Gadkari entrusted with tough job of cleaning Ganga

Is it possible ever to clean up the Ganga, the mainstream of India, revered by Indians from Kashmir and Ladakh to Kanyakumari, from north down to south from east and north-east to north-western India? Ms. Uma Bharati has been displaced by Mr. Nitin Gadkari as the Cabinet Minister for rejuvenation of the Ganga, the age-old lifeline of northern India over more than 3,000 km. She must have worshipped the sacred river several times with a prayer to the gods to clean it up with a magic wand as it was and is humanly impossible to stop anyone in India from sullying it and continuing to do so. 

Mr. Gadkari, who believes that he is among the smartest men in the government, was smiling from ear to ear when he reached the outskirts of New Delhi’s 7 Race Course Road on Saturday, September 1. Was he expecting a much bigger assignment or a Himalayan effort to rejuvenate the sacred river and India’s Water Resources? Would he still be confident that he will be up to the great responsibility bestowed on him? Would it be as simple as ushering in a river boat service he is already engaged in? He will soon discover the ground realities. Or has he got something unusual up his sleeve?

Uma Bharti was given a mandate with Rs. 20,000 crores allocated by the Centre. What did she do with that great kitty? Did she sleep over it? Or did she start praying even more? Visuals soon after her swearing-in as Cabinet Minister in May, 2014, saw her at the Jamuna river bank behind the Red Fort, standing on a few uneven stones and offering her apologies to the river for her countrymen and women messing it up. She promised to make it “swatchch”, the new Modi idiom, and hoping that the Prime Minister’s word would get the work done.

No wonder, Mr. Narendra Modi, Mr. Amit Shah and the RSS just took away the Ganga portfolio from her and gave it to Mr. Nitin Gadkari, the Surface Transport and Highways Minister, as he is believed to be a doer; one who has stepped up the pace of the highways construction from a few kilometres per day to plans to take it to 20 km a day.

But is the Ganga cleaning up an easy job or tailor-made for his brisk talents? Can he persuade Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bangal to do their bit? Will the States play ball? Will they and their municipal authorities have the guts to shut down industries if they fail to clean up their production processes and recycle waste and polluted water laden with chemicals? It is a tall order.

First of all, the agenda of all governments is to give a push to small and medium industries in spite of demonetization having dealt a death blow to them and the prospect of their reopening and restarting work are near zero. Millions may have lost their jobs; they are unlikely to be re-employed. Demonetization has done what no other administrative action could do, but has that diminished the release of pollutants into the rivers? Perhaps, it is not so. Demonetization may have slowed down the construction of polluting high rises in the National Capital Region, but in tier 2 and 3 towns, building activity is known to be booming, because land is less costly, though not housing or office space.

The big industries all along the course of the Ganga and Jamuna and a myriad of rivers criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country continue to destroy large swathes in the cities of India. But Mr. Gadkari is responsible for the cleaning up of the Ganga; perhaps Jamuna as well, but that has not been specified in the short list of his assignments.

Another woman, Mrs. Shiela Dikshit, as Chief Minister of Delhi for 15 years displaced by Arvind Kejriwal, had promised to shut all kinds of industry, mainly small and medium, but did she or Kejriwal do anything about it? Was she too preoccupied with the Commonwealth Games and the loot that followed? Was Kejriwal too busy running her down and the Prime Minister rather than bothering about the Jamuna or Delhi? That is not politics and bickering, which are the mainstay of all public servants sworn in by the Head of State or a Governor. How could they be bothered about mountains of trash in Delhi or any big city?

That is why all the rivers of India are filthy. That is where “Swatchch Bharat” stands. While brooms were and will continue be picked up by the mighty Ministers and some roads will occasionally be swept by them, even new technology of mechanical sweepers will be too few to clean up India or make the surroundings clean for the people of India, 1.25 billion now; they may total 1.5 billion by the year 2021 when the new national census begins, but it will take more than a year to release a preliminary count. The broom may be the election symbol of Kejriwal’s Aam Adami Party, but do the party men swear by it now?

Environment and river cleaning up are closely connected, but there are four Ministers for these subjects, including Drinking Water, which is the new responsibility of Ms. Uma Bharti. Will she be able to rise to the occasion? She is sulking because she knows that even her new limited assignment is a piece of work, which is close to impossible to carry out.

There is a contradiction in the list of Council of Ministers released on Sunday, September 2, and published in newspapers. There are corrections to be made. Whoever drafted the list of Cabinet Ministers is possibly or must be in the wake-up mode.  There is Mr. Harsh Vardhan of Delhi, who is Cabinet Minister for Environment, and Mr. Mahesh Sharma, Minister of Environment with Independent Charge. Will Mr. Sharma be left alone without having to be overseen by Mr. Vardhan? Until then there will be some contradiction and confusion.

Or was it a case of too many cooks trying to cook a stew or broth? Is it that one set of officials was just writing the list of Cabinet Ministers, another, less senior, compiling the names of Ministers of State with what is called Independent Charge and a third rushing through with plain Johns who may be described as Ministers of State tagged on to Cabinet Ministers with little to do, except twiddle their thumbs until they are given some work by their senior Ministers or asked by the all powerful Prime Minister’s Office about any ideas they may have to offer about governance? Or is it that they would be inaugurating one show or the other in Delhi or some part of the country? Is that how governments work?


Lalit Sethi is a Journalist of long standing and a commentator on Political and Social Issues.