There is “nothing new” in the recent decision of the environment ministry, which talks about taking a new approach for conservation and rejuvenation of rivers, a network of an organisation working in the water sector has claimed.

It also alleged that the government had made no efforts to learn from its failures.

Union Environment minister Harsh Vardhan, in a recent meeting, had said that a new strategy would be brought for conservation and rejuvenation of major rivers in which water and environment management would be taken up to restore the lost ecology along polluted stretches.

“We need to try it (plan) out on a few stretches in the country covering a sub-basin or a catchment area of a river,” the minister had said.

The ministry had also said that independent institutions such as IITs would be entrusted with the study for preparation and finalisation of river basin management and rejuvenation plan for nine selected stretches.

“It (the decision) has been termed as new, but one does not find anything much new here. While talking about rejuvenation of river and ensuring flow, the word environment flow does not figure here.

“It talks about catchment approach, but mentions only five states, when Ganga catchment includes 11, besides Nepal, China and Bangaldesh. Talking of sewage treatment, the word governance does not figure here,” Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP) said.

The environment ministry had said that it would call a meeting soon of all the five states to work out an implementation plan for the Ganga river basin at the earliest.

Thakkar said that if rivers are to be rejuvenated through the catchment approach, use of water in agriculture, cities, industries and villages would need to be regulated. This also includes the use of groundwater, he said.

The approach would be to include all users and uses to see how rivers can have water flow all round the year, Thakkar said.

“There was also no mention of any attempt to learn lessons for past failures. The meeting only had bureaucrats, and the FRI (Forest Research Institute (FRI) Director and no one else.

“The environment ministry should bring in more stakeholeders and people who have newer ideas and take their views along in order to go ahead with such programmes,” Thakkar said.

He said that the government would also need to assess how its various projects and policies affect the rivers.

“For example, the dredging, river front development, river linking and waterways is likely to have adverse impacts on the Ganga.

“On Sunday we are not even properly assessing them. As far as sewage treatment is concerned, we need to go for decentralised and natural process based sewage treatment rather than just big centralised Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) as done now,” he said.