The Daily Fix

The Daily Fix: Tribunal’s new order on Ganga shows how Centre has failed to clean up the river

Everything you need to know for the day (and a little more).

The Big Story: Saving the Ganga

The National Green Tribunal passed a second judgement on Thursday that seeks to clean up the Ganga. The tribunal promised that this judgement, if fully implemented along with the one it had passed in January, would reduce the pollution load on the river by 27% over current levels.

This judgement pertains to the stretch between Haridwar in Uttarakhand to Unnao in Uttar Pradesh – the first stretch of the river flowing out of the Himalayas. The earlier decision in January dealt with mountainous stretches of the river basin and had put restrictions on development in those areas.

On Thursday the tribunal ordered that until the government completes floodplain zoning for the Haridwar-Unnao stretch, 100 meters from the edge of the river on either side would be designated as no development zone.

The floodplain zoning will eventually demarcate the final no development/construction zone, regulatory zone and the activities that can (or cannot) be carried out in the regulatory zone of the floodplain. There are a host of other directives, mostly technological and some administrative and managerial that the NGT has set out in its 543-page judgement.

The green tribunal has lambasted the Centre (which is to say, both the current government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the previous one headed by the Congress) and the states for failing to save the river. The tribunal said the river quality has deteriorated over 30 years of government inaction, despite repeated interventions by the Supreme Court.

The judgement comes after 18 months of almost daily hearings by the National Green Tribunal. But, the tribunal’s eye for detail and doggedness may not go a long way in eradicating even the 27% of pollution load it has tried to deal with through the two judgements.

There are three reasons for a potential repeat of history. The tribunal was not mandated by the Supreme Court to look at how much water flows in the river basin at different points. The quality of river is dependent on three basic factors: how much clean water flows through different stretches of the river, how much waste merges in it and how dirty that waste is. The Supreme Court is yet to decide on how many dams should be built upstream in the Himalayas. The dams will impound and choke water and will consequently decide how much water flows through the plains. If the river water levels go down, quite logically, the density of pollutants go up in the river.

The tribunal has recorded in its judgments that Supreme Court orders to clean up the river have been flouted with impunity for over 30 years. Given that the apex court had not been very successful earlier, it is difficult to imagine the judicial fiat this time getting the executive to revamp the entire political economy of the river basin in one of India’s most densely populated areas. It will take nothing less to secure a clean-up. The only hope lies in that the tribunal has kept the case alive to monitor implementation and has given timelines to complete some directives.

Third, the tribunal has failed to project the impact of future developments in the river basin. For example, what happens when the Centre connects millions of toilets to centralised sewage systems that bring the partly treated sewage into the river?

But here is a consequence of the order that is hard to miss. The tribunal concluded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-flaunted Namami Ganga mission too has failed to achieve any success over the past three years. For all practical purposes, the National Green Tribunal is now going to drive it.

The Big Scroll

  • Under the Modi government, parliamentarians have asked a stream of questions on Ganga river. 
  • Why declaring the Ganga and Yamuna as legal entities will cause problems.

Punditry

  1. Despite the fact that a Dalit is set to be President, India’s larger political and social context has made Dalits less hopful, writes Christophe Jaffrelot in the Indian Express. 
  2. In The Hindu, Stanly Johny argues that with its territorial spread declining with the fall of Mosul, the Islamic State is finding other ways to strengthen its grip, similar to how the al-Qaeda functioned. 
  3. In this editorial, the Mint argues that the spread of large retail chains could help boost agriculture, given the infrastructure addition this would bring. 

Giggles

Don’t miss

After they attacked a residential society in Noida, domestic workers are now in fear as they are being branded as Bangladeshis.

“By the end of Thursday, at least 13 people had been arrested in connection with the violence at the complex, and an unknown number detained. Police officials who did not wish to be identified said that four cases have been registered in connection with the matter. They said that all the arrested persons are residents of the slums. There has been no police action against Zohra Bibi’s employers – a merchant navy engineer and his wife – against whom a First Information Report was filed on Wednesday.”

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