ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Damning the Ganga

No lessons have been learned even after three decades of trying to clean the river.

The stand-off between the Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar and Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti over the future of six hydroelectric dams on the tributaries of the Ganga River exemplifies the muddled thinking in this government. The environment ministry is supposed to safeguard the environment, or at least ensure that infrastructure and other developmental projects do not lead to irreplaceable environmental damage. The Ministry of Water Resources is tasked with protecting, conserving and maximising the benefits from the country’s water resources. Yet, on a plan that has been placed high on this government’s priorities—the Ganga Action Plan or the Namami Gange (Obeisance to the Ganga) as it is now called—the two ministers have had a public spat centred on the trade-off between environment and development.

The renaming of the Ganga Action Plan, launched in 1985 by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, does not reflect a new or more acute understanding of the problem. All along there has been an emphasis on the “purity” of the river, and the belief amongst Hindus, who consider it a holy river, that it has unique self-cleansing properties. Yet, no waterway or river can remain “self-cleansing” if you dump unsupportable amounts of waste in it and at the same time restrict its flow. For decades, this is what has been happening to the Ganga.

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