Gadkari gets Rs 500-cr promise for Ganga cleaning from UK tycoons
Nitin Gadkari, the Union minister responsible for cleaning the Ganga, received in the course of a three-day visit to London a Rs 500-crore commitment for the project from businessmen of Indian origin. He confirmed this at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon before his return to Delhi.
Gadkari listed the Hinduja family and Sri Prakash Lohia of the Indorama Corporation among the donors. On Monday, at an Indian Journalists’ Association dinner, he had mentioned Anil Agarwal of Vedanta Resources and Ravi Mehrotra of Foresight Shipping as contributors. The four will take up developing and improving ghats and other infrastructure work at Haridwar, Gangasagar, Patna and Kanpur, respectively. He also announced that Shiv Nadar of HCL had pledged Rs 200 crore for the Varanasi segment of the river.
The Indian government also signed five memorandums of understanding on “innovative technologies for river cleaning”, according to a press release, with five British companies during Gadkari’s trip. Previously, at the initiative of the Indian high commission in Britain, the universities of Oxford, Southampton and Dundee have been associated in coming up with plans for the project. Nineteen other unspecific letters of interest were signed by participants at a conference on Wednesday.
The minister, however, admitted: “Unfortunately, the present position in the Ganga is not good. The water is polluted. And, particularly, regarding the solid waste and liquid waste management, we don’t have a good system. That is the reason why today’s situation is so bad.” But he added: “Our government has accepted the challenge and decided to make it a clean Ganga mission.”
Sitting beside him, the director-general of the National Mission for Clean Ganga, U P Singh, said: “I would admit perhaps the things are not as much visible in the last three years as it should have been.” The reason for this he gave as: “We did not want to repeat the mistakes we had made earlier. We wanted to do it as an integrated conservation mission, where we look after everything.”
Gadkari elaborated there were 97 core projects connected to the mission. Most of these, after three and a half years of the present government, were at a stage of planning and preparing of invitations for tenders – a process that won’t be completed before March of next year. That would leave a little over a year of the term of the current administration.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made cleaning the Ganga, especially since he was standing for election from Varanasi, a top priority during the high voltage campaign in 2014. The Namami Gange Programme was officially announced as a “flagship programme” by the Cabinet in May 2015, with a Budget allocation of Rs 20,000 crore. Yet, modest progress seems to have been made even in the short-term goals of river surface cleaning and modernisation and renovation of ghats and crematoria. A recent BBC television documentary, to mark 70 years of Indian independence, found revolting the filth and squalor of the river in Varanasi, which showed people taking a dip in the river, even sipping the water only a hundred yards away from others defecating or of half-cremated bodies floating about.