New Delhi: The gigantic task of cleaning up the Ganga was on Sunday placed under the charge of Nitin Gadkari who will be expected to deliver on the key election pledge before the next general election in 2019.
In a bid to give a new lease to a flagship project of the National Democratic Alliance, Gadkari was given charge of the ministry of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation. The ministry has been headed since 2014 by Uma Bharti, who has now been given charge of the ministry of drinking water and sanitation.
Gadkari’s ministry is responsible for the implementation of the ambitious Namami Gange (Clean Ganga) Mission, which is a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But it’s a mission that has proved stubbornly difficult to accomplish.
In 2014, the government set up a separate ministry to fast-track the process of cleaning the river. While the mission was officially launched in 2015, it has failed to garner the kind of support and results that were envisioned by the government.
“The decision to appoint a new minister for Ganga project should not be just seen in terms of performance. Ganga is an ideological issue for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Union government. Apart from the electoral importance of Ganga and the over 160 Lok Sabha seats in its path, the river flows through Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which comprise a major part of the Hindi heart of India,” said a senior BJP leader.
The 2,525-km river which flows through Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand is also of key electoral importance as it accounts for approximately 167 Lok Sabha constituencies.
“Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own constituency, Varanasi lies on the path of Ganga, and since the BJP is in power in both UP and Bihar (in alliance), there cannot be lack of effort on this front. The BJP had made an election promise to clean Ganga so the decision is important for it. There is very little time before the general election and it is a huge responsibility for Nitin Gadkari, so the BJP has to deliver on its promise,” the BJP leader added.
The change comes after the government has repeatedly been pulled up by courts over its failure to clean Ganga. In July, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), in a scathing indictment of the way government money was being spent on the Ganga, noted that “even after spending Rs7,304.64 crore up to March 2017 by the central government, state government and local authorities of the state of UP” the status of the Ganga had “not improved in terms of quality or otherwise and it continues to be a serious environmental issue”.
The bench ordered the concerned authorities to start constructing all sewage treatment plants and installation of any other anti-pollution devices within four months and complete the work “positively” within two years. The Supreme Court too had pulled up the central government for its poor show on the Ganga clean-up job.
Gadkari was already working in close coordination with Uma Bharti on the Ganga, which made him the natural candidate to be given full charge of the department.
It is not just Ganga—stuck plans for the river interlinking project may also get a push under Gadkari. Known for getting the work done, he will be expected to overcome resistance and reservations to get everyone on board for the ambitious plan to develop 30 river interlinking projects.
Experts said it may be too late for such a change.
“There are serious doubts that a new person can deliver results. Bharti had intent but could not deliver. Now there is a question mark on the rejuvenation of the Ganga. We may see better results (under the new leadership) but not necessarily for rejuvenation,” said Manoj Misra, an environmentalist and convener of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan.