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FEATURE STORY

National Ganga River Basin Project FAQ

May 27, 2011

What is the scale of the challenge in the clean-up and conservation of the Ganga?

The Ganga basin is the world’s most populous river basin, supporting some 400 million people in India alone. An ever-growing population, inadequately planned urbanization and rapid industrialization have severely polluted the water in the river, which accounts for one-fourth of India’s water resources.

Today, the waters of the Ganga are sullied by sewage, as well as urban and industrial waste from the 150 or so towns and cities on the river’s mainstem. Only one-third of the sewage is treated. Untreated or poorly treated industrial effluents are also a major source of pollution with one-fifth of all wastewater inflows into the river coming from industries along its banks. In fact, the river suffers from such high levels of organic and bacterial pollution, especially in its critical middle stretch, that its waters today are unfit for bathing, let alone for drinking.

India’s earlier experience on the Ganga, and the World Bank’s elsewhere in the world, shows that river clean-up and conservation are immensely challenging. Severely polluted hydrologic systems like that of the Ganga today take a long time to respond to clean-up efforts. The challenge on the Ganga is even greater because institutions working to battle pollution have to work across city and state boundaries, and across multiple sectors (e.g., environment, water resources, irrigation, urban water and sanitation, energy etc.). Thus, achieving results will require not just large investments, but a persistent and long-term effort to work across sectors.

How is this new program different from the earlier Ganga Action Plan?

The Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was a good start but, according to the government’s own analysis, it suffered some gaps in implementation. Building on lessons from the past, the Government of India has developed a new and more comprehensive vision for the clean-up and conservation of the Ganga, beginning with the establishment of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) in 2009:

Basin-level and not town-centric approach: The GAP took a narrower approach, focusing more on sewage treatment in towns, with almost no emphasis on planning at the river basin level. The new NGRBA Program takes a more comprehensive, basin-wide, and multi-sectoral approach. It will thus support investments to control pollution (industrial and municipal wastewater, solid waste management) but will also address non-point source pollution and ensure that the river can maintain levels of flow needed for ecological sustainability. This is in contrast to the town-centric and “end-of-the-pipe” wastewater treatment focus of the previous efforts.

Setting up the right institutions: The Government of India set up the NGRBA in recognition of the fact that strong and dedicated institutions will be needed for the planning, managing and implementing a program of this scale and complexity.

Creating a knowledge base: Information on the sources and nature of pollution, and on the dynamics of the river, is critical to designing an efficient and effective strategy for clean-up. At present, there are large gaps in the knowledge base around the Ganga river. For instance, there is no inventory of municipal or industrial wastewater sources discharging into the Ganga. The NGRBA Program will therefore invest in strengthening this knowledge base to ensure that planning and management are based on adequate and sound information.

Ensuring that adequate funds are available: The cost of infrastructure required to collect and treat municipal wastewater in cities along the river’s mainstem alone is estimated to be $4 billion. The government now recognizes that the investments in GAP (some $200 million over 20 years) were inadequate for the scale and complexity of the clean-up effort, and is making appropriate budgetary allocations for the NGRBA Program.

Involving people: One of the now recognized reasons for the limited success of GAP was the lack of public participation. The NGRBA will therefore seek to build community participation initiatives aimed at building support for the clean-up effort.

Better monitoring: The NGRBA Program will also support investments in strengthening the regulatory and enforcement capacity of pollution control boards in the basin.

What is a river basin management approach?

A river basin management approach goes beyond the treatment of industrial and domestic effluents at distinct points along the river to include other forms of pollution as well. It also looks at surface and ground water resources as well as water flow levels in the entire basin as these impact the river’s water quality and ecological sustainability. For example, a basin-wide approach would include the protection of catchment areas, promoting agricultural productivity, and providing for minimum ecological flows, in addition, of course, to treatment of industrial and domestic wastewater.

What will it take to achieve the government’s goal of cleaning up the Ganga basin?

Given the scale of the river and its current water quality, it is clear that cleaning the Ganga is likely to take a few decades at a cost of tens of billions of dollars. At present, only one-third of the sewage generated in the towns and cities along the mainstem is treated before being discharged into the river. Treatment capacity in the large cities is only 44% of the requirement, with much less in the smaller cities. Sustained investments in time and money will therefore be needed to achieve visible success.

Global experience shows that river clean-up is always a lengthy and costly endeavor. On the Rhine, the building of municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants alone took investments of more than 40 billion Euros between 1970 and 1990. In China’s eastern Jiangsu Province, the government pledged more than $14 billion in 2007 to clean Lake Tai, the country’s third largest freshwater lake. The clean-up of the Danube is still ongoing, decades after it started.

The Government of India has a clear plan for action and, with sustained public and political support for the Program, significant progress towards cleaning the Ganga can be achieved.

Will the new Program be implemented by the same agencies and institutions that ran the earlier program? What is being done to strengthen the implementation modalities?

Some institutions and agencies are the same, but some will be different. The NGRBA itself is a high-level political authority, chaired by the Prime Minister, with a multi-state structure that spans many sectors (environment, urban development, water resources, agriculture, industries, energy etc.) and works across ministerial and state boundaries. It has a clear mandate to work with state governments, implementing agencies, and civil society to achieve the goals of Mission Clean Ganga. The five mainstem states (Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Bihar) have also notified state-level Authorities to guide policy and decision-making at the state level.

A national-level Program Management Group is being set up as a dedicated entity to oversee the effective implementation of the overall NGRBA Program, including the World Bank-supported project. Implementation in the states will be overseen by the State-level Program Management Groups (SPMGs).

Individual activities, like setting up sewage networks, or treatment plants or conducting riverfront development, will be conducted by Executing Agencies (EAs) with special expertise in that specific activity. Local coordination for planning and implementation will be provided by Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) where needed.

The Bank-supported Project will also focus on strengthening the capacity of the major agencies involved in the Program, including the city-level service providers responsible for pollution-control assets, and the pollution control boards responsible for monitoring pollution loads in the river.

Has the World Bank supported similar river clean-up and conservation efforts in other countries? What can India learn from those experiences?

Globally, the World Bank has made investments in basin planning (in Argentina, Brazil and China), sewage treatment and industrial pollution control (in several countries of the world) and, rehabilitating urban areas, and developing eco-parks, etc.

In our engagements across the globe, we have seen that new institutions and incentives often have to be created to foster sustainable and healthy rivers and to manage the inherent complexity of working across many sectors and jurisdictions.

Different countries have tried different things but some common lessons learnt include:

Need to move beyond sewerage and sewage treatment;

Need to follow a river basin approach;

Need to get the institutional structure right and link payments to performance;

Need for broad-based stakeholder engagement

Need for a long-term commitment

What will the World Bank’s financing go towards?

The World Bank’s support will focus on two aspects:

It will help build the NGRBA institutions at the national and state levels and strengthen the capacity of local urban service providers and environmental regulators to implement and monitor the Ganga clean-up program ($200 million)

It will also finance certain select investment projects in wastewater collection and treatment, industrial pollution control, the management of solid waste, as well as riverfront development and management. ($1.3 billion)

Have these priority investments been identified?

No, the individual investments to clean the river and improve water quality have not yet been identified. These will be decided after the completion of a basin-level analysis to ensure that the desired results are achieved in a cost-effective manner.

However, given the urgent need to begin work, the NGRBA will identify pollution hot-spots along the river where “no regret” investments can be made, even while the larger basin management plan is being drawn up. A significant portion of these initial investments are likely to be in the middle stretch of the river, where pollution loads are at their highest.

The majority of these investments are expected to be made in cities along the banks of the Ganga, in wastewater treatment (e.g. plants and sewage networks); industrial pollution control efforts (e.g. common effluent treatment plants); solid waste management (e.g. collection, transport and disposal systems); and river front management (e.g. improvement of the built environment along river stretches, improvement of small ghats and crematoria).

World Bank-financing will also be used to pilot innovative technologies and implementation arrangements. The potential pilot areas identified so far include wastewater plants that utilize energy generated by waste (net-energy positive wastewater treatment technologies) and innovative Public-Private Participation (PPP) financing models which have not been used in the Ganga basin states.

By when will the early priority investments be identified?

The initial list of investments is likely to be identified within the first year of implementation of the Project.

How will the social and environmental impacts of investments aimed at controlling pollution in the river be managed or mitigated?

An Environmental and Social Management Framework (ESMF) has been developed for the NGRBA Program. This will guide the implementing agencies in designing carrying out necessary environmental and social assessments for the investments. Environmental and social assessment will be carried out for all sub projects and safeguard documents prepared will be cleared by the Bank before the final approval of the sub-project. The implementation of these management plans and measures will be monitored by NGRBA through their environmental and social specialists. The effectiveness of implementation will be reviewed by annually by third-party monitoring agencies.

The Bank-funded program will fund the establishment of a Ganga Knowledge Centre. What will be the structure and the mandate of this Centre and who will be involved in it?

The Ganga Knowledge Centre is planned as a state-of-the-art centre that would bring together the most modern technologies to generate, compile, and analyze all relevant data on the Ganga basin. It will also work at establishing rich partnerships with universities and other research institutions both within India and abroad.

The Ganga is an iconic river in India, held in reverence for its social, cultural, religious, and economic value. How will the concerns of the different stakeholder groups regarding the conservation of this mighty river be taken into account?
The government has been consistently engaged in a robust dialogue with many civil society groups that represent the people whose lives are intertwined with that of the river. The government and the Bank believe that the task of cleaning-up the Ganga is impossible without a parallel public movement that re-connects people with a healthy river, including through greater awareness of the scale of the pollution and civic engagement in grassroots clean-up efforts. The Bank project will support the government’s efforts to create a broad-based partnership designed to tap into the enormous reservoir of affection and respect that India carries for the river Ganga.