New Delhi, Nov 6: The Government has finally adopted an integrated and holistic approach to Ganga's cleaning by formation of a Ganga River Basin Authority, a step which environmentalists see as an undeclared admission by the Centre of the terrible failure of the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) launched with much fanfare in 1985. The GAP envisaged to intercept, divert and treat 882 Million litres per day (mld) out of 1340 mld of wastewater, generated in 25 class-I towns in the States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.
However, after spending of hundreds of crores of rupees, the Plan failed to make any difference to the level of pollution in the river. Experts felt that the approach adopted in the GAP was not right. Prof Manoj Kumar Misra of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan said so far the great river had been taken just a channel of river instead of an ecological entity.
''The Ganga Action Plan and the Yamuna Action Plan were sectoral plans, but the river is much more than just flowing water. It is a whole ecosystem,'' he said.
It was now heartening to see that the Government had finally taken note of this reality, he added.
He also welcomed the declaration of the Ganga as national river, saying the strong symbolism involved in giving this status to the river would help in the involvement of the people in its conservation.
Another environmentalist Prof Suresh Babu of the Centre for Science and Environment also hailed the step saying that there was at least a realisation that something needed to be done urgently to save the great river.
The GAP only set up sewage treatment plants, while the need was to rejuvenate the whole ecosystem, he said.
The Ganga River Basin Authority will now adopt the basin approach in which the sources of pollution in the tributaries of the river would be taken care of.
Both Prof Misra and Prof Babu said one will have to wait and see how the new Authority performs its function.
The new agency will be an empowered planning, implementing and monitoring authority for the river and chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It will have as its members the Chief Ministers of the states through which the Ganga flows.
''It would replace the current piecemeal efforts taken up in a fragmented manner in select cities with an integrated approach that sees the river as an ecological entity and addresses issues of quantity in terms of water flows along with issues of quality,'' the PMO said after Tuesday's interministerial meeting at which formation of the Authority was decided.
The unit of planning would be the river basin and action related to pollution abatement, sustainable use of water and flood management.
The proposed authority would promote intersectoral coordination for comprehensive planning for the river. Various agencies working on different aspects of river conservation and pollution management would be brought together under the authority.
Details of the authority to be vested with appropriate powers would be worked out in consultation with the state governments and Central Ministries. Prime Minister, who had chaired the interministerial meeting on the issue, directed that detailed final proposals may be prepared within two months after the necessary wide-ranging consultations.
Jt Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Forests RK Vaish told UNI that the new authority would adopt a holistic approach to the conservation of the Ganga. He said it was very difficult at this stage to say as to how it would be done and with what results.
''It will take sometime before the actions envisaged took the form of concrete projects,'' he said.
Ganga runs its course of over 2500 km from Gangotri in the Himalayas to Ganga Sagar in the Bay of Bengal. It flows through 29 cities with population over 1,00,000 ('class-I cities'), 23 cities with population between 50,000 and 1,00,000 ('class-II cities'), and about 48 towns.
The river holds a special place in the heart of the people as it interweaves their spiritual and cultural fabric.
Of late, pressure from the civil sociey has been growing on the Government for doing something to save the river.
In August, about 250 spiritual heads of the country had launched a Save Ganga campaign in the capital.
Earlier, in December last the Supreme Court had asked the Government to explain how they had used more than Rs 10 billion allocated for cleaning the Ganga.