By Shrutika Garg, Jamnalal Bajaj School of Legal Studies, Banasthali Vidyapith.

“Only when the last tree has died

and the last river has been poisoned

and the last fish been caught

will we realise we cannot eat money”

The above proverb explains how we are slowly destroying the valuable and precious assets gifted to us by nature. Water is amongst  such assets . Due to increasing industrialisation, population and sewage draining, day by day the rivers are getting polluted, making it vulnerable for the nearby habitats to survive. One of the most polluted rivers in India is Ganga. It originates pristine from a Himalayan glacier, 3,048 meters (10,000 feet) high, worshiped as a goddess, and is reverently called ‘mother’. Yet raw sewage from 29 cities blights its 2,525-kilometer (1,570-mile) route and bloated bodies of dead animals, funeral pyre ashes, reduced flow from dams and factory waste fouls its water. The River, which possesses a religious utility for Indians, suffers  due to such activities to such an extent that now it has been marked as one of the most polluted rivers in the world. According to a news published in Hindustan Times, The Ganga and Yamuna are ranked among the world’s 10 most polluted rivers.

The Namami Gange Project: A Ray of Hope

In 2014, to improve the condition of river Ganga, the Government had announced setting up of an integrated Ganga Conservation Mission called “Namami Gange”, allocating it an initial sum of Rs. 2,037 crore in the Union Budget 2014-15. The Cabinet had also agreed to set up a “Clean Ganga Fund” seeking contribution from residents and non- residents in order to establish zeal for the conservation of holy Ganga. In May 2015, Prime Minister Modi had approved the flagship “Namami Gange programme” in the capacity of chairperson of the meeting held by the Union Cabinet. The programme integrates the efforts to clean and protect the river Ganga in a comprehensive manner. The budget outlay was set to be 20,000 Crores for the next 5 years. It will follow a three- tier mechanism seeking contribution of different authorities at the three levels of government. The Namami Gange programme aims to focus on pollution abatement through interception, diversion and treatment of waste water flowing through the open drains from bio- remediation, in-situ treatment, use of innovative technologies, sewage treatment plants, etc.

On 4th January, 2016, the first step towards the implementation of Namami Gange Programme was taken. The 1st company named ‘Ganga task force battalion’ was deployed at Garhmukteshwar. The Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Sushri Uma Bharti, said that three such companies will be deployed soon at Kanpur, Varanasi and Allahabad.

As a part of this, the ‘Ganga Gram Yojana’ was also launched by Sushri Bharti. This scheme is yet another ‘silver lining on the clouds’ for the protection of villages situated on the banks of the river Ganga.

The Ganga Gram Yojana

The Ganga Gram Yojana was launched on 5th January 2016 by Uma Bharti in Hapur District of Uttar Pradesh. 1600 villages situated along the banks of river Ganga are  targeted for development under this scheme. In the first phase of the programme, 200 villages have been  selected.

In these villages, the open drains falling into river Ganga will be diverted and alternative arrangements for sewage treatment will be made. The villages will have toilets in every house hold. This proposal will  incur an expenditure of Rs 1 Crore on every village. The villages would be developed under the Seechewal model.

Seechewal  is a village situated in Punjab where the efforts of the villagers were solicited for the waste management and waste disposal. Seechewal  and the villages situated nearby were successfully transformed by the environmentalist Balbir Singh Seechewal with Public- Private Efforts. A salient feature of the Seechewal model is the storage of sewage water in a pond and its use for irrigation after treatment in a natural way.

Uma Bharti had further told that the Jawans of the Ganga task force will be deployed near the banks of the river Ganga in order to ensure that no civilian pollutes the water. She said that she will also look for the support of civilians in making the program a success.

The rivers in India have a religious importance, and keeping them clean is considered as a mark of respect towards them. While it is a moral duty to prevent rivers from pollution, our Constitution also provides for the same under Fundamental Duties given in Article 51A(g) which states that ,

It shall be the duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.

To conclude, all that can be said is, all the schemes, programmes, would be futile if the citizens won’t contribute. Also, the government has to take serious action against any person who contributes to the pollution of rivers because their conduct is somewhat  equivalent to other felonies and misdemeanours. Also Right to clean water is a Fundamental Right and comes under the purview of Right to Life (Article 21) and it needs strict laws for its enforcement.