Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set in motion an exhaustive plan to reboot two of his pet projects – Swachh Bharat Mission and Ganga Rejuvenation.
Despite much hype surrounding the two schemes, there has not been much progress on the ground. The PM has told officials that ‘enough is enough, and it is time for real action’.
After Modi’s meeting with secretaries about a week ago, where it was emphasised that India needs ‘something dramatic’ to rev up the two clean-up projects, the government has formed a ‘group of secretaries’ from select ministries to work out revised action plans.
Signaling a course correction, the group is talking to ministries, states, industry, civil society and local bodies. The renewed focus is on people’s involvement, sustainability and time-bound results.
“The action plan is expected with a roadmap to achieve the desired deliverables within a specified timeframe,” reads a government communication.
Senior officials have been told to be thoroughly conversant with the details of the PM’s flagship projects. They would also be asked to travel to states for better implementation.
Apart from the Ganga rejuvenation and Swachh Bharat, there are six more projects Modi wants to be executed effectively. On each one, a joint secretary is doing inter-ministry coordination, it has been learnt.
As part of the consultations, environment and forests secretary, Ashok Lavasa, and about a dozen officials on Wednesday met environmentalists for their inputs. The secretary has to prepare and submit his action plans to the prime minister’s office (PMO).
Those who met Lavasa, who is the nodal officer of the group of secretaries, include Ravi Agarwal (Toxics Link), Bharati Chaturvedi (Chintan Group), Suresh Babu (WWF India), Sunita Narain (CSE), Manoj Misra (Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan), besides two experts from Varanasi. Similar consultations are also happening with ministries, states, industry, civil society and local bodies.
Modi wielded the broom in Delhi 15 months ago to launch Swachh Bharat Mission, fuelling hopes of cleaner public places, better waste management and eradication of open defecation in villages by 2019. While toilet building has picked up pace, and Modi has been able to nudge people into caring for hygiene, many believe the initial enthusiasm has been waning.
Agarwal said community participation was a must at the ground level, but it had to be backed by official mechanism. “People may start segregating garbage at source, but everything will eventually be mixed up and dumped at landfills. The load will not reduce,” he said.
He said there were enough rules, but the execution had been poor. “Even if 30 per cent rules are strictly implemented, Swachh Bharat would be a reality,” he said. It was also argued that that the informal sector must be included in Swachh Bharat, and polluting waste-to-energy plants were no solution, but composting of organic waste was.
Another environmentalist, invited for inputs, said at the meeting that the government must go for de-centralised systems as 50 per cent of waste management funds go in collection and transportation of garbage. Suggestions were also made to promote mass ‘shramdaan’ and peer learning.
“The current narrative is still around ‘collect, transport, dispose’. Municipalities need to embrace ‘reduce, recycle, repair, compost’ to ensure real zero waste situations,” admitted an official.
Similarly, saving the Ganga has also been on top of Modi government’s agenda. Way back in the mid-1980s, the government launched the first leg of Ganga Action Plan (GAP), embarking on a mission to clean up India’s holiest – but one of the most polluted – river.