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PM urges states to take action against industries polluting Ganga

A India Water Review file photo of the polluted ghats at Varanasi, through which the Ganga river flows.

New Delhi : Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has reiterated his and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government's commitment to "the continuity and purity of the Ganga" at the third meeting of the National Ganga River Basin Authority on April 17.

Singh, who had recently come under severe criticism from experts and activists for the neglect of the Ganga, which provides water for 40 per cent of India's population in 11 states, also pulled up these state governments for their tardy performance on sewage treatment and asked them to take action against industries polluting the river.

The PM voiced concern over discharge of 2,900 million litre of sewage in the river and asked the state governments to send proposals for new sewage treatment plants, stating that adequate funding was available to take up projects.

Time was running out to preserve the Ganga, the PM warned.

Singh had come in under criticism last month following the resignation of three non-official members of the National Ganga River Basin Authority. Ravi Chopra, Rajendra Singh and RH Siddiqui had resigned, citing the Prime Minister's lack of interest and inability on saving the dying river.

The PM also underlined the issue of industrial pollution, saying industrial effluents, though only 20 per cent of the total effluents, were a cause of major concern as they were toxic and non-biodegradable.

The State Pollution Control Boards were required to monitor compliance of effluent discharge standards. “Action must be taken against the defaulting industries by the State Boards under the powers delegated to them by the Central Government,” Singh said.

The Ganga is not the only major river in the country, which is turning into a large cess pool due to rampant pollution. In fact, several of these rivers are no longer viable sources of water for cities around them.

A report released by New Delhi-based advocacy and research group Center for Science and Environment (CSE) earlier this year had attributed the problem largely to the mismanagement of India's sewage system.

At the meeting, Singh urged the state governments to strengthen relevant enforcement mechanisms too.

“Time is not on our side and we have to act quickly,” Singh said.

The Prime Minister indicated that any solutions to these issues should not be piecemeal and should meet the test of scientific reasoning. In order to formulate long term policies and actions, the Ministry of Environment and Forests commissioned a consortium of seven IITs to prepare a comprehensive River Basin Management Plan for the Ganga.

The Plan drafted by IITs would recommend comprehensive measures to restore and maintain the ecological health of the river giving due regard to the competing water uses and the necessity of a paradigm shift in the manner in which land, water and other natural resources is exploited in the Ganga basin, Singh said.

“This Plan will be the basis for the NGRBAs long term Action Plan to deal with the multiple challenges we face in the task of cleaning the Ganga and maintaining its flows,” he said.

The PM also indicated that the existing sewage treatment infrastructure was under-utilised particularly in the absence of connecting sewerage networks such as branch sewers and house sewer connections. “The Central government is examining some easing of the funding norms for operation and maintenance works,” he added.

Singh urged Chief Ministers to assess the situation regarding untreated sewage and industrial pollution and present a report to the NRGBA on the situation in their respective states.

“We can then decide what concrete steps are necessary to attend to some of the institutional, administrative and financial problems that may be coming in the way of more effective implementation of pollution control and abatement measures,” Singh added.

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