Sustainability is key to rejuvenating the Ganges
World Environment Day (June 5) has earned a special place around the world as one of the main platforms for raising awareness of environmental issues. The focus of this year’s World Environment Day rightly urges stakeholders to review and reorient strategies for the sustainable management of natural resources, including water. While the central theme – One Earth – is a direct call to action and encompasses the vast and ever-expanding international community, the objective of this year’s World Environment Day “To live sustainably in harmony with nature” underlies the traditional approach to dealing with resources with a strong underlying message of “respect” for them.
The Government of India is increasingly placing water governance at the forefront of its development agenda by adopting an integrated water resources management approach that addresses issues across multiple jurisdictions and sectors in a holistic manner. Measures are taken in the direction of sanitation, reduction of pollution, rejuvenation of rivers, efficiency of water use and, above all, the sustainability of sources that have a direct impact on mitigating the effects of the climate crisis.
In 2015, a historic policy shift was undertaken with the launch of the Namami Gange program. For the first time in the history of independent India, a holistic and integrated approach has been taken to make Ganga “Aviral” and “Nirmal” again. The Namami Gange program was launched with an integrated objective of waste water treatment infrastructure development, river front development, river surface cleaning, biodiversity protection, reforestation, public awareness , monitoring of industrial effluents, among others. It marked a paradigm shift by first recognizing the seriousness of the threat to the Ganges and then planning to rejuvenate the river in addition to gradually reducing domestic and industrial pollution.
The positive results of such an approach are now manifesting with improved water quality in Ganga at several locations. In 2018, there were four polluted sections on the main arm of the river. According to the water quality report of 2021, none of the sections of the Ganges are now priority I (BoD > 30 ml) to IV (BoD > 6-10) and only two sections are priority V (BoD > 3-6). More than 20 million people bathed in Ganga at Prayagraj during the 2019 Kumbh, which is a testament to the improved water quality.
The objective of this year’s World Environment Day is directly linked to the objectives of the Namami Gange programme. Executed by the National Mission for Clean Ganga, the Namami Ganges program is increasingly emerging as a model of river rejuvenation for the whole country. Sustainability is at the heart of the Clean Ganga mission. The 5R concept of circular economy drives policy decisions, including reducing waste, recycling water, reusing water, rejuvenating rivers and, most importantly, respecting the environment. ‘water.
During the first meeting of the National Ganges Council in Kanpur in December 2019, the Prime Minister had conceptualized “Arth Ganga” to boost economic activity along the Ganges River. Under “Arth Ganga”, which is a crucial step in the direction of economic self-sufficiency vis-à-vis the rejuvenation of the Ganges, six vertical sectors are being developed – zero-budget natural agriculture, opportunities for generation of livelihoods, cultural heritage and tourism, monetization and reuse of sludge and wastewater, public participation and institutional strengthening. The central idea of “Arth Ganga” is to connect people and Ganga across the bridge of economy in accordance with the slogan of “Banking on River Ganga”. Particular emphasis is also placed on the development of a national policy for “wastewater reuse”, which is the need of the hour. There are countries like Israel and Singapore that are doing a remarkable job in recycling and reusing wastewater. Adapting to available technologies can yield good results. There are already around 164 wastewater treatment plant projects worth ₹25,000 crore which will help treat approximately 5,000 million liters per day (MLD) of wastewater.
The reuse of this treated water for non-potable purposes such as agriculture which consumes more than 80% of India’s freshwater resources. will certainly be a boon for efficient and sustainable management of freshwater resources. Under the Namami Ganges program, the “Biodiversity Conservation and Rejuvenation of the Ganges” project has had a significant impact on the ground through community mobilization, especially through the motivated Ganga Praharis framework, surveys, development of livelihoods and mass conservation education.
The dolphin quote has also seen a huge increase. About 20 lakh fish seeds are ranched under the National Ranching Program-2022 conducted by ICAR-CIFRI (Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute) during May-June. Faecal Sludge and Sludge Management (FSSM) and engineered wetlands are two other areas targeted by NMCG for decentralized wastewater treatment, primarily for rural settings.
Clearly, a multi-pronged approach is taken to addressing sustainability challenges. Biodiversity conservation, spring rejuvenation, wetland conservation and rejuvenation of traditional water bodies are other target areas of the Namami Gange program to ensure environmental sustainability. Obviously, the program focuses on the entire ecosystem of a river.
To further water reforms in the country, the Jal Shakti Ministry was established in 2019 to give impetus to integrated water resource management with emphasis on demand as well as water management. the offer. The theoretical idea was to bring all aspects of water together in a single framework and marked the necessary paradigm shift from a compartmentalised approach to a holistic approach to achieving source sustainability.
The Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA), an aggressive, time-limited water conservation campaign covering 256 districts was then launched. While JSA Phase I focused on asset building and in-depth communication, JSA-2, which was launched by the Prime Minister on World Water Day on 22 March 2021, focused on rainwater harvesting under the slogan “Catch the Rain: Where it Falls, When it Falls”, which I spearheaded as Executive Director of the National Water Mission .
Over 47 lakh rainwater harvesting structures have been constructed in all districts of the 2021 Catch the Rain campaign. This was a crucial step in sustainable water resource management given that rainfall annual rainfall in India is about 1187.6 mm, of which only 8% is harvested and more than 50% of rainfall occurs in about 15 days and less than 100 hours in total per year.
One of the most significant impacts of rainwater harvesting is groundwater recharge. Of the annual total usable water resources, a large portion of 447 billion cubic meters is groundwater. The sudden shift in dependence from surface (visible) to ground (invisible) water is evident. The theme of this year’s World Water Day is also appropriately “Making the invisible (groundwater) visible”. Understanding the interconnection and interdependence of surface water and groundwater is important for sustainable water management. While surface water recharges the aquifers below, groundwater, in turn, helps maintain surface flows. For example, the base flow of the Ganges is directly related to the availability of groundwater in the Ganges basin.
Initiatives taken in the water sector in recent years reflect the understanding of the importance of water management in reducing vulnerability and building climate resilience. This understanding has guided our priorities and informed the design of our flagship programs, including Namami Gange. The holistic and respectful approach to the implementation of various central programs in the water sector will certainly contribute greatly to harmonizing our relationship with nature.
India’s efforts also contribute to fulfilling the mandate of Sustainable Development Goal 6 which aims to “ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. In a nutshell, the government is committed to bringing about transformational change in the water sector by conserving, cleaning and caring for this precious natural resource, which directly affects the lives of all of us. To conclude in the words of Vice-President Mr. Venkaiah Naidu: “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle must be the watchwords if we are to bequeath a livable planet to the future generation.
G Asok Kumar is Managing Director, National Mission for Clean Ganga
Opinions expressed are personal