Another broken promise?

Rajeev Sharma
Rajeev Sharma

Rajeev Sharma

By : Rajeev Sharma

NARENDRA Modi hasn’t even completed 20 months in office as Indian prime minister and he has been facing stiff challenges from an increasingly vocal opposition both within and outside the Parliament. But what happened on Jan. 18 is nothing less than a bolt from the blue for Modi when his government was rapped on its knuckles by the country’s top environmental court, the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

The NGT said the government’s scheme to clean the Ganges River in Varanasi, which happens to be PM Modi’s parliamentary constituency, was “a failure” and also remarked that “your slogans are very contrary to your actions.”

The Modi government may find some solace in the fact that the NGT’s chiding was also given to the state government of Uttar Pradesh ruled by regional satrap Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party.

The NGT’s rebuke to the Central and state governments came after the judges were shown pictures of human bodies floating in Ganges near Varanasi. The court rejected the claims of the state and the Centre that local officials were to be blamed for increasing pollution in the river and fixed Jan. 27 for an answer on who should be held accountable.

This is not the first time when the courts have castigated the Modi government for its failure to clean rivers, particularly the Ganges, even though Modi had made tall claims of taking personal responsibility in cleaning the Ganges during the April-May 2014 general elections. Just three months ago, the NGT had pulled up the Modi government and asked it to name “one place where the condition of the river has improved” despite hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on cleaning of the Ganges.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly made damning observations about the Modi government’s failure in cleaning of rivers, particularly the Ganges. The most damning of such observations from the apex court came in 2014 when the Modi government was barely a few months old. The court had then said the government plan “would take 200 years” to yield results.

Incidentally, the Supreme Court has asked the NGT to take action against polluting factories and industries operating along the banks of the Ganges. This makes the matter all the more serious for the Modi government.

The gravity of the matter for Modi has been compounded by the fact that the latest court strictures have come in specific reference to high pollution levels in the Ganges in Varanasi. Modi had contested general elections in 2014 from two parliamentary constituencies — Ahmedabad in Gujarat and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. He won hands down from both but resigned from Ahmedabad and retained Varanasi.

Modi has been personally nurturing Varanasi and has established a vibrant setup in the ancient city to monitor development. A couple of months ago he had taken visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Varanasi and showcased the world famous “Ganges aarti’ (a Hindu ritual) to his foreign guest.

The pictures shown to NGT judges on Jan. 18 conveyed a starkly different picture of a highly polluted Ganges in Varanasi. The NGT was told that 3,000 human bodies and 6,000 dead cattle are dumped in the Ganges every year in Varanasi alone. The court correctly argued that the river couldn’t be cleaned until disposing of bodies is banned. This is because floating corpses of humans and animals not only present a ghastly sight to people using the river for bathing and washing purposes but also pose a serious health hazard.

But it is easier said than done. The Central and state governments will have to undertake a tightrope walk to ban dumping of human bodies into the Ganges.

Modi may have picked up the broom and the shovel himself to clean the “ghats” (bathing areas) of Varanasi. He may have brought international attention on the ancient city by taking Japanese premier to the city. He may have allocated over $300 million for his ambitious “Namami Gange” program to clean the river and bring it back to its pristine status.

But none of this is going to help. Nothing short of a people’s movement will be required to clean the Ganga in Varanasi. Modi’s rightist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will find it even tougher to do this, as it cannot ignore the views of religious leaders who form the core and kernel of the party’s base.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in the Column section are their own and do not reflect RiyadhVision’s point-of-view.


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