Dark flows the Ganga a year since Modi’s famous ‘aarti’

Rs. 20,000 crore pumped in, but cleaning the river is a daunting task

Updated - November 16, 2021 06:44 pm IST

Published - May 28, 2015 10:59 pm IST - VARANASI:

A year ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to serve the Ganga after attending a Ganga “aarti” at the Dashashwamedh Ghat here to celebrate his electoral victory. But as the government completed its first year in office on Tuesday, Varanasi, Mr. Modi’s constituency, is divided on whether his government can succeed in the mammoth task of cleaning the river, worshipped as a mother goddess in this ancient pilgrim city.

No success yet Efforts to clean the river have been on since 1986, when the first Ganga Action Plan was announced by the then Congress government. Since then, thousands of crores of rupees has been pumped into river conservation efforts without any success.

This year, the Centre set aside Rs. 20,000 crore for “Namami Ganga”, a project to fix the river’s long-standing pollution problem.

Pushkal Upadhyay, Director, National Mission for Clean Ganga told The Hindu that the main focus of Namami Ganga project is to reduce the volume of raw sewage entering into the river currently. It will also invest in pollution monitoring and public awareness and participation. "The Rs. 20,000 crore will be utilised for completing pending sewage treatment plants, and upkeep of existing ones and building new ones where required. Other project priorities are maintenance of the ghats, roping in local citizens such as boatmen into river conservation efforts, and monitoring pollution from a central server. The government also has plans to rope in ex-servicemen to form a Ganga task force, for which the Ministry of Defence has given in-principle approval," he said.

Enthusiastic support “If Modi ji succeeds in making the river aviral [continuous] and nirmal [clean], he will be worshipped by his voters,” says Rama Rauta, a former member of the National Ganga River Basin Authority and prominent figure in the “Save the Ganga” movement. Her statement reinforces the strong emotions evoked by the river.

In Varanasi, Hindu believers and staunch BJP supporters are enthused by the prospect of a cleaner Ganga. Ordinary citizens and party workers pitched in for a massive clean-up as part of the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan on the riverfront on May 3. The usually heavily silted ghats now appear clean.

But cleaning the river will be a more daunting exercise than cleaning the ghats, river conservation activists says.

Pointing to the dozens of people bathing and washing clothes by the river side, Dinesh, a boat rower at the Assi Ghat for 30 years now, says: “Nothing has changed so far as pollution of the river is concerned. Isn’t that obvious?”

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