The Ganges - A New Hope
The River Ganges is considered to be the holiest river in India with a deep and long history of spiritual, economic, and religious significance. A life-giving source, the river provides water to 40% of India's population. The river on its path from the Himalayas, where it rises from, to the Bay of Bengal, crosses 2500 km through the northern and eastern states of India. Geographical boundaries do not hold back the mighty river, which flows through parts of Nepal, China and Bangladesh. It accounts for 30% of our country's water resources and 26% of its landmass. The Ganges has been declared India's National River.
Yet the fate of River Ganga itself seems bleak. It is one of the most polluted rivers in Asia, crossing the WHO defined levels of permissible pollutants by 3000 times. Everyday 1.7 billion litres of waste such as defecation, untreated industrial waste and pollution during religious events runs into the river. Additionally, about 89 million litres of sewage is disposed off in the river daily. The water is very quickly becoming unfit for drinking, bathing and even agricultural purposes. The discovery of Mercury in the water has raised alarms.
Earlier governments have attempted to clean the Ganges. Rajv Gandhi, in 1984, began a campaign to restore the river and rebuild the banks. However, due to a lack of technological resources and expertise at the time, the complex problems were unresolved.
Three decades later, on August 15th 2014, current Prime Minister Narendra Modi began the "Clean India"movement. The Clean Ganga Project is of national significance and the roadmap towards achieving it is not a smooth one. Billions of Rupees, massive intellectual and physical resources and meticulous governance are essential components required to take on this mega problem. However, it also represents a great business opportunity for those involved in urban planning, clean technology, wastewater management, sanitation, agriculture and infrastructure.
"The Government has taken a great step forward but in order to maintain momentum and achieve objectives it is imperative that the private sector play a large role in the execution of national plans." states Mr. Arun Lakhani, MD Vishvaraj Infrastructure and a great promoter of government-private relationships.
The "large role"mentioned by Mr. Lakhani can be best defined as a "Public Private Partnership"or a PPP. Many believe that only private organizations with their streamlined processes and sense of accountability towards investors would be capable of bringing this much sought after change. Some experts have even gone as far as to state that only foreign companies with their technology and managerial prowess can solve the complexities of this situation. In fact, foreign direct investment regulations may be relaxed to attract funding and technology.
A PPP model has given rise to several opportunities and with vigilante monitoring and diligent reporting, a cleanRiver Ganga could be a reality. The current situation, however, is dire. Thousands of villages need toilets, waste management facilities and sewage treatment plants. Small manufacturing units often dump toxic waste and in order to prevent this, treatment facilities will need to be constructed. Modern technology makes it possible to remove pollutants from the water and treat it but this too will require resources and budgetary expenditure. Long term solutions highly depend on the education of people living along the banks, development of sustainable practices within the agricultural community and the prevention of chemical fertilisers flowing into the river.
"The big question is, "Who will take on this colossal task?". The answer is "Everyone, starting from the government and trickling down to individual citizens. Everyone needs to be responsible."said Mr. Lakhani.
Indeed, the government has begun on this journey and has beckoned several individuals and organisations to join it. With a massive budgetary requirement of $15 billion and a timeline of 8 years to achieve full restoration, the Government has turned towards private investors. Some reports have suggested that 70% of the funding will be provided by the Private sector, across the coming decade.