By the River (2017 | Issue 4)

Download print version

Ganga Rejuvenation

The River Ganga is truly a symbol of India. But this holiest of holy rivers and the country’s lifeline has become the fifth-most polluted river in the world today. Untreated sewage and industrial waste have contaminated the river so badly, it has heartbreakingly become a health hazard. What’s Up, Germany? sheds light on the initiatives taken to improve the Ganga’s condition.

Several attempts have been made to clean up the Ganga over the years—quite unsuccessfully, one might add. Corruption and apathy aside, the task itself is huge and calls for concerted action and massive amounts of funds. The first clean-up attempt, the Ganga Action Plan (GAP), was started in 1986. Its haphazard execution eventually led to its failure. Several other failed attempts later, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) was set up in 2016, dissolving the National Ganga River Basin Authority. Its mandate is to carry out the government’s “Namami Gange Programme”.


Launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 with a budget of ₹20,000 crore, the “Namami Gange Programme” aims to integrate efforts to clean and protect the Ganga and its tributaries in a comprehensive manner. The focus is on fighting pollution, conserving and rejuvenating the river by establishing sewage treatment plants, redeveloping the ghats, monitoring industrial effluents and cleaning the river surface. In October 2017, NMCG approved eight projects worth ₹700 crore, four of which relate to sewage management in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.


A recent judgement by the Uttarakhand high court declared the Ganga and the Yamuna to be “living entities”. This gives them fundamental rights; ergo, polluting or damaging them will now be regarded as harming a person. By giving them these rights, the court has sent a clear message: rivers are not yours to pollute. They need to be respected. However, a few months later, the Supreme Court stayed this judgement, citing legal implications and administrative issues. The state government emphasised that the rivers flow through several states, so only the central government could frame rules.


India can learn a lot from how other countries nurtured their rivers back to life, be it the Rhine, the Danube or the Thames. The first lesson is that it takes time: it is not an overnight task. It can take two to three decades. Restoring the Rhine took almost 30 years and cost $45 billion. Since the Ganga is double the length of the Rhine, its clean-up will require much more time and money. The budget allocated for the Ganga clean-up is just $3 billion over five years. The challenge in nurturing our national river back to life is to balance environmental, human, religious and economic concerns. All stakeholders need to be involved in keeping pollutants from entering the Ganga on a daily basis. Germany has already offered assistance in this task of rejuvenation.

“ We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one. ”
— Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Oceanographer