A first-of-its-kind bill to regulate a river — the Ganga Act, as it is now called and being drafted by experts — will draw from the National Highways Act and allow the Centre final say over States during disputes over management of its water, said a top official in the water ministry.
The National Highways Authority of India Act empowers the Central government to have complete power over roads designated as “national highways.” It also gives them authority over bridges, culverts and associated land stretches near highways.
The Union Water Resources Ministry is the nodal agency in charge of implementing the Rs. 20,000-crore National Clean Ganga Mission by 2022, and has so far spent only around Rs. 320 crore, despite Rs. 2,000 crore being sanctioned. Nearly 70% of the budget is to be apportioned for commissioning sewage treatment plants.
This was partly due to a lack of consensus between the Ganga States on how money allotted should be spent though, according to officials associated with the project, there is better cooperation now.
“There were times when state officials wouldn’t even talk to us,” said Rajat Bhargava, Director, National Clean Ganga Mission, “but now thanks to several dialogues, better clarity on how funds will be shared and online monitoring of projects things are much better.”
At a press conference Tuesday, Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti said that a “people’s movement” was necessary for the Ganga Act. “The demand must come from people…and I will soon be walking, to garner support, till Gangotri. This is necessary to make conserving Ganga a public movement,” she told reporters.
The proposed Ganga Act, according to the official, was to ensure that future disputes that could arise in the proper management of the river were avoided.