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PM's talk on restoring Ganga promises nothing: Expert

April 17, 2012 19:01 IST

Expressing displeasure at the prime minister's speech on the issue of the Ganga river basin, Himanshu Thakkar says that such sermons from the Centre have come and gone hundreds of times without any impact.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's much-awaited response on the burning issue of the Ganga river basin has been disappointing, said Himanshu Thakkar, founder of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.

Dr Singh voiced concern over the discharge of 2,900 million litres of sewage in the Ganga every day and state governments to send proposals for new sewage treatment plants. The prime minister said that adequate funds were available to take up projects.

Talking about the new projects coming up on the Ganga and its tributaries, the PM on Tuesday said, "The government of India had commissioned a study conducted by IIT Roorkee on the assessment of cumulative impact of hydropower projects in Alaknanda and Bhagirathi basins up to Devprayag.  Separately, the Wildlife Institute of India had also made an assessment of cumulative impact of hydroelectric projects on aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity in the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi basins in Uttarakhand."

The prime minister further said, "These studies had worked out certain desirable ecological flows. The IIT Roorkee report stated that the environmental flow requirement or EFR depends on the stage of development of the area and the societal requirement. The same report recommended that exact values of EFR for every single project for implementation should be established after carrying out detailed measurements of discharge, river cross sections and assessment of impact on biotic life as a result of reduced discharge on commissioned hydropower projects and consultation with the local community."

However, Thakkar and many other experts are not in agreement with the government sponsored studies.

Thakkar told, "PM's speech at the third National Ganga River Basin Authority meeting promises nothing. It is quoting the most discredited IIT Roorkee report that even the Ministry of Environment and Forests' Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects has criticised. It's not been followed by the ministry. It also quotes the report of the Wildlife Institute of India that his environment minister Jayanti Natrajan refuses to follow."

"These reports will be their guiding light and a multi disciplinary group will now study them. The prime minister also has hopes from the IIT consortium to provide guidance for the future. The consortium has no track record on either understanding the complex social, cultural, environmental, economical and governance issues that plague the issues related to the state of the river, nor does it have a track record of taking independent positions on these politically tough issues," said Thakkar.

"On the deficit of 1800 MLD treatment capacity of Urban sewage (it is a gross underestimate) the only thing he has to offer is money," added Thakkar.

Dissecting the PM's speech, Thakkar said, "On under utilisation of existing sewage, he suggests that it is basically because of the lack of connections and other expenses, so he offers relaxation of norms. Neither are really the key problems. On persistently polluting industries, he only has a sermon to state government to strengthen enforcement mechanisms. Such sermons from the Centre have come and gone hundreds of times without any impact."

Thakkar regrets that in the PM's speech there is not a word on the issue of dams, the biggest threat to the river and all related problems. Not a word on addressing governance issues. Surely, the PM acknowledges, 'We should remember that our efforts in the past have not been very successful'. But the only thing on offer is 'a renewed and sincere commitment in both thought and action to make a definite change in the situation'. "Unfortunately, in the entire speech there is nothing at all to suggest that he means what he says," said Thakkar.
A correspondent in New Delhi