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Uninterrupted, clean Ganga? Five years of Modi rule 'keeps' the river shackled, shocked

A Matu Jansangathan protest to allow Ganga to flow freely
By Vimal Bhai*
In a recent address to Parliament, the President of India said that the government has set a goal for making the Ganga uninterrupted and clean by 2022. Along with the Ganga, the government will work on a similar pattern on the Yamuna, Narmada, Kaveri, Godavari and other rivers. This has got me worried about the future of these rivers in the country.
A long list of social movements, government assurances, orders from local courts, high courts and the Supreme Court, as well as the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on issues related to the Ganga are in front of us.
Yet the Ganga is, from her origins to her meeting with the Gangasagar, shackled and shocked. The Ganga has been bound in dam projects from the origin of her main streams in the mountains. The Alaknanda Ganga has been shackled by the Vishnuprayag dam, while the Bhagirathi Ganga has been dammed from Maneri Bhali to the giant Tehri dam. The Ganga and her tributaries have been stricken with about 56 major dam projects, some of which are already constructed while others are in various stages of construction and studies.
There is no other river in the country, or in the world, like the Ganga, which is the subject of so much discussion and which has been given the status of the national river. While the Hindus consider the Ganga as the redeemer of sin, all religious people in the country have faith in the Ganga.
The Prime Minister of the country that represents a fifth of the world's population considers himself a son of Ganga, and became a Member of Parliament and reached the highest position in government from a constituency on her riverbanks. The Ganga, directly and indirectly associated with the life of nearly 40 million people, is also known for her spiritual-economic-natural beauty. The river also plays a crucial role in the ecology of a large area of India.
While the President had to say the words written for him in Parliament, we expect the first citizen of the country to come forward and understand the Ganga's pain as a common man.
It is not necessary to repeat the history that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi first started the cleaning of the Ganga or that the Manmohan Singh government had given the status of the national river to the Ganga.
Due to the fasting of Sant Swami Sanand (formerly Prof GD Agrawal), the Manmohan Singh government stopped the construction of two dams of Loharinag-Pala, Pala-Manari and Bhairon valley in order to leave the Bhagirathi Ganga intact for 100 km. Upon declaring the Ganga as the national river, it also established an authority.
Around this time, the Wildlife Institute of Dehradun recommended the shelving of 24 dam project on the Ganga. To counter this report, a report was commissioned from a professor at Roorkee University. In this report, Ganga was kept in C class. It was not that during his tenure he intended to give the Ganga complete Gangatva, but much was happening during Manmohan Singh’s tenure.
At the same time, after many long battles, the courts also began to respond. In 2008, on an appeal filed by economist Bharat Jhunjhunwala and me, the National Environmental Appellate Authority canceled Kotli Bhel Phase-1B on the Alaknanda Ganga. The courts also ordered compensation for dam affected people and fines on dam companies for violation of environmental conditions. Or, where people understood the reality of the dams, they stopped the construction of the dam on the ground.
Matu Jansangathan and Bhuswami Sangharsh Samiti have managed to stop the construction of the proposed Devsari dam on the Pinder Ganga for almost 10 years. Matu has also intervene in public hearings of various other projects and able to stop them. 
Under the leadership of Gangadhar Nautiyal, there has been a long movement on the Mandakini Ganga. Women leaders such as Sushila Bhandari came forward and led movements. With dam construction having slowed down, the rights of the local people have been strengthened.
But on issues such as mining, the administration comes across as completely anti-Ganga. In Haridwar, Swami Sivananda ji of the Matru Sadan has been fighting legal battles against mining on the Ganga as well as keeping long fasts for the same. Even if the legal case is won, the administration responsible for the compliance of court orders seems silent in front of the mining mafia. Is this silence not collusion? In the fight over dams, the administration has always stood by the dam companies, irrespective of who forms the government.
In addition to the above facts, the President should also consider that the present government started the Namami Ganga project with a Rs 22,000 crore budget. At the same time, it is the present government which is preparing to run large cruise and cargo ship on the Ganga. The harbours have been constructed.
On the issue of the barrages on the Ganga, a large number of organizations in Bihar, Bengal and Uttar Pradesh have become active. The World Bank is also wrapped up in this issue, since they are also providing aid. But blessed is your government, which has kept its ears shut and has continued doing what it has decided.
The Chief Minister of Bihar had expressed his intention of opening the Farakka Barrage. However, with the changed political situation when he joined hands with the central government, he too has been silent on the issue.
In states like Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, in the context of the Namami Ganga programme, the graph from the project level to the budget and expenditure has been very low, even though the party forming the government at the centre and in these states has been the same.
However, during the elections, several projects were announced, one after another, with much publicity. With the elections in mind, at the Ardhakumbh in Allahabad, the Ardhkumbh city was constructed and water made available in the Ganga with great publicity and marketing. Millions came to wash away their sins in the river Ganga and, upon returning home, gave their vote to the current centre government. 
The President should know that his government has spent five years without making any concrete plan, rule, law, with regards to keeping the Ganga flowing uninterrupted and clean
This was all made possible on the Ganga. In the virtual world of the media, this played a big role and the Ardhakumbh was publicized internationally as the Kumbh. However, the state of the pollution of the Ganga can be stated by the Central Pollution Control Board.
In August 2013, the Supreme Court on its own setup a committee to examine the role played by the dams on the Ganga in the Uttarakhand disaster. The government then created a new committee to weaken the recommendations of this Ravi Chopra Committee. A committee was also formed by the Central Electricity Authority. However, in the last 5 years, the Ministry of Water Resources, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Power have been unable to file a unanimous affidavit in the courts.
The former Ministry of Water Resources has released a notification for minimum water flow. Several times the then minister Nitin Gadkari, in his speeches and in person, had stated that the government has decided to not allow any new dams to be built on the Ganga, and that even the dams with some work finished will be stopped.
The Prime Minister's Office also held a meeting on issue of dams on the river Ganga at the end of February 2019. A team was also sent to look at the status of seven under-construction dams. The committee also went to the sites, but its report has not been made public to this day. The Environment Ministry had to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court on the basis of this report, which it has not done yet.
This same intention was stated in the letter received from the government by the Matru Sadan’s young sanyasi Brahmachari Atmabodhanand, who had been sitting on fast in order to fulfil the resolution of Swami Sanand ji, on the occasion of his fasting for 194 days on May 4, 2019. On this basis he gave his fasting a rest. However, on June 16th, Matru Sadan gave the government two months’ time after which the fasting will be resumed.
The President should know that his government has spent five years without making any concrete plan, rule, law, with regards to keeping the Ganga flowing uninterrupted and clean.
Affidavits have not been filed in the courts; announcements made in speeches have not been fulfilled; the assurances given and promises made, in public and individually, have not been fulfilled; with regards to mining, the notifications did not get implemented despite the same party being in government at the centre and in Uttarakhand; not only were the under-construction dam projects not stopped, no notification preventing future dam building activity was issued; nor were the promises made to the sanyasis kept.
Here I am not talking of the sanyasis of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, who sang praises for the government at their recent meeting in Haridwar and passed a resolution against the soul of the Constitution, the same Constitution which the President is supposed to protect. There was even a resolution passed to remove silt from the Ganga to keep the Ganga flowing uninterrupted, i.e. there was clear cooperation with the mining sector. Swami Sivananda ji has completely opposed this.
The head of the President's government is the same as in 2014. They have now received the mandate for another term. So will he do something substantial for the Ganga or will the words and deeds of the President lose all value?
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*With Matu Jansangthan, working in Uttarakhand since 1988 on the issue of environment and People’s rights. Contact: bhaivimal@gmail.com

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