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Holy Ganga accorded status of a 'living being' by Uttarakhand High Court
Just hot off the press, a news agency reports that the Uttarakhand High Court has accorded Ganga River, the same rights to exist as other living entities!

A precedent had been established in 2008 by Ecuador, which had redrafted its Constitution to include a Chapter: Rights of Nature. New Zealand had also passed a bill designating a river as a 'legal person'.

Recently, matters came to a head when a PIL was filed against material for stone crushing being mined on both the banks of the Ganga River. The court ruled the formation of Ganga Administration Board for 'cleaning and better maintenance of the most sacred river of the country'. This abuse would weaken the boundaries of the river and endanger nearby settlements during floods.

Now, Ganga River has the same rights as a person under the Indian Constitution. That's fine, but giving rights like Right to Education, Right to Work etc. are easily legislated, but changing the ground reality is a different ball game! Court castigated both the Centre and the state for spending resources on the elusive river Saraswati, but doing 'nothing concrete' for cleaning the holy river. The court has directed CAG to submit a report to the President of India within six months.

The national charade for cleaning Ganga has being going on for too long and at too great a cost, with no tangible results. Yet another example of tokenism! The game started in 1986, when the then Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi launched Ganga Action Plan (GAP). Now Modi ji has launched with added vigour, 'Namami Gange'. Visiting the project's website is impressive. High on intentions, those entrusted with the various related projects appear low on competence, team work and accountability.

On March 8, 2017, a news item made for sorry reading. The Ganga scientists were fined Rs 50,000.00 each by the National Green Tribunal for being ignorant of the basic facts about the minimum flow requirement of Ganga River. They were also pulled up for passing the buck. The court withdrew the fine, with a warning for the future.

The tribunal asked how was the ministry planning to control pollution in Ganga, if it did not know the basics. "The tribunal is feeling very sad that you all (officials) are treating it in such manner" the court observed.

It also said, "Everyone comes here from every department and says that he knows nothing. If any officer says in this court that he is not supposed to know and it is someone else's responsibility, this will be the order (Rs 50,000 penalty)."

Now the Nainital High Court has ordained yet another agency, 'Ganga Administration Board'. How will it interface with Namami Gange? Besides, one gets the feeling that the present minister-in-charge is out her depth.

Devotion towards Ganga is not enough. During the recent state elections, she said that she would commit suicide, if the enormous project is not completed by 2019! "How will her suicide help the river?," asked Vishambhar Nath Singh, chief of Sankat Mochan Temple. Singh, who is also on the faculty of IIT Benares Hindu University, rues the fact the enhancement of the capacity of sewage treatment plant has not taken place even now, although the matter had come up at the time of Rajeev Gandhi.

All the above notwithstanding, cleaning of Ganga is a very tall order. From Gangotri to the Bay of Bengal, it passes through many states, each with its own priorities and politics. Hydrology of the entire length of the river has to be understood. Some stretches dry up during summer, while they flood in monsoon. Human-created pollution levels peak at festival times, particularly during Kumbh and Magh melas. Untreated sewage and toxic industrial effluents, from the municipalities and plants keep pouring into the river. The public also litters the river banks. Unregulated coal washeries of Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal let untreated arsenic-laden water into the river, causing permanent damage to the health of the people, right up to Bangladesh!

Reason dictates that Uttrakhand should now stop building further dams, but it insists on doing so. This will also change the clean up scenario. It is hoped that with the new political dispensation in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, greater co-operation will be forthcoming towards the clean up. But multidisciplinary expertise, good teamwork and accountability are vital for its progress. One misses the type of leadership which was provided by Mr E Sreedharan for Konkan Railway and Delhi Metro.

It is good that the High Court has accorded the status of a 'living being' to Ganga River. But Ganga has been our goddess from time immemorial and that hasn't helped anyway! Perhaps, the human dynamo Modi will do the trick!

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