Prime minister Narendra Modi may be as pure as Ganga but his ambitious plan to clean and develop the country's longest river has never really taken off. There have been several reasons for the same.
All the five major states through which the river flowed were under non-BJP governments. Also, there were serious differences among the ministries tasked with spending Rs 25,000 crore a year to clean the river.
The minister for Ganga development, Uma Bharati, who also handled water resources, had both health problems, and political difficulties. The former Madhya Pradesh chief minister, the first of the saffron-wearing minister in NDA, was scared of flying, and always preferred to travel by train or car.
As she had a bad back, long surface journeys were difficult. For the same reason, her plans to have a Ganga Parikrama, from Ganga Sangam in West Bengal, where the river joins the sea, to Gangotri in the Himalayas where the river originates never really happened. She also could not work out a comprehensive action plan with other ministries. The Ganga development ministry had serious differences with ministries such as urban development, environment, and inland navigation.
But now, Modi has rung in changes, taking advantage of the fact that four of the six riparian states are with the NDA. Nitin Gadkari, the minister for highways, shipping, and internal waterways, has taken charge of the entire water resources ministry, including Ganga development. Gadkari is known for pushing projects and spending money to expand transport networks. So, Modi believes that he will be able to reconcile the differences between the two ministries under him.
The urban development ministry, which was earlier headed by Venkaiah Naidu, also plays a key role as most of the industrial effluents discharged into the river are from major cities such as Delhi, Agra, Kanpur, Varanasi and Patna. Now, the urban development ministry is with newcomer and former diplomat Hardeep Singh Puri and his approach will be interesting to watch.
Likewise, the environment ministry earlier had reservations about dredging and construction of navigation locks on the river as it would have an impact on the fish ecosystem. And it will be for Gadkari to persuade environment minister Harsh Vardhan to give approvals so that barges take cargo from Delhi to Kolkata on Yamuna and Ganga.
Barring Delhi (Aam Aadmi Party) and Bengal (Trinamool Congress), the BJP and its partner Janata Dal (United) control the river. While the BJP rules Uttarakhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, it is a partner with Janata Dal(United) in Bihar. This is another factor, which should help the quicker implementation of the action plan.
Meanwhile, Uma Bharati, who otherwise ranks eighth in the seniority list of the cabinet, has been given the low profile ministry of drinking water and sanitation, which used to be part of the rural development ministry. But she has declared that she would be the first activist of the Ganga and would help Gadkari realize her own dreams for the holy river. She has also promised to do her Ganga Parikrama, which would have political overtones, with the Lok Sabha elections approaching.