New Delhi: There has been a marginal increase in the proposed 2020-21 budget for Namami Gange, the flagship mission to revive the Ganga, but, on average, allocations for the programme have been declining while its spending has been falling sharply, as per an analysis of government data.

The proposed budget for 2020-21 for Namami Gange is 6.6% higher than the last allocation but the revised budget estimates for 2019-20 show a 53% less expenditure than anticipated, an IndiaSpend analysis of budget 2020-21 shows.

This trend of failing to spend allocated money has persisted since the Namami Gange programme’s inception in 2014.

The highly-publicised programme flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 has suffered due to poor governance, lack of planning, lack of political will at various levels, and administrative shuffling due to the creation of a new ministry.

Meanwhile, other rivers are getting little budgetary attention, our analysis shows.

The government has identified more than 300 polluted river stretches across the country, most of which are located in the country’s most industrialised states, IndiaSpend reported on April 28, 2018.

Ganga, which meanders across 2,500 km between the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal, is one of the world’s most polluted and populous river basins. It is inhabited by 500 million people, more than the combined populations of the US and Russia.

What the numbers imply

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government presented its latest budget on February 1, 2020. Namami Gange was allocated Rs 800 crore for the year 2020-21, up from Rs 750 crore in 2019-20, as per the budget document for the Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation under the Ministry of Jal Shakti.

The revised budget estimate for the programme, however, showed that only Rs 353.42 crore is expected to be spent during the financial year 2019-20 against the total allocation of Rs 750 crore.

The steepest drop in both, the total budget allocation as well as spending, was recorded in the financial year 2019-20. The programme received a budget of Rs 750 crore, 67.39% lower than the preceding year’s budget. The anticipated spending (Rs 353.42 crore) is about half the Rs 687.5 crore spent in the preceding year.

“Low allocation and lower spending of budgets, both show the decreasing will to address the issue because Ganga’s state has not improved,” said Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator at the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, a network of nonprofits and individuals. “There is a lot that needs to be done.”

So far the government has mostly focused on building sewage treatment infrastructure in cities along the Ganga, but these efforts have not been effective, IndiaSpend reported on April 15, 2019.

Budgets remain underutilised, according to Thakkar, because of poor governance. “The infrastructure or facilities you have put in, you will have to ensure that they function as designed and achieve their objectives,” he said.

Budget cuts do not help because the revival of polluted rivers needs to be a continuous process in a country that is urbanising at a fast pace, said Kavita Shah, coordinator, Mahamana Malviya Research Centre for Ganga, River Development and Water Resource Management, an arm of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Varanasi.

“Proper disbursement of funds to agencies that could do justice to the cleaning of Ganga is lacking,” said Shah. “Local institutions dedicated to the cause were denied funding.” The BHU centre was among these, she added.

Constant changes

The first meeting of the National Ganga Council, the highest policy-making body headed by the prime minister constituted in 2016, took place in December 2019. The council was created to oversee the cleaning of the river, replacing the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA). The council, which was supposed to meet once every year, is headed by the prime minister and the chief ministers of the five Ganga basin states--Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Several union ministers are its members.

The NGRBA was established in 2009 to put a stop to the discharge of sewage into the Ganga, which carries the sewage of 53 cities--with a population of 50,000-100,000--and 48 towns.

In May 2019, after it returned to power for a second time, the Modi-led government created the Ministry of Jal Shakti, subsuming two ministries--the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.

The frequent shuffling of related ministries and its officials has hindered budget allocations, said Kavita Shah.

Little budget for other rivers

The National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) was set up in 1985 to clean up the polluted stretches of the Ganga, but by 1995 it covered all major Indian rivers. One part of NRCP specifically caters to the Ganga and its tributaries, and another focuses on other river basins.

The budget allocation for the latter, which includes 33 rivers in 76 towns/cities in 15 states, increased 12.24% between 2019-20 and 2020-21--from Rs 196 crore to Rs 220 crore. However, the current allocation for other basins under NRCP is about 74% less than the Rs 840 crore allocated for the Ganga mission, we found.

The budget allocation for the Ganga-focussed NRCP recorded a decline of about 31%--from Rs 1,220 crore ($170.45 million) in the last budget to Rs 840 crore in the current one.

In July 2019, the NRCP coordinated by the National River Conservation Directorate, the government body which approves financial assistance under NRCP to states or local bodies for pollution abatement in rivers except the Ganga, was also shifted from the environment ministry to the newly formed Jal Shakti ministry’s water resources arm.

“This was not necessary,” Thakkar said, adding that the water resources ministry is essentially a development organisation. Its mandate does not relate to the conservation of rivers which is the role of the environment ministry that no longer has any jurisdiction over rivers, he said

(Tripathi is an IndiaSpend reporting fellow.)

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