India Says Ganges to Be Free of Untreated Sewage by 2020

National Ganga River Basin Authority, set up to begin cleaning India’s holiest river, will ensure no sewage or industrial effluents are released into the Ganges by 2020, the government said.

The authority is working with local governments of the five states the 2,525-kilometer (1,570-mile) Ganges flows through to revive India’s biggest waterway in phases of three, five and 10 years, Uma Bharti, minister of water resources and Ganga rejuvenation, said Monday in Parliament.

According to the state-run Central Pollution Control Board, untreated effluent from 764 industries and sewage from 56 cities and 31 towns gets discharged into the Ganges, which originates from a Himalayan glacier, Bharti said.

The river, worshiped by Hindu pilgrims, is reverently called mother. The waterway’s basin where more than 400 million people or 37 percent of the country’s population reside accounts for over a quarter of India’s land and water and almost half of its irrigated area, according to the government.

In an answer to a question from Parliament, the minister, citing 2011 estimates, said India used 222.4 billion cubic meters of water for irrigating farms. Factories drew 22.7 billion cubic meters, or 9.3 percent of the total groundwater used, Bharti said.

Her remarks come after the World Resources Institute last week said analysis shows that more than half of India is facing high water stress amid farm and industry demand in the world’s second-most populous nation.

The Ganga River Basin Authority will fund “pollution abatement projects” on a 70-30 cost-sharing basis between federal and state governments, Bharti also said. This includes a World Bank-assisted National Ganga River Basin project worth 70 billion rupees ($1.1 billion) and a Japan International Cooperation Agency-assisted project at Varanasi, she said.

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