Are Namami Gange & Nal Se Jal achievable targets by 2024 or just a pipe dream?

Har Ghar Nal Se Jal and Namami Gange — Modi government’s two ambitious, water-related programmes — are making progress despite challenges. The latter will miss the 2020 deadline, though.

Agencies
At Kasmauli village in Tehri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand, 58-year-old farmer Rai Chand Ramola walks to a community tap at a stone’s throw from his home to fill his vessels. His eyes light up as water fills the wares. Kasmauli has 80 families. Most residents are engaged in farming. Each tap is shared by seven to eight families. But their problems aggravate every new year when the tap turns dry till May as the groundwater starts depleting. “Can you see that mountain?” he asks, pointing to a mountain range in the distance. “We walk for 4 km and two hours to bring water from Bosua natural spring in vessels,” chimes in his elder brother Kunwar Chand, who says bears and leopards have crossed his path on such walks.

Jal Shakti Ministry’s Har Ghar Nal Se Jal (HGNSJ), launched last year as part of the Jal Jeevan Mission( JJM), may bring hope for the Ramola family and other residents of this village. HGNSJ is an ambitious, nation-wide scheme that aims to provide piped water connections to every household by 2024, and an allocation of 55 litres per capita per day, so that people like the Ramolas don’t have to walk in bear-infested forests and other treacherous terrains in search of water.

According to the Jal Shakti Ministry, only 28% of households in India have tap connections. “When the PM launched JJM in 2019, there were only 3.23 crore tap connections out of 18.5 crore households. The government has given 2.3 crore new connections in the last one year and 1-1.25 lakh connections per day are being given even during Covid,” Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat told ET Magazine.


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Experts say the success of the scheme depends a lot on the capacity of various states to carry it out. “Gujarat may have achieved 80% connection through the Netherlands-supported Water and Sanitation Management Organization (WASMO). We should understand that not all states have the political will or resources like the Narmada in Gujarat. Similarly, Telangana (98.38% tap connections) could do it through its widely acclaimed Mission Bhagiratha. But how will Bihar, which has no reservoir, do it? Still, to aspire for water connection for every household is something we must strive for,” says Sunderrajan Krishnan, executive director of the Indian Natural Resource Economics and Management Foundation.

Uneven performance

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Under HGNSJ, the states can utilise the funds for taking up schemes in quality-affected and availability-hit areas on a priority basis. “The tender process is going on and we should be able to give tap water to 80 villages, including Kasmauli, in the next two months,” says SN Singh, executive engineer, Peya Jal Nigam, Muni ki Reti, Tehri Garhwal. Uttarakhand has 19.86% coverage with 2.9 lakh connections provided under JJM.

As on October 8, 2020, the best performing states include Haryana (76.42%), Gujarat (87.09%), Telangana (98.38%) and Goa (100%), the laggards being West Bengal (2.51%), Meghalaya (4.31%), Assam (4.39%), UP (5.37%) and Nagaland (8.56%). “UP has had legacy issues with corrupt practices of the past. So it is taking time there. Now they have improved the pace,” says Shekhawat, water minister.

As of date, only 16 out of India’s 718 districts have 100% functional tap connections. Out of Rs 3.6 lakh crore allocated for umbrella scheme Jal Jeevan Mission, Rs 11,500 crore has been allotted for FY21.

Krishnan points out another pressing problem: The scheme has a 50:50 cost-sharing model with states. “While the Centre may have money to spend, states may now have different priorities now due to Covid-19. Not all states are on equal footing in terms of water and fund availability.”

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If schemes such as Ujjwala, PM Awas Yojana and Ayushman Bharat have been credited with having boosted Modi’s prospects in the 2019 elections, the HGNSJ could be one of the key planks of the 2024 campaign. It would especially be appreciated by women voters, who typically end up being the fetchers of water from different sources. Because of its political significance and because it aims to relieve one of the main pain points of Indian households, the scheme’s progress is being closely watched.

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Guarding a river

Meanwhile, back in Rishikesh, Vineet Beniwal, the plant manager of Lakkar Ghat Sewage Treatment Plant (STP), is analysing the key parameters of inlet and outlet water through a reading meter. The plant receives sewer water from the entire city and treated water is flown back to the Ganga to make Ganga nirmal and aviral — a target set under Namami Gange, another key waterrelated initiative of this government.

Uttarakhand has 30 functional STPs out of 32 sanctioned plants. Flow of untreated municipal sewage is the largest source of pollution in the Ganga, and STPs have been key for Ganga pollution abatement. With Haridwar-Rishikesh zone being a major contributor (70–80%) of sewage load into the Ganga, the treatment capacity has been ramped up from 45 million litres a day (MLD) in 2014 to 145 MLD now in Haridwar.

While Delhi and Bihar are the worst, with just two out of 30 sanctioned STPs completed, West Bengal has completed three out of 22 STPs, and UP, where the longest stretch (1,000 km) of the river flows, has completed 20 of 49 sanctioned STPs.

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Namami Gange was launched in 2014, with the target of cleaning Ganga by 2019, with an initial budget of Rs 20,000 crore. With a revised budget of Rs 28,854 crore and deadline of 2020, it remains the biggest ever scheme for the Ganga till date. As per ministry data, 130 projects out of 315 have been completed till date.

But experts point to a lack of adequate sewerage network in the country. “For a country that needs thousands, if not lakhs, of STPs, we can’t be content with 151 plants,” says Dr Vinod Tare, professor, IIT-Kanpur, and founding head of the Centre for Ganga River Basin Management and Studies. Out of 151 STPs sanctioned to create 4,874 MLD treatment capacity, 51 have already been set up.

Professor BD Tripathi, environmental scientist at BHU and expert member of the National Ganga River Basin Authority, who has trained 400 Ganga Mitras for creating awareness about Ganga cleanliness, points to the need for improving the flow of the river, the lack of which is bound to raise pollution parameters. “Are we doing enough to increase the flow of the Ganga? We need greater efforts for rain water harvesting, ground water recharging, multiple use of stored water and reducing wastage in agriculture water to maintain the flow,” says Tripathi.

Even as the deadline of December 2020 for cleaning the Ganga looks unlikely to be met, experts point to the futility of fixing deadlines for a problem that will remain forever. “More efforts should be made to ensure that no untreated water reaches the Ganga but no deadline can be fixed for it. Even if we can clean it once, won’t it get polluted again? Rivercleaning can never be a time-bound activity but a process that will go on for generations. After all, it is not a one-time vaccine,” says Tare.

INTERVIEW
Work to clean the Ganga will go on for generations: Union Minister of Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat

Union Minister of Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat says that although the pace of implementation of the Ganga cleaning scheme has picked up greatly, it is a continuous process. In an interview with Prerna Katiyar, he says the water quality in the Ganga is of bathing standard at most places now. Edited excerpts:

December 2020 is the deadline for cleaning the Ganga under the ambitious Namami Gange project. Are we going to miss the deadline?

The PM has worked on a mission mode and the results are now showing in the entire stretch of the Ganga. I can assure you that except for one or two stretches, where work is under progress, the water is of bathing standard on the dissolved oxygen parameter. From Gangotri to Rishikesh, no untreated sewage will enter the Ganga in the upcoming Kumbh.

But are we not going to miss the upcoming deadline?

As far as the deadline is concerned, we must understand that efforts to clean the river have been going on for generations. And the work will continue for generations as population increases and puts more pressure on the river. Right now, we are trying to fill the gap of the last 50-100 years. It will take more time.

When can you completely stop the sewage flow into the Ganga?

We are working on setting up sewerage treatment plants (STPs) in all cities. For example, in Uttarakhand, 30 out of 32 STPs are now functional and the remaining two will be finished in three months. Among other states, we have finished 50% of the projects in UP and Bihar. Work is slow in West Bengal but it is now picking pace. We have also begun work on the tributaries.

Unlike the Ganga Action Plan of 1986, we have introduced a hybrid annuity mode for sewage infrastructure, under which the contractor will get 40% capex on completion and the remaining 60% in annuity over 15 years for maintenance. Under One City One Operator plan, the concessionaire will get a contract for operation and maintenance of the project. All Ganga Grams — and there are 4,500 — were made open defecation free.

Since the entire job of cleaning the Ganga can’t lie with the government, we are involving the community and have trained Ganga Mitra and Ganga Praharis for afforestation, cleanliness, maintaining aquatic life, creating awareness, etc.

Gajendra---Agencies
Union Minister of Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat


Recently, the PM talked about stopping India’s water (the Ravi) from entering Pakistan. Has the ministry already started working towards this?

Of the three eastern rivers — the Sutlej, Ravi and the Beas — that came to India as part of the Indus Waters Treaty, Pakistan (which got the Jhelum, Chenab and the Sindhu) still gets untapped water from Ujjh, a tributary of the Ravi. I do not want to go into any controversy. But as the PM said, we can’t let blood and water flow together, we won’t let our people’s share of potable water and arable water go to Pakistan. Irrigation projects are huge but we are bound to finish them on mission mode (to stop this). We will start working once we get statutory sanctions. We won’t let a single drop of our water flow to Pakistan.

What is the progress of the Har Ghar Nal Se Jal project, which has a deadline of 2024?

When the PM launched the scheme, only 3 crore households out of 18.5 crore households had tap connections. The government has given 2.45 crore new connections in the last one year. Even during Covid-19, we provided 1 lakh new connections a day. Places with poor quality water and availability issues are getting precedence. While Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and Telangana have performed exceptionally well, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh have been low-performing states. UP has had legacy issues with corrupt practices of the past. So it is taking time there. Now they have improved the pace of the rollout.

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