The Centre and the Prime Minister, who represents Varanasi in the Lok Sabha, had made cleaning up of the Ganga a key poll promise in 2014., but over this fiscal year, only one-third of the funds allotted has been utilised so far.
According to the Revised Estimates 2018-19 in the interim Union Budget for 2019-20 presented in Parliament on Friday, Namami Gange was allotted Rs 2,300 crore. Of this, only Rs 700 crore has been utilised.
Namami Gange was launched in 2014. Several initiatives were planned such as sewage treatment, cleaning of the river surface and ghats, redevelopment of the riverfront and conservation of biodiversity.
The funds were allotted to states through which the river passes: Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. As many as 261 projects were announced, but only 76 have concluded. The total expenditure till date is Rs 5,979 crore — barely 23 per cent of the Rs 25,000-crore allocation. Government officials said the number of sanctioned projects was 'very high'. The mechanism to award the contract was complex.
'Some of the projects are to be implemented by the central government, some by the state governments, and a few by private players. These have to be awarded through a proper contract process,' said a senior official.
The official said private players such as Essel Infra, Shapoorji Pallonji, and Adani Enterprises have been awarded six cities by the Centre. The remaining 80 are supposed to be bid out by the state agencies.
The Ministry of Water Resources is headed by Mr. Nitin Gadkari, also in-charge of inland waterways. A section of the Ganga is National Waterways Number 1. The government has allotted another Rs 700 crore for the next financial year. It has also tried to raise money from private players and public donations.
Recently, the government auctioned gifts received by the PM, and the funds from these will be added to the Clean Ganga Fund (CGF).
But, this is not the first time that the slow utilisation of funds to clean up the Ganga has come to light. The Comptroller and Auditor General [CAG] of India in a 2017 report also flagged this off.
'A corpus of Rs 198.14 crore (as of 31 March 2017) was available in the CGF. However, Namami Gange could not utilise any amount out of the CGF,' the CAG observed. Some sewage treatment projects are funded by the World Bank as well.
'There are close to 25 projects under the hybrid-annuity model awarded under public-private partnership (PPP) with an estimated investment of 1 billion dollars. The government would give 40 per cent capital cost and the balance would be given as annuity over the period of project depending on the performance. The fund requirement is less in this,' said a senior official.