Spurring Local Entrepreneurship to Clean Rivers in India

By Namita Vikas

The Indian economy is picking up momentum and the present government seems to have its heart and mind in the right place, with a special thrust on cleaning of rivers, contributing towards water security. The new government’s “Cleaning of the Ganga” and pollution free rivers agenda has come at an opportune time, when the world is having several dialogues, with all roads leading to the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015, where in, there would be important discussions on frameworks to limit global warming to below 2°C, The sanction of INR 2037 crores for ‘Namami Gange’, is clearly a first step in the right direction to mitigate climate change.

However, monetary intervention needs to be clubbed with any ecosystem intervention that requires careful consideration of various inter-linked activities and institutions. For instance, if the flow of the river is important for cleansing it, then limited water would require to be drawn for irrigation purposes, which may result in adverse effect on agriculture. To counter this adverse effect, irrigation practices would have to become more efficient, by utilizing newer technologies like drip irrigation methods.

namita vikas

In addition, there are issues with upstream and downstream regions and dispute settlement mechanisms which may need to be sorted out along with cleaning rivers and can be an uphill task. However, the positive here is that the starting point is defined and there are many activities which are low hanging fruits with little or no repercussion at all on the ecosystem. Upfront the primary task should be to identify these low hanging fruits.

Amongst all the Indian rivers, the most important is holy Ganga. Besides, its economic significance, it is cardinal from a spiritual relevance. So far, the Ganga has received maximum amount of public resources and attention; yet as the table below explains, the river has unacceptable levels of almost all biochemical parameters. The river is not suitable for bathing, drinking, irrigation, and for aquatic flora and fauna.

There are also many other environmental contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides, and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) which need to be evaluated and monitored regularly, which is presently not looked at with the attention required. There may be a need for the pollution parameters to be monitored more frequently and at multiple places, and definitely district wise. In fact some of the water quality parameters were last monitored in 2009.

Parameter pH value Conductivity for irrigation Dissolved Oxygen (DO) Bio chemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) Faecal Coliform
Important for drinking purposes irrigation aquatic life of flora and fauna aquatic life of flora and fauna bathing
Acceptable Range 6.5-8.5 2250 μmhos/cm more than 4 mg/l less than 3 mg/l less than 2500 MPN/100ml
Reported 6.5-8.59 68-4460 μmhos/cm 4.3-9.2 mg/l 0.2-16.0 mg/l 0-400000 MPN/100ml
Verdict Not suitable Not suitable   Not suitable Not suitable

Source: Ganga Basin Report, 2014; Government of India, Ministry of Water Resources

A holistic approach therefore is much needed, not just to clean the river, but to monitor and maintain data on various environmental parameters  which in itself will be a great avenue for livelihood generation too.

Citing the example of the requirement of regular evaluation of pollution parameters, propels a business opportunity for entrepreneurs at district level, where water testing centres could be established to get accurate and timely data.

To create resilient infrastructure it may be important to first create an inventory of information, and methods to percolate information across a wide range of stakeholders. These district/sub districts/municipality specific water/air testing centres may be useful, as then they are equipped with water and air quality information collection and dissipation centers which would help in creating infrastructure for resilience and assist various government agencies or even the private sector too.

In addition from a green employment perspective, creation of resilient infrastructure would not only be environmentally sound, but also fuel employment generation.

Further, since the market for sustainability centric information is growing rapidly, and clients range from governments, corporates to individuals; access to sustainability information (including river water quality) needs to be localized.

Rather than putting pressure on public finances which in any case are stretched, entrepreneur driven models in a public private partnership may give effective results ensuring flexibility, adaptability and granularity required for running an efficient water and air quality center at a local level.

There are evidences how such centers can be structured and financed (e.g. Agriclinincs by NABARD or village level solar charging stations), with financial institutions across the board, right from major banks to small micro finance agencies can all play a role.

Their acquired knowledge on forming special purpose vehicles (which can be made out of a amalgamating many neighboring information centers together) or public private partnerships working closely with central and state governments would be useful in making such a format successful.

By now it is an established fact, that clean rivers yield great dividends in a democracy. Clean rivers, not only provide greater water security, but result in sustainable development which will impact livelihoods, preservation of natural capital and enable social empowerment.
[The author is Senior President and Country Head- Responsible Banking & Chief Sustainability Officer, YES BANK Ltd.]




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