National Ganga Council chaired by PM Modi hasn't met once since its start in 2016

The NGC is arguably the single largest committee overseeing the cleanup of river Ganga today.

The National Ganga Council headed by Prime Minister Modi tasked with the protection and upkeep of the Ganga river, has reportedly convened no meetings since it was first set up in 2016.

According to the National Ganga Council's (NGC's) own guidelines, members are to meet at least once a year, every year at its own convenience. A Right to Information query filed by The Wire has revealed that it hasn't delivered on that in the two and a half years since its formation.

The NGC is arguably the single largest committee overseeing the cleanup of river Ganga today, taking over from the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) in its role. The NGRBA, which was dissolved since the NGC came to be, was similarly chaired by the prime minister.

 National Ganga Council chaired by PM Modi hasnt met once since its start in 2016

A man drinks water as others take a dip in the river Ganga, during Dussehra in Allahabad, India, June 2014. Allahabad in where the Ganga and Yamuna meet. AP

"If the prime minister is not able to convene even a single meeting, then the question arises if this is indeed a decisive body or just a copy,” Ravi Chopra, an environmentalist that has worked extensively on the river Ganga's cleanliness, told The Wire. "This is the final deciding body on the Ganga. It should have had at least two meetings in a year."

Among the NGCs other councilmembers is the minister for water resources, river development and Ganga conservation as NGC's vice-president; the Chief ministers of Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal; and the Union ministers for the environment, finance and urban development.

In December 2017, an audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the National Clean Ganga Mission (NMCG) called out and reprimanded the government for its lax treatment of the project. Some of the observable reasons for this were delays in cleaning the river, in the installation of sewage treatment plants and construction of toilets in homes by and around the river.

Representational image. Getty

Representational image. Getty

A parliamentary committee had expressed similar concerns in 2016, eventually leading to the NGC being formed. The committee stated, "It is a matter of great concern that the Ganga has become one of the ten most polluted rivers in the world. Due to unchecked urbanisation, excessive hazardous waste and domestic sewage in the river, the cleanliness of the Ganges has suffered huge losses. Regarding the lack of effective coordination between the plurality of institutions and stakeholders at the Centre and state level, the committee suggests that a comprehensive and empowered authority should be created for cleaning the river."

In response to nudges from both the CAG and a parliamentary committee, the government responded saying that its water ministry had prepared a multi-level plan at the national, state and district levels to clean up the Ganga – of which the NGC was simply the most prominent effort.

River Ganga during Dussehra 2017. PTI

River Ganga during Dussehra 2017. PTI

"The Ganga river has a heart disease, but a dentist is treating it," Rajendra Singh, a social worker and member of the disbanded NGRBA, said to the Wire. "The government is making ghats, a riverfront and waterways just anywhere. Under the Char Dham project, the entire Himalaya is being cut and deposited into the Ganga. This is a way to end the river’s life...”

"Prime minister Modi does not think it necessary to talk to experts about matters related to the Ganga," Singh added. Despite lakhs of rupees being distributed in the name of the Ganga, the required work remains unfinished.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), in its 2017-2018 Biological Water Quality Assessment of the River Ganga report, claims that the river's pollution levels fall in the medium-to-severe category prior to 2018 monsoons. More importantly, of 39 places that the Ganga passes through, cleanups were done only in one region after monsoons.

All the reported inaction of the current government with regard to maintaining the Ganga river has raised doubts as to the their seriousness about the project.

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