During Union minister Nitin Gadkari’s recent visit to London it was announced that some British expertise was assisting in India’s Namami Ganga project. Dr Craig Hutton, Principal Research Fellow (Geography) at Southampton University, has been actively involved with development in Africa and Asia for 25 years. When the charismatic Sanmit Ahuja, CEO of ETI Dynamics, appeared with persuasive arguments from environmental engineering specialist Professor Vinod Tare from IIT Kanpur about rejuvenating the River Ganges, Hutton and a colleague from the University of Dundee, Andrew Allan, an expert in water law, who has worked extensively in the region, saw an opportunity to apply lessons from previous projects in South Asia. In 2011, the Research Council UK and the Department for International Development funded a project on the Bangladesh delta, addressing ecosystem services and poverty alleviation (ESPA Deltas), which provided modelled simulations of the ongoing physical and environmental changes and their effects on people. Hutton envisaged a chance to extrapolate the integrated model program for the Ganges to create a socio-ecological understanding of the impacts of pollution and develop plausible outcome options to help with decision-making. 

Hutton, Allan, Ahuja and Professor Vinod Tare at IIT Kanpur, who heads the Centre Ganga River Basin Management and Studies, which is a government commissioned centre for research on the Ganga river basin, have worked together for four years to develop the model and raise funds. The Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation in India has been extremely helpful, comments Hutton. He is impressed by Government of India’s (GoI) genuine desire and commitment for improvement. Indeed, GoI has matched what is raised in the UK to support Indian staff and activities. UK funds were not easy to find for a bespoke research idea, but a University of Dundee application was successful, with the Government of Scotland (GoS) to provide funding for the UK partners over the first 18 months. The GoS, which actively promotes water management expertise through its HydroNation programme, were attracted by the opportunity to support the ongoing work on the Ganga and along with the expertise of Prof Vinod Tare made the project irresistible. The team was also joined by the James Hutton Institute, which provides modelling expertise and facilitates between academia and the GoS, as well as the necessary aspects of bureaucracy.

Partnership with GoI, IIT Kanpur, IIT Roorkee, IIT Gandhinagar and WWF India has enabled the project to begin its first phase of 18 months. It has started by developing a baseline of information available across a test case tributary of the Ganga, the Ramganga river basin, so that it can start to understand how pollution affects the people living alongside the river. The Ganges is synonymic with Hinduism. It is an icon of faith and its purification is of paramount importance, spiritually and environmentally. The team is mindful of the political, cultural, economic, legal, commercial and social complexities. The approach is broad based—comprising agricultural and census information, industry and effluent pollution, inter-dependent livelihoods, infrastructure, rainfall and climate change over the next 30 years. All contributions from the GoI policy intentions will be put into the integrated model and a whole suite of futures, depending on the variables, will be simulated for GoI’s consideration. 

Allan notes that the legal situation on water in India is complex, and that there are many groups of stakeholders who depend on the waters of the Ganga in many different ways. Making sure that the improvements in the water quality take account of their needs will be very important for the project.

The Ramganga river basin ranges from 400 km at its widest in the Himalayas and meets the Ganges near Kanpur, but is a good representation of some 1/30th of the whole Ganga. Hutton says that Ramganga is pristine and contains great diversity at its Himalayan source. Moradabad is where the pollution begins and when it hits the factory area and sewage outlets, the river effectively becomes a drain. However, he says that when the effort is made a tangible improvement could be made in perhaps as little as five-ten years.

The Scottish government has a strong interest in supporting the work that has been progressing on the Ganga under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Deputy First Minister visited India in December, speaking at a major water summit in Delhi, which was attended by Minister for Water, Nitin Gadkhari, and led by Prof Tare. It is hoped that the first results of the project will be available later this year.