Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired the first meeting of the National Ganga Council on Saturday and said that rejuvenation of the river should be a shining example of cooperative federalism.
He also reviewed the progress of works under the ambitious Namami Gange project in the stretch of the river that is considered the most polluted and deliberated on various aspects of cleaning the river with focus on 'swachhta', 'aviralta' and 'nirmalta'. According to a statement from the Prime Minister's Office, at the meeting PM Modi observed that the Ganga is the holiest river in the sub-continent and its rejuvenation should embody a shining example of cooperative federalism.
Noting that the rejuvenation of the river has been a long-pending challenge for the country, he said a lot has been accomplished since his government took up the Namami Gange project in 2014 as a comprehensive initiative integrating various governmental efforts and activities to abate pollution, and conserve and rejuvenate the river. According to officials, the government had made a commitment of providing Rs 20,000 crore for the period 2015-20 to the five states through which the Ganga passes, to ensure adequate and uninterrupted flow.
Rs 7,700 crore has already been spent, prominently for construction of sewage treatment plants, they said. According to the PMO statement, PM Modi emphasised that an improvement in the framework for Nirmal Ganga would require the fullest cooperation from the public at large and generating greater awareness through dissemination of best practices from cities situated on river banks.
It said the meeting was of the view that efficiency of District Ganga Committees should be improved in all districts, in order to provide an effective framework for expeditious implementation of plans. The government has set up the Clean Ganga Fund (CGF) to facilitate contributions from people, NRIs and corporate entities for funding Ganga rejuvenation projects, the statement said.
The PM has personally donated Rs 16.53 crore to CGF, from the amount realised from auction of the gifts he received since 2014 and the prize money of the Seoul Peace prize, it said. PM Modi also pitched for a holistic thinking process where Namami Gange evolves to 'arth' Ganga or a sustainable development model with a focus on economic activities related to the river.
As part of this process, farmers should be encouraged to engage in sustainable agriculture practices, including zero-budget farming, planting of fruit trees and setting up plant nurseries on the banks of Ganga, the statement said, adding priority could be given to women self-help groups and ex-servicemen organizations for these programmes. Such practices, along with creation of infrastructure for water sports and development of camp sites, cycling and walking tracks would help tap the river basin area's hybrid tourism potential both religious and adventure tourism, it stated.
The income generated from encouraging eco-tourism and Ganga wildlife conservation and cruise tourism would help generate sustainable income streams for cleaning of the river. To monitor the progress of work being carried out under various schemes and initiatives under Namami Gange and Arth Ganga, the prime minister directed the attendees of the meeting to set up a digital dashboard where data from villages and urban bodies can be monitored on a daily basis by the Niti Ayog and the Jal Shakti Ministry.
Modi also said like aspirational districts, all districts bordering Ganga should be made a focus area for monitoring efforts under Namami Gange. The meeting of the National Ganga Council was initially scheduled for about 100 minutes but it continued for another 40 minutes. The council has been given the overall responsibility for superintendence of pollution prevention and rejuvenation of River Ganga basin, including the Ganga and its tributaries.
Accompanied by chief ministers and other dignitaries, Modi visited Atal Ghat near the Ganga barrage to assess works done there. He then went on a half-an-hour steamer ride on the Ganga and inspected the Sisamau Nullah, a 128-year-old drain which was a major contributor to the river's pollution until it was cleaned under the Namami Gange Programme. Under the programme, 13 out of 16 major drains in Kanpur have been tapped, and the sewage and industrial effluents have been diverted to Common Effluent Treatment Plants.
Returning from the steamer ride, the prime minister stumbled and fell while climbing the stairs of the ghat but was promptly back on his feet as the security personnel rushed to his help. Kanpur Commissioner Sudhir M Bobde said the SPG were informed beforehand that one of the steps of the ghat was a little higher than the others. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, his Uttarakhand counterpart Trivendra Singh Rawat, Bihar Deputy CM Sushil Modi, Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, the Niti Aayog vice chairman were among those present at the meeting of the council.
West Bengal did not have any representative in the meeting, while Jharkhand didn't participate as the Model Code of Conduct is in force there in view of the ongoing Assembly elections. Upon his arrival at Kanpur's Chakeri airport, Modi was received by Adityanath. He paid tribute to freedom fighter Chandrashekhar Azad and visited an exhibition on Namami Gange at the Chandrashekhar Azad Agriculture University.