New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday said there is need to "act quickly" to restore the glory of the Ganga river, which provides water to over 40 percent of India's population in 11 states, but it should be done in a "rational and practical" way and not in a "piecemeal" manner.

Chairing the National Ganga River Basin Authority meet here, the prime minister also admitted that preserving the river, deified by Hindus and intrinsic to India's literature and lore, is "complex" and that "efforts in the past have not been very successful".

"The task before us is therefore a highly complex one. We will have to pool our intellectual and physical resources in a coordinated and coherent manner if we are to rise to this challenge," the prime minister said at the meeting.

The meeting was called after former Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) professor and environmentalist G.D. Agarwal, 80, sat on a fast-unto-death in January this year. He called off his fast March 23 after a government assurance to call an NGRBA meeting on April 17.

The authority was constituted under the chairmanship of the prime minister for cleaning the Ganga, but had met only twice since its inception in 2009. The body, which was mired in controversy after Rajendra Singh, Magsaysay award winner, and two other members resigned in mid-March, has an annual budget of Rs.500 crore ($100 million).

In the meeting, Singh agreed that "time is not on our side".

PM: Time is not our side

"Time is not on our side and we have to act quickly. At the same time, whatever we do should not be piecemeal, should meet the test of scientific reasoning and be a rational and practical approach that addresses the views and concerns of all stakeholders," he said.

Manmohan Singh said that the Ganga authority was set up "As a high level body that would give focused attention to fulfilling our sacred and solemn duty to restore the pristine glory of the Ganga and preserve its riches for future generations."

"The centre, the Ganga basin states, civil society and industry should work together to make a success of this important national endeavour," he added.

"We should remember that our efforts in the past have not been very successful. Therefore, we must together show a renewed and sincere commitment in both thought and action to make a definite change in the situation."

"We must find the right balance between the need for environmental and ecological conservation of the Ganga and its basin on the one hand, and the imperatives of growth and development on the other. I commit the government of India to work purposefully in this direction as a top priority," he added.

Outlining increasing urbanisation, industrialisation and population as the reason for pollution in the Ganga River, the prime minister said this has also "threatened its ecological and hydrological viability. Added to this are the spectre of climate change and melting of glaciers that are also likely to affect the flows of the river adversely."

He said the ministry of environment and forest has commissioned a consortium of seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) to prepare a comprehensive river basin management plan for the Ganga.

The plan given by the IITs will become the basis for the NGRBAs long term action plan to deal with the multiple challenges the government faces in the task of cleaning the Ganga and maintaining its flows, he added.
But, he said, till the time the study comes out certain steps needed to be taken.

He cited untreated sewage, industrial pollution and need to maintain the ecological flow of the Ganga as the three key focus areas.

"Action must be taken against the defaulting industries by the state boards under the powers delegated to them by the central government," the prime minister said.

(Agencies)