Views of Pankaj Kumar: “5P has to be followed for river restoration projects”

Pankaj Kumar, secretary, Ministry of Jal Shakti

The past year witnessed several developments in the Indian water sector. From reviving stalled projects to proposing new ones, allocating funds and focusing on reducing pollution, growth was ensured in almost every aspect. With efforts being made in all directions, emphasis was laid on ensuring drinking water supply to all households and restoring the quality of large river basins, along with their tributaries. At the inaugural session of the recently held 7th India Water Impact Summit, Pankaj Kumar, secretary, Ministry of Jal Shakti, talked about the progress under the Namami Gange programme and the focus on the restoration of rivers…

Namami Gange programme

The Namami Gange programme, the flagship sche­me of the central government, is at an interesting inflection point where all the groundwork that has been done in the past few years has now accelerated the government’s efforts. The­re has been measurable progress in terms of reduction in pollution in the river Ganga and its rejuvenation. Certain stretches of the Ga­n­­ga, which were highly polluted, are no long­er polluted. Now the concentration of the government is shifting to tributaries of the Gan­ga. The larger vision of the government is now to improve the overall ecosystem of the Ganga basin. In terms of the number of projects and sewage treatment capacity, the Ministry of Jal Shakti plans to commission a significantly larger proportion of the work and this trend is ex­pected to continue.

Restoration of rivers

The restoration of small rivers is a multifaceted pro­cess. Various ministries and departments are involved in the restoration process of rivers. There are multiple problems associated with ri­vers including problems associated with catchment, spring sheds, vegetative cover along the course of the river, encroachment in the wetlands around the river, river pollution, etc. To reso­l­ve these issues, different ministries and de­partments work in synergy to achieve the de­sired objective. However, this also leads to de­pendencies, which are often responsible for the delay in progress.

The share of dependencies has increased significantly, leading to delays in the completion of projects. For in­stance, the implementation of the Mula-Mu­tha river rejuvenation project is expected to im­prove the quality of rivers and redu­ce poll­ution, but in reality, there are many de­pen­de­n­cies, which need to be add­re­ss­ed in order to ac­hieve the objective.

The Pune Municipal Cor­po­­ra­tion has added 34 villages to its fold and sewage facilities for these villages are yet to be worked on. The municipal corporation is pl­an­ning to put up a proposal under the AMRUT 2.0 (Atal Mission for Rejuve­nation and Urban Tra­ns­formation) scheme, which will add another dependency on the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. Further, wastewater from the Pim­pri-Chinchwad municipality gets dischar­g­ed into the Mula-Mutha river. More­over, the muni­cipal corporation is planning to build att­ractive embankments on the river, which are expected to provide value addition to the citizens of Pune. Thus, unless these issues of wa­ste discharge are addressed, the objective will not be realised completely and its benefits will not be visible.

A similar instance is that of the cleaning of the river Hindon in Uttar Pradesh, which is a part of the Ganga ecosystem. A study by the National Mission for Clean Ganga found that there is an unmet sewage treatment gap in the river. The study also revealed that even if all the sewage treatment plants are constructed, the problem would still remain largely unaddressed. This is because the pollution levels in the river indicate that major po­ll­ution is being created by ind­ustries, and therefore, this needs to be tackled by those industries. It is also observed that water from the source has depleted over time and this is another area of investigation that the government needs to focus on, that is, the health of the river catchment area. Thus, the central government plans to work along with the state government and in­dustries to resolve such issues.

In sum

The restoration of small rivers will involve multiple dependencies for which different mi­nis­tri­es and departments will have to be brou­ght toge­ther to tackle and abate pollution effectively, with the help of various program­mes and policies in place. This can only be achie­ved with the efforts of the entire ecosystem. The 5P, comprising political will, public financing, partnerships, public participation and persuasion for sustainability, has to be put in place for the river restoration projects. The Ministry of Jal Shakti aims to create a framework for the restoration of small rivers in the country that would serve as a toolkit for state governme­nts, district administrations and different ministries associated with this effort, so that the entire ecosystem can be restored rather than only looking at the large rivers of the country.