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FEATURE STORY

India National Ganga River Basin Project

May 27, 2011

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Ganga River Basin is home to more than 400 million Indians.
  • As India's holiest river, the Ganga has a cultural and spiritual significance that far transcends the boundaries of its basin.
  • Despite this iconic status and religious heritage, the Ganga today is facing formidable pollution pressures and associated threats to its biodiversity and environmental sustainability.

 

The Ganga is India's most important river. Its sprawling basin accounts for one-fourth of the country's water resources and is home to more than 400 million Indians - or some one third of India's population. The river's 2,500 km journey from its glacial source in the Himalayas to its enormous fan-shaped delta in the Bay of Bengal traverses five Indian states along the mainstem, enriching huge swathes of agricultural plains, and sustaining a long procession of towns and cities.

As India's holiest river, the Ganga has a cultural and spiritual significance that far transcends the boundaries of its basin. It is worshipped as a living goddess, and since time immemorial, people from across the country have come to the many historic temple towns on its banks to pray and bathe in its waters.

Despite this iconic status and religious heritage, the Ganga today is facing formidable pollution pressures and associated threats to its biodiversity and environmental sustainability. An ever-growing population, inadequately planned urbanization and industrialization have affected water quality in the river. Today, the waters of the Ganga are sullied by sewage, as well as solid and industrial waste generated by human and economic activity along its banks.The absence of adequate infrastructure to manage these extreme pollution pressures means that water quality in the Ganga has deteriorated in recent decades. Today, only one-third of the sewage generated by the towns and cities on the mainstem of the river is treated; and untreated or poorly treated industrial wastewater is responsible for 20 percent of all wastewater inflows into the river. In fact the Ganga is so severely polluted, especially in its critical middle stretch, that its waters are unfit not just for drinking but even for bathing.

The Government of India has tried in the past to tackle the growing pollution in the Ganga through the Ganga Action Plan. While the program had limited success in cleaning up the river, it suffered from many deficiencies in implementation.

Building on lessons from the past, the Government of India has developed a comprehensive vision for clean-up and conservation of the Ganga, beginning with the establishment of the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) in 2009. The NGRBA has the mandate to develop a multi-sectoral program for ensuring that after 2020 no untreated municipal or industrial wastewater will be allowed to flow into the Ganga.

World Bank Support 

The World Bank is supporting the Government of India in its efforts to achieve this national goal. At a meeting between the Minister of State (independent charge) for Environment & Forests, Jairam Ramesh, and the President of the World Bank Robert Zoellick in December 2009, it was agreed that the Bank would provide long-term support to the NGRBA Program, which will include developing and strengthening the institutions needed to implement it, and financing priority infrastructure investments.

The $1.556 billion National Ganga River Basin Project, with $1 billion in financing from the World Bank Group, including $199 million interest-free IDA credit and $801 million low-interest IBRD loan, was approved by the Bank's Board of Executive Directors on 31 May 2011 and will be implemented over eight years. The Project will support the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) in:

Building the capacity of its nascent operational-level institutions so that they can manage the long-term Ganga clean-up and conservation program.

Apart from dedicated operational-level institutions at the Central and state level, the Project will also help the NGRBA set up a state-of-the-art Ganga Knowledge Centre to act as a repository for knowledge relevant for the conservation of the Ganga.

While NGRBA will fund investments (like sewage treatment plants, sewer networks etc) that are critical for reducing pollution in the Ganga, it is the cities and municipalities that will have to be responsible for managing and maintaining them in the long run. The Project will help build the capacity of city-level service providers responsible for running these assets and also modernize their systems for doing so.

The Project will also help strengthen the Central and State Pollution Control Boards for better monitoring the pollution in the Ganga, by modernizing their information systems and providing staff training. The Project will also finance the upgradation of the Ganga water quality monitoring system, as well as carry out an inventory of all the sources of pollution that affect water quality in the Ganga.

One of the reasons why earlier efforts to clean the Ganga did not take root was the lack of public participation. The various stakeholders, including the communities living along the river, the pilgrims, and the industries located in the river catchment did not fully appreciate the need for changing everyday practices that were polluting the river. The Project will help the NGRBA devise and implement communications programs to encourage people to participate in the clean-up program.

Implementing some demonstrative investments for reducing point-source pollution at priority locations on the Ganga. The Project will finance pilots for new technologies or implementation arrangements, which could be transformative if successful and replicated on scale. The individual investments will be selected in accordance with the Framework for investments developed for the NGRBA Program.