New Delhi: Over two years after the Narendra Modi government sought to bring a law to protect and keep river Ganga clean, by imposing hefty penalties and arresting violators, the proposal has been put on hold for now, ThePrint has learnt.
The draft National River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Bill, 2019, which has been in the making since 2017, was circulated for inter-ministerial consultations last year. It was then sent to the cabinet secretariat to be taken up for cabinet approval. It has since been pending.
Now, there has been a “rethink” among the top policy makers in the government, including the Prime Minister’s Office and cabinet secretariat, over the need to bring in a new legislation to protect India’s national river, when enough provisions already exist under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 to address the issue, at least three senior officials in the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti, which is anchoring the bill, told ThePrint.
The officials, however, said no decision has been taken yet to shelve the proposed legislation altogether.
What did the draft bill propose?
The draft bill proposes a Ganga Protection Corps, an armed force that will have powers to arrest any person found littering or defacing the ghats, constructing on the river bank without permission, mining, extracting groundwater or violating any other provision specified, and produce the violator before the police station concerned.
It also proposes stiff penalties for dirtying the river. The maximum penalty proposed is Rs 1 crore or a two-year imprisonment for construction or activities without prior permission.
Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat has in the past spoken about how the law is expected to boost the government’s efforts to clean Ganga.
Why the rethink?
One of the officials, who did not wish to be named, said: “There have been discussions about the need to bring in another set of regulations to protect and rejuvenate the river when the National Mission for Clean Ganga, which was set up in 2014 for the purpose, has already been given regulatory powers for prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution in the river and its tributaries.”
The official added that bringing in a new law and making it operational is a time consuming process. “Instead, there is a thought that we can strengthen the existing provisions to check pollution in the river.”
The National Mission for Clean Ganga was notified in October 2016 as an authority under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, with powers to issue directions in writing to any person, officer or any authority for achievement of prevention, control and abatement of pollution, rejuvenation and protection and management in the Ganga and its tributaries.
Such person, officer or authority shall be bound to comply with such directions, including closure, prohibition or regulation of any industry, operation or process that is polluting the river, as also stoppage or regulation of power, water supply and other services.
Cleaning Ganga, considered a sacred river by Hindus, is one of the key focuses of the Modi government since it came to power for the first time in May 2014.
The National Mission for Cleaning Ganga, under the then water resources ministry, was set up. The government launched the flagship river cleaning programme, Namami Gange, in 2015 with a budget outlay of Rs 20,000 crore.