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Dolphin is national aquatic animal
Union government chalks out major strategy to fix Ganga mess
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 5
Dolphin is now India’s national aquatic animal. The decision was taken today following a suggestion by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar at a meeting of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA), chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to initiate steps to rejuvenate the holy river. Another important decision was an approval to Mission Clean Ganga.

The NGRBA, an empowered legal authority, decided that by 2020 no untreated municipal sewage and industrial effluents will flow into Ganga. An estimated Rs 15,000 crore will be spent over the next 10 years to create necessary treatment and sewage infrastructure.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said the new status for the dolphin would help save the rare freshwater species from disappearing from the country’s aqua map. “The way tiger represents the health of our forests, dolphin represents the health of the Ganga. Till dolphins come back to the Ganga, the river will not be considered clean,” the minister said after the meeting, which also discussed ways for cleaning the river in a systematic manner.

As per the Environment Minister, there are less than 2,000 dolphins in the river. He said a NREGA-type concurrent social audit would ensure that funds do not literally go down the drain this time. “The country has been spending extensively to clean up rivers. Between 1985 and 2009, Rs 916 crore were pumped in to help the Ganga Action Plan I and II take off. Where has the money gone? There’s an urgent need for a concurrent social audit,” he said, adding that the town-centric approach of GAP I and II has been replaced by basin-centric approach in Mission Clean Ganga.

“Also, the GAP concentrated largely on sewage treatment plants. Under the new plan, the catchment area development and riverfront development will be given more importance,” he said, adding that action has been initiated for third party evaluation of the scheme. Independent institutions will be appointed by December 2009. It was agreed that required resources will be provided by the Centre and states over 10-year period to be shared suitably between the parties after Planning Commission consultations.

Currently, only 20 per cent of municipal sewage flowing into Ganga is treated as there is a sewage treatment capacity of only around 1,000 million litre per day (MLD) against 3,000 mld sewage being generated in towns along the river.

The WWF last year said the river was among the 10 most endangered ones in the world. However, the river is dirtier now than in 1985, when GAP-I was initiated. It has much more bacteria because of increasing discharge of untreated domestic and industrial effluents. Also, the flow of the river has become sluggish at several locations due to dams and growing habitat pressure.

While the comprehensive river basin management plan will be ready by December 2010, the on-going sewage treatment projects will be put on fast-track.

The Environment Ministry will work with states to prepare specific action plans for dealing with problem of industrial pollution in Ganga Basin by January 31, 2010.

A Standing Committee of NGRBA, to be headed by the Union Finance Minister, will meet more frequently and review implementation. An empowered steering committee, headed by the Environment Secretary, will be set up for fast-track clearance of projects on JNNURM lines.

The World Bank has been engaged for a long-term support to the Ganga plan. In the first phase, an assistance of $1 billion is expected. The proposal of $3 million project has been already approved by the World Bank.

A proposal has also been submitted to the Finance Commission for a one-time allocation of Rs 1,320 crore for meeting operational and maintenance needs of STPs for five years.

Pilot projects of Sankat Mochan Foundation at Varanasi (pond based treatment) and National Botanical Research Institute (plant based wastewater management) at Hardwar have been approved, in order to encourage innovative approaches to river cleaning.

The three-hour-long meeting was attended by Uttarakhand Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal, his Bihar counterpart besides representatives of West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh at the Prime Minister’s residence. The Centre was represented by Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy and Water Resources Minister Pawan Bansal, Evironment Minister Jairam Ramesh and deputy Chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia.



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