Monthly Archives: June 2014

Cleaning up the Ganga

Most of us here in India are looking forward to see how the NDA government, and Mr. Modi in particular are able to live up to their promise of cleaning up the River Ganga. Others, starting way back in the 80’s with Rajiv Gandhi, have made promises that have been, at best, only partially met.

Pollution may not be visible in the upstream tributaries, where the river roars down where it is not constrained by the multiple dams.  The exception: construction waste being dumped into the river.  It is untreated human waste from all of the growing towns in the hills that is most certainly an undesirable addition to the river. Setting up mini waste treatment plants using the latest technology should be a priority for those areas.

As we come down to the plains, Industrial waste takes on a much larger proportion of the pollutants added to the river. Most likely, if the laws that are in place were to be implemented properly, we could reduce this pollution significantly. Therein lies the biggest hurdle. Apart from corruption in the concerned state and central departments, there exists a factory owners – politician nexus that does not allow the implementation of the existing rules. Pollution control equipment is seen by most as optional or even as a cost that needs to be cut.

This is true for even for the smallest industrialist. In the early 90’s, I worked for a PCB manufacturing firm in Bangalore, and they had no qualms whatsoever in letting cyanide (used in the process) flow out into the nearest storm water drain. In connivance with the relevant department officials of course! All to ensure that the profits were not impacted. Justifying it was simple. After all, the customer was not willing to pay more, and the other competitors did the same thing.

It is in this context that news of of how in some parts of China, personnel responsible for pollution control, are being held accountable for their performance is worthy of emulating in India too. One interesting aspect is that in some parts of China, factories are being set annual quotas on the amount of river pollution that they cause.  Like carbon trading markets in the west, in China, factories wishing to increase their production, and as a by product increase the river pollution, can go and buy credit from other factories as needed. Where they seem to have gone ahead of the world, is in giving the ability to pollution control officials a remote control switch to the valves on the outlet pipes from the industries! Turn off the valve, and the production comes to a grinding halt.

The challenge for us in India is quite large, and one hopes that professionals and politicians can join together in making a positive difference to the status of the River Ganga by 2019. Will being tough on polluters and those who collude with them, reap political dividend for the NDA? Time will tell.