In his maiden budget speech in Parliament today, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley proposed to set up an Integrated Ganga Conservation Mission, called Namami Gange, and allocated Rs 2,037 crore towards the mission. Jaitley said a substantial amount has been spent in the conservation and improvement of the Ganga but “the efforts have not yielded desired results because of the lack of concerted effort by all the stakeholders”.
This is perhaps the biggest allocation for the Ganga since it got the status of the National River in November 2008. In February 2009, the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGBRA) was set up and in the budget of 2009-10, Rs 562 crore was allocated for cleaning up the river. In budget 2010-11, erstwhile finance minister Pranab Mukherjee allocated Rs 500 crore to NGRBA. In budget 2011-12, Rs 200 crore was set aside for conservation of lakes and rivers other than the Ganga.
This year, Jaitley also constituted an NRI Fund for the Ganga to finance special projects. The minister said that the fund has been constituted to harness enthusiasm of the NRI Community to contribute towards conservation of the river.
The finance minister has set aside a sum of Rs 100 crore for ghat development and beautification of riverfront at Kedarnath, Haridwar, Kanpur, Varanasi, Allahabad, Patna and Delhi in the current financial year. Interestingly, there is no ghat on the banks of the river Alaknanda at Kedarnath. After the Uttarakhand tragedy of 2013, the river has cut a wide channel eating away half of the landmass. A ghat at Kedarnath is a dangerous proposition since there is no land for ghat. Even if a ghat is carved out, it may trigger a massive landslide.
“I think the minister has never visited Kedarnath,” Manoj Mishra, convener of non-profit Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan. “It is absurd. How can a ghat be made in Kedarnath?” he asks.
During Ganga Manthan, a multi stakeholders meet on the Ganga on July 7, Union Minister for Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari had said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious plan for “aviral aur nirmal (continuous and clean)” Ganga may cost Rs 80,000 crore. He had suggested Union minister for Water Resources Uma Bharti that the government may provide around 30 per cent of this sum through viability-gap funding and the rest could be raised through a public-private partnership (PPP) model.
Money for controversial river-linking project
The budget also touched upon National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) ambitious project, Inter Linking of Rivers. The finance minister has set aside a sum of Rs 100 crore to expedite the preparation of Detailed Project Reports for linking of rivers.
The project was first proposed way back in 1982, and was taken up during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure as Prime Minister in 1999-2004. However, the project was shelved after the UPA government came to power. Environmentalists have long been criticising the project. In fact, NDA’s women and child development minister, Maneka Gandhi, in a recent interview to media persons had said that, “There is no question of it (linking rivers). There can be no scheme in the world as bad as this. Every river has its own eco-system, own fish, own PH value. If you connect one river with another, it will kill both of them. Don’t be in any misconception.”