Clean Ganga World bank Loans: Where Art Thou?

  (Pujas and Yagna’s: Religious rituals undertaken to pray for something one is hoping for)

(Pujas and Yagna’s: Religious rituals undertaken to pray for something one is hoping for)

The other day one of my teachers brought to my attention that India is the world’s largest recipient of World Bank Aid which of course surprised me to a certain extent. Google World Bank Loans Ganges river and you come across an article in 2009 about India receiving a loan to clean up the Ganga, an article in 2011 focusing on the same project but with a new loan and there was one written in 2014 about how the Indian government will receive yet another loan installment from the World Bank.

The Ganga/Ganges river is India’s most important river. It is a river that originates in the Himalayas and through its 2500 km journey down it helps enrich huge areas of agricultural land and is key to sustaining a long list of towns and cities. The Ganga basin that is spread out over eleven states of India is the world’s most populous basin, with over 40% of India’s GDP being generated in the region. The basin provides India with more than 1/3rd of its surface area, over 90% of which is used for irrigation. To top it off this very fertile region is home to a good share of India’s poor with more than 200 million people living below the national poverty line.

The Ganga is considered holy by Hindus, who constitute majority of India’s population. The River is worshipped and revered as a living goddess and for time immemorial, it’s where Hindu’s have flocked to pray and purge their sins.  

Current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when running for elections in 2014 mentioned how he’s going to make sure Mother Ganga is cleaned up if he is elected as the Prime Minister. So important was this mission of cleaning Ganga that it was one of his campaign’s cornerstones. Some say that it was the call to revive a river sacred to Hindu’s and is a lifeline to 40% of India’s population helped drive him to power. Off to a promising start the Modi government launched the Namami Gange program with a colossal budget of 20,000 crore for a five year period that ends in 2020. This isn’t the first attempt to clean the Ganga, several task forces have come and gone, pocketing public and world bank money in the process.

Now on to the most important aspect of the issue: the social angle. Despite its iconic status and important place in Hinduism the Ganga faces a multitude of serious pollution concerns, besides the threats to its biodiversity and environmental sustainability. A booming population, unplanned urbanisation and industrialisation have severely affected the quality of the river’s water combined with defecation in the river and usage of the water for domestic purposes. Today, the river’s waters have continuous outpour of sewage, solid and industrial waste created by all the activities that take place along the banks of the holy river. And to all those people living along the banks of the river, using the water for drinking and other domestic purposes are at a high risk to water borne diseases. They don’t have access to other sources of water so their hands are tied. Lack of infrastructure and negligent environmental governance combined with almost no technical expertise to manage the extreme pollution, the water quality is depreciating very very quickly.

Economic incentive: check. Cultural incentive: check. Political incentive: check. Social incentive:check. Foreign Aid/Loans: check. And behold state of the river: 

Thinking of those 400 million people who depend on the river in one way or the other, thinking of the river’s contribution to more than 40% of the nations GDP I wonder if greed got the better of all of people involved in Prime Minister Modi’s ambitious scheme.

Maybe next time, when I go buy a movie ticket in Bangalore or anywhere else in the motherland, besides the VAT, service tax, Swachh Bharat(clean India) tax on the bottom of my receipt I’ll also find myself looking at a tax for Namani Gange.

In the meantime, maybe the puja and yagnas will come through. 

Written by: Aakanksha Manjunath