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Namami Gange project: mission director Rajat Bhargava removed from post

Nihar Gokhale | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:46 IST

Is the Central government's flagship Namami Gange programme losing steam? Weeks after the National Green Tribunal said efforts to clean the Ganga have yielded 'zero' results, the government has abruptly removed the mission director of the programme, IAS officer Rajat Bhargava.

On Friday, 2 September, the appointments committee of the Cabinet decided to send Bhargava back to his parent cadre, Andhra Pradesh, at least a year before his deputation to the Central government was to expire. Bhargava had taken charge of the prestigious mission barely four months ago.

Bhargava had joined the Water Resources Ministry as a joint secretary last year, and in September, he was appointed as Member (Finance) in the Central Groundwater Board, and the Commissioner (CAD). He was made the mission director of Namami Gange in May 2016.

Musical chairs

The Narendra Modi government's intentions to clean the Ganga were quite clear from the day it took office - some would say even before the elections. But it is yet to make up its mind on who should lead it.

Bhargava is the third mission director to have been sacked in the two years and three months of the Modi administration.

His predecessor, TVSN Prasad, was appointed in May 2015, but by the end of the year, he was transferred to the Home Ministry. Prasad himself was brought in to speed up the mission after RR Mishra, who was originally the mission director, was removed reportedly because the Prime Minister was unhappy with the slow progress of work under the programme.

Problem of discontinuity

Those who know Bhargava describe him as an efficient and upright officer, and his removal caught many by surprise. One person who met him a few days ago said the officer was steeped in work, preparing tenders for the 231 projects worth Rs 1,500 crore that the government announced in July.

Bhargava's departure would create yet another discontinuity in executing the ambitious programme.

"Constantly changing the mission directors makes it an unpredictable job, and would affect the works in progress. Ideally, an officer shouldn't be transferred out for at least five years," said BD Tripathi, a professor at Banaras Hindu University, and former expert member of the National Ganga River Basin Authority. "Mission director is a big job. It takes several months just to understand it."

About the mission

Namami Gange is one of the Modi government's signature programmes. It added 'Ganga Rejuvenation' to the name of the Water Resources Ministry, which coordinates the programme.

Officially known as the National Mission for Clean Ganga, 97 projects worth about Rs 8,600 crore had been launched by the time the government completed two years in office. After that, projects worth nearly Rs 2,000 crore were launched in July and August 2016.

Most of the projects involve beautification of ghats and renovation of crematoria on the banks of the river. The government also plans to introduce 24x7 automatic monitoring of all polluting industries situated by the river.

However, critics have pointed out that the bulk of the work is in doing something about the untreated sewage being poured into the river by 118 towns and cities along its course.

The government has come up with policies to attract private-public partnerships for starting or renovating sewage treatment plants, but no work has begun on the ground yet.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 3 September 2016, 9:06 IST
Nihar Gokhale @nihargokhale

Nihar is a reporter with Catch, writing about the environment, water, and other public policy matters. He wrote about stock markets for a business daily before pursuing an interdisciplinary Master's degree in environmental and ecological economics. He likes listening to classical, folk and jazz music and dreams of learning to play the saxophone.