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World Bank finds Ganga rejuvenation "substantially" risky; previously it was "moderately" unsatisfactory

By Our Representative
The World Bank in its latest assessment has found the Ganga rejuvenation project “unsatisfactory and risky”, underlining, the risk today is “substantial”. Noting this, a two-series report on Ganga says, this is a clear departure from its earlier assessment in the report “Implementation Status and Result Report” of May 2018 when it found the project’s implementation “moderately unsatisfactory”.
According to the report, “The Bank was majorly concerned about the disbursement of the project funds”, as the progress on this count was just “13.15% of the projected disbursement of USD 1,000 million, particularly 0.3% (USD 2 million) of IBRD component of USD 801 million seven years since the project approval.”
Authored by well-known environmentalist Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), the report says, while the project is supposed to close in December 2019, the World Bank – always known to be “flexible” to the needs of governments – is now discussing “various options for restructuring the project.”
The World Bank “assessment”, says Thakkar, comes close on the heels of performance audit of “Namami Gange” by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India report of 2017, which found serious deficiencies and shortfalls in almost every aspect of the program. “The most shocking revelation meant that the programme has no long-term road map”.
CAG said, “National Mission for Clean Ganga could not finalise the long-term action plans evenafter more than six and half years of signing of agreement with the consortium of Indian Institutes of Technology. As a result, National Mission for Clean Ganga does not have a river basin management plan even after a lapse of more than eight years of National Ganga River Basin Authority notification.”
Even on the issue of “nirmal” or “clean” Ganga, said CAG, it found no evidence of improvement: “During 2016-17, total coliform levels in all the cities of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal was very high; ranging between six to 3,343 times higher than the prescribed levels. Specific parameters for water quality monitoring of the river Ganga have not been prescribed by National Mission for Clean Ganga.”
According to Thakkar, “what ails Ganga” is “a mindset that does not really understand a river and sees it essentially as a water channel that can be endlessly dammed and exploited in the name of development.” This mindset “sees flowing river as a wasteful luxury”, and comes up with “new threats” to the river: “Waterways, dredging, river linking plan, river front development.”
“In Uttarakhand, in the name of Char Dham Yatra, lakhs of trees are being cut, fraudulent ways are used to escape scrutiny, all affecting the river in the name of religious tourism, not even asking who needs that all weather road that looks more like invitation to disaster. Each of them is pushed even without assessing impact of these projects on the river and its health”, he adds.
It is against this backdrop, says Thakkar, that the Government of India has come up with a “new draft law on Ganga”; aimed at the “Parliamentary elections due, this seems like a new toy to show the people that the government is doing ‘something’ about Ganga.”
He adds, “The government seems to suggest that please forget about all the earlier statements, failures, projects that further adversely affected Ganga and promises about Ganga. Now this new act will take care of it all.”

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