Much of the money allocated to the project remains unspent
India’s $3 billion plan to clean the holy Ganga river is badly behind schedule with large stretches contaminated by toxic waste and sewage, forcing Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene, according to government officials and documents seen by Reuters.
Much of the money allocated to the project, a flagship initiative for Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, remains unspent, say officials from the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), a government body overseeing the project.
In one slide of a presentation to a top Modi aide in late January, NMCG officials marked almost the entire length of the river within three big circles to highlight “pollution in river Ganga”.
A 2018 deadline to clean the river is “impossible”, one NMCG official said. “If we want to meet the 2018 deadline, we should have commissioned plants to treat half the sewage already,” he said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
Over three-quarters of the sewage generated in the towns and cities of India’s crowded northern plains flows untreated into the 2,525-km (1,570-mile) Ganga, according to the presentation, which has not been made public.
State administrations have struggled to find land for new treatment plants, while complex tendering processes have put bidders off pitching for new clean-up projects, officials said.
The Ganga is worshipped by Hindus, who make up about 80 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people. They call it Ganga Mata, or mother Ganga, and believe a dip in the river absolves a lifetime of sins. Hindus also cremate the bodies of their loved ones on its banks and strew the ashes in the river.
Recognizing that the clean-up mission is in a shambles, Modi has decided to take personal control, a senior NMCG official said. The clean-up drive is important as Modi wants to show tangible improvement before the next election in 2019.
His principal secretary, Nripendra Misra, has met NMCG officials almost monthly since November, demanding to see updates on the project’s progress, the NMCG official said. Misra did not respond to messages and calls seeking comment.
Modi, voted to power in 2014, committed $3.06 billion for the clean-up in the five years to 2020 but the January presentation showed just $205 million had been spent between April 2015 and March 2017. (readmore…)