Background: Namami Gange.
The River Ganga, an integral part of Indian culture is considered as the most sacred river of our nation. Unfortunately, though today, it is also considered to be one of the most polluted rivers in the world. A number of initiatives have been undertaken to clean the river and restore it to its pristine glory but most of them failed to deliver the desired results. Project ‘Namami Gange’ was announced by the government in 2014 with twin objectives of effective abatement of pollution as well as ‘conservation and rejuvenation of River Ganga’.
Understanding the Role of Ganga in Indian Mythology.
The river flowing West to East through the Gangetic plains of Northern India has been declared as India’s National River and is joined by numerous tributaries such as Kosi, Son, Gandaki and Ghaghra. According to Hindu mythology, King Bhagiratha meditated for many years to bring the river Ganga, then residing in the heavens, to earth to find salvation for his ancestors who were cursed by a seer. Ganga is said to have descended to the earth through the locks (Jata) of God Shiva to make the earth pious and wash out the sins of humans.
The Current Situation
The Ganga has been considered as a goddess in Indian society but the river is in a heavily polluted state due to the undermentioned factors:-
Natural Causes: Soil erosion, deposition of dead and decaying plants and animals, floods etc.
Man-Made Causes: The ever-increasing population along the Gangetic basin is directly & indirectly increasing the pollution level in the river. Some of the causes which are directly related to human activities are industrial waste, sewage disposal, disposal of dead bodies, the immersion of idols, household wastes & other anthropogenic activities.
Efforts Done in the Past
Major steps to clean the Ganga had been taken in 1985 when the Central Ganga Authority was established to implement the Ganga Action Plan (GAP). The chronology is as enumerated below:-
Central Ganga Authority (CGA).
This was constituted in Feb 1985 and renamed as ‘National River ConservationAuthority’ (NRCA) in Sep 1995. The sole aim of the authority was to oversee the implementation of the Ganga Action Plan.
Ganga Action Plan I.
The Ganga Action Plan, Phase – I, was launched in 1985 with the objective of improving the water quality of river Ganga to acceptable standards by preventing the pollution load reaching the river.
Ganga Action Plan II.
This started in stages between 1993 & 1996. Besides aiming at improving the water quality of river Ganga it also served as a model to demonstrate the methodology for improving the water quality of other polluted rivers.
National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA).
Constituted in Feb 2009, it acted as planning, financing, monitoring and coordinating body of the centre and states.
Project Namami Gange
This was approved in May 2015 as a comprehensive mechanism to take up initiatives for rejuvenation of river Ganga and its tributaries as a central project.
Concept of the Project
The project for rejuvenation of river Ganga had gained national importance, and after detailed consideration, the Government of India decided to involve the Army to give impetus to the mammoth task.
“It was decided to raise four Battalions to cover the area from the Himalayan foothills till Gangasagar, where the river joins the Bay of Bengal. 137 CETF Battalion (TA) 39 GR, colloquially also called the ‘Ganga Task Force’ was raised at Allahabad on 01 Apr 2018 as a pilot project with companies to be located at Allahabad, Kanpur and Varanasi.”
The Battalion was decided to be raised with the budgetary support of the ‘Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation’ (MOWR, RD & GR) and function in close coordination with ‘National Mission for Clean Ganga’ (NMCG).
This was a unique initiative in the annals of the Indian Army and the composition of the Battalion was devised keeping in view the multiplicity of tasks involved. The Battalion was to have a right mix of re-enrolled Ex-servicemen and the serving element to serve as the nucleus and carry out specialized and tech tasks. An engineer’s component from Bombay Sappers with trained manpower, specialist vehicle and plant equipment was placed directly under command. The following tasks were assigned to the unit:-
- Afforestation to check soil erosion.
- Management of public awareness/ participation campaigns.
- Patrolling of sensitive river areas for biodiversity protection.
- Monitoring of river pollution.
- Patrolling of Ghats having substantial anthropogenic activities.
- Assist during floods/natural calamity in the region.
Activities of the unit
Within an extremely short span of time the ‘Ganga Task Force’ has come of age and made considerable progress in its task of rejuvenation of river Ganga. Though the unit is still under raising and deficient of manpower and the required resources, it has been actively involved in each and every sphere of the tasks at hand as mentioned below:-
Trained teams from the unit collect water samples of Rivers Ganga and the Yamuna as per laid down scheduled at pre-decided locations prior entry of rivers in Allahabad and exit from the city. The samples are tested in the unit lab for different parameters to assess the cumulative pollution from the city and suburbs. In addition, samples are also collected from several designated spots in the rivers within city limits to identify focus areas. All records are maintained.
- STPs: Water Samples are regularly taken at entry and exit points of STPs in collaboration with concerned authorities for record and data sharing.
- Drains and Nallahs: All drains and nullahs with inflow into Ganga and Yamuna have been mapped. Regular pollution checks have been carried out and the trends monitored.
- Prevention of soil and bank erosion is one of the mandates for the unit, the vulnerable areas are being progressively identified during river bank patrols. Suitable species for prevention of soil erosion have been planted and nurtured in-unit nursery for plantation during forthcoming plantation season. The locals are also sensitized and involved during such patrols.
- Seed Balls of endemic forest species have been prepared from within unit resources for scattering during the dry season and arid areas. Joint Plantation Drives are carried out with local villagers, Gram Sabha and misc other agencies.
Public Awareness Campaigns.
The local population is regularly sensitized during ‘Area and Ghat Patrols’ with respect to eco-conservation, Ganga rejuvenation as also general sanitation.
- The unit frequently conducts mass public awareness campaigns in schools, colleges and various educational institutes both in urban and rural areas. During Kumbh 2019, awareness drives were carried out in collaboration with various organisations/ foundations located in the area viz Durga Shivir, Paramarth Niketan, Ganga Vichar Manch, Delhi Public School, Sakun Vidya Niketan etc.
- Bio-Diversity Protection: Training is regularly carried out with ‘Wild Life Institute of India’ to train unit personnel in the restoration of the Gangetic biodiversity. Consequent to the creation of a conducive atmosphere in many areas by way of bio remedial measures, species of endangered turtles, fishes as also avifauna have been spotted.
- Nursery Management.: Afforestation is an important and integral part of the overall tasking of the Battalion, the adequate emphasis has been given to establish a unit nursery. The unit nursery has been developing with a capacity of 80,000 saplings.
- Expansion of Footprint to Kanpur and Varanasi.: The first detachments of the companies to be located at Kanpur and Varanasi have been placed at respective locations and have started reconnaissance of the area and involvement of the locals towards the cause.
Innovations and Initiatives
The unit has taken to new concepts, thoughts and ideas like Bio Remedial Intervention, floats for water hygiene, drain compendium etc as mentioned below:-
- Bio Remedial Intervention (BRI). BRI being the most economical, efficient and eco-friendly measure available for removing pollutants from the water as well as prevention of soil erosion, has been given due importance by the unit and is being carried out on progressive basis.
- Floats for Water Hygiene. Floating platforms of Vetiver and Canna are under developing at unit nursery and initial initiatives have shown encouraging results. It is planned to use such islands over stagnated/slow-moving water stretches of the river and its nallahs/feeder lakes to restore water hygiene.
- Compendium of Drains: A need was felt to have detailed tech data of all civic wastewater drains flowing into the rivers Ganga and Yamuna in the city of Allahabad and adjoining areas. Hence, a comprehensive reconnaissance of all 56 drains and nallahs was carried out with the purpose of mapping them and collecting the requisite details. The first-ever work initiated in this direction has been compiled in the form of a compendium and shared with other Govt agencies.
Kumbh Mela 2019.
The unit rendered yeoman service during the recently concluded Kumbh Mela at Allahabad and actively participated in various fields and fora. The activities including mass awareness programme, pollution check initiatives, area patrolling etc. A well laid out unit pavilion on the river bank at Arail ghat and a unit gallery along with NMCG exhibition was established to spread awareness about the environment and eco-conservation amongst pilgrims, tourists and the local populace, attracting up to 4,500 visits on a daily basis.
The Ganga Task Force, within a year of initiation of the raising process, has become a formidable and potent force in the battle of rejuvenation of the River Ganga. The force is held in high esteem and looked up to by both Government and non-Government agencies and is expected to earn more laurels in future for both the Army and the nation.
Advantages of the Task Force
- Sewage Treatment Plants of the region being put under survivability.
- About 191 drains draining out waste in the river are under check and treatment.
- Afforestation in the river basin to check soil erosion.
- Vetiver plantation for riverbank stabilization and wetland rejuvenation.
- Conservation of aquatic life.
- Reduced poaching along river banks.
- Mass awareness and involvement of masses in Clean Ganga Mission.
- Re-habilitation of Ex-servicemen.
Some Set Backs
Raising of this unit does not have any disadvantages or drawbacks as such, however, the following may be considered as functional disadvantages:-
- For being the first Unit of its kind and inadequately equipped with authorised stores and equipment the Unit may not excel in their task in the initial phase however once fully equipped, it will bring out desired results.
- Due to less No of Ex-servicemen turning up after continuous recruitment rallies conducted by the Unit, the manpower state may affect the timeline of the projects undertaken and overall results.
- The Unit is allowed to recruit suitable candidates from the open market as per the policy on the sub in force.
- The balance three CETF Battalions which were required to be raised along with the present Unit be raised for River Ganga & its tributaries.
(137 CETF Battalion (TA) 39 GR or ‘The Ganga Task Force’ is the first Unit of its kind raised to support Government initiative towards Clean Ganga Mission. Within the very first year of its raising, Unit has proved its worth and justified its cause. Given all-out support and more such Battalions raised thereon it is considered that all major nine rivers of the country can be revived in time to come, which will not only resolve the drinking water issue but also address the issues of soil erosion, river pollution and floods.)