of Namami Gange programme, received the award in a function at the sidelines of the recently concluded COP15 of the Convention of Biological Diversity in Montreal, Canada. In past 8 years of being, the programme has achieved many objectives and successfully turned around the holiest river in history.

The ‘Namami Gange’ programme was selected from over 150 such initiatives from across 70 countries. Speaking at the event, its DG said, “The recognition of Namami Gange as one of the top-10 ecosystem restoration initiatives in the world bears testimony to the concerted efforts being made by the National Mission for Clean Ganga, Government of India for the restoration of the riverine ecosystem. I hope that our endeavours provide a roadmap for other similar interventions across the globe.”

In another event in Montreal by the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration Youth Task Force, the DG outlined the importance of the programme and said, “Ganga is important for India as it is home to 40% of India’s population, 2500 species of flora and fauna and 8.61 billion sq. km. basin, which is home to over 520 million people. Ganga is also very important from spiritual point of view,” he said, adding, “It is closely associated with our tradition and civilization and symbolized the faith, sentiments and collective consciousness of the people of India.”

Approximately hundred sewerage plants have been completed under the programme and another 50 are under implementation. Renovation of ghats or river-fronts is continuing at a fast pace and similarly, crematoriums near the river banks are being upgraded. An area of 1,24,106 hectares have been identified by the Forest Research Institute for afforestration on the Ganga banks.

The programme can also be heralded a successful project in promoting federalism as the centre and states have collaborated effectively in it. On 30th December, PM Narendra Modi and CMs of UP, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and West Bengal along with other officials met to discuss the issues and future of the programme. 7 sewerage projects were inaugurated and foundation stone of 5 more such plants were laid too. Later, PM Modi tweeted, “The National Ganga Council meet held earlier today was a great opportunity to discuss ways to further strengthen the Namami Gange initiative. Spoke about ways to enhance cleanliness efforts including expanding the network of sewage treatment plants in the smaller towns.” PM Narendra Modi also envisaged moving from Namami Gange to Arth Ganga or Economic Ganga model where the pristine surroundings are leveraged for income generation. It involves tourism, economic opportunities such as tourism and culture, development opportunities in farming, etc. With the slow but steady results of Ganga cleaning campaign visible, the Union government is directing other ministries to pick up tertiary programmes on the sidelines such as tourism, conservatism and livelihood projects. Last month, the Tourism ministry was directed to develop comprehensive plans for tourism circuits along the entire stretch of the river. 75 towns on Ganga banks will see fairs, exhibitions, cultural activities too as part of the project. The new plan also envisages promotion of Organic Farming on the fertile alluvial plains of the Ganga.

The success of the massive project sets some definite precedents for many developing countries in the global south who are starting to plan conservation of their own national rivers. From conservation to economic utility, green plans can be modeled smartly for long-term sustainable returns.

By Dr. Ankit Srivastava

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