The government has banned the construction of jetties, ports or “permanent hydraulic structures” in the Ganga, unless permitted by the National Ganga Rejuvenation Authority, according to a proposed ‘Ganga Act’.
The legislation, formally called the National River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Conservation and Management) Bill, 2018, proposes to create a management structure that will supervise the health of the 2,500-kilometre long Ganga which, the draft Bill defines, as ‘India’s national river.’
The Bill is now being circulated for comments among several Ministries, and proposed to be tabled in Parliament during the winter session, according to sources.
The Bill lays down a host of restrictions to ensure the “uninterrupted, ecological flow” of the river. Currently, a host of dams in the upper stretches of the river lead to the river’s flow being obstructed, say several activists and researchers, and persistent campaigns — notably led by the late G.D. Agrawal — led to the government finally recognising the need for proposed and existing hydropower projects to change their design plans to ensure minimum flows all through the year.
The legislation looms even as the government is developing a National Waterways Project-1 (River Ganga) from Haldia to Varanasi (1,390 km), with the technical and financial assistance of the World Bank, at an estimated cost of Rs. 5,369 crore. Food and beverage giant PepsiCo has dispatched 16 containers from Haldia containing packaged food and assorted goods, and — in a ceremony to be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi — they are expected to dock in Varanasi on November 12, according to a statement from the Union Shipping Ministry. This is the first container movement aboard an inland vessel in independent India, according to that Ministry.
The waterways project involves creating permanent and movable terminals that require dredging and frequent de-silting to ensure that minimum river depths — for the smooth movement of the vessels — are maintained. However, the proposed legislation specifies that “unauthorised” activities that cause “…obstruction or discontinuity of water in the River Ganga…due to engineered diversion of water or stoppage of water…could be liable to a prison term of 3 years or fines upto Rs. 50 crore, or both.”
Activists say that while the government’s efforts have been largely on cleaning the Ganga — namely, by installing sewage plants in riverine cities such as Allahabad and Varanasi and Kanpur — but neglecting to take steps to ensure the river’s natural flow is maintained through the stretch. “The government’s draft does not keep the interest of the Ganga as prime focus. The intent seems to be to maintain a flow, whereas we have been insisting on achieving natural flow,” said Mallika Bhanot of the Uttarakhand-based NGO Ganga Ahwaan. The NGO was associated with G.D. Agrawal, and his call for a ban on hydropower projects on the Ganga.