NMCG & UN Habitat organize a policy dialogue – Urban Cafe: ‘River for Habitat’ on the occasion of World Cities Day 2018

The National Mission for Clean Ganga partnered with UN Habitat to organize a policy dialogue- ‘Urban Cafe: River for Habitat’ in New Delhi on the occasion of World Cities Day 2018 yesterday. Experts in the sector got together to discuss the deep association that rivers have with various aspects of human civilization – our cities, our economy and various facets of our  daily lives, the challenges to maintaining  healthy river ecosystems and ways  to deal with the same.

Addressing the inaugural session Shri U.P Singh Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation expressed concern about people’s weakening connect with rivers in the modern times and the bad health of many of our rivers. He said that no untreated sewage of industrial effluent should be allowed to flow into rivers, there should be no dumping of solid waste on flood plains, there should be a focus on increasing water usage efficiency in agriculture and reducing extraction of ground water. This will lead to better river health.

Speaking on the occasion DG, NMCG, Shri Rajiv Ranjan Mishra detailed the measures being taken by his organization for cleaning Ganga. He said, “Today, the challenge we face is urbanization vis.a.vis rivers. A survey carried out on the main-stem of Ganga has identified 97 towns contributing to sewage/industrial pollution in the river”. Elaborating on the measures taken by NMCG, to address these issues, Shri Mishra said that innovations such as One City One Operator, Hybrid Annuity Model, 15 year Operations & Maintenance of sewerage infrastructure projects have been introduced. He also talked about the Urban River Management Plan developed by the Consortium of 7 IITs and emphasized that the connect between river and people is essential since the community needs to be involved as stakeholders to monitor the health of the river. Other issues that he pointed out as vital in this regard include managing  flood plain encroachments, developing city-specific urban management plan, valuation of river services in economic terms, preserving biodiversity in Ganga, maintaining groundwater recharge, NMCG’s collaboration and convergence with all stakeholders and engaging public participation.

In his key note address Shri  Sanjeev Sanyal,  Principal Economic Advisor, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance said that in order to protect our flood plains we need to find environmentally sensitive ways of using them to build a connect with the people living around them.

Mr. Yuri Afanasiev, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative in India said, “Water is to this century, what oil was to the 20th century”. All over the world, our ancestors have referred to rivers such as the Nile, the Danube, the Rhine, the Volga, the Ganga as the ‘Mother’. Talking about NMCG, he said, “NMCG’s integrated approach involving different Ministries needs to be emulated by other river management authorities in India”.

Also speaking at the inaugural session Shri Hitesh Vaidya, Country Manager, UN-Habitat India said that we must find ways to turn challenges into solutions and solutions into opportunities

Shri Partha Mukhopadhyay, Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, Mr. Rene Van Berkel from UNIDO, Prof. Brijgopal, National Institute of Ecology, Dr. Alok K. Sikka, Prof. Vinod Tare from IIT Kanpur, Shri Chetan Vaidya, Former Director SPA, Delhi, Shri Shiv Das Meena from Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs,  Shri Victor Shinde, National Institute of Urban Affairs, Dr. Rakesh Kumar, NEERI Shri Abhay Mishra, Writer Journalist, Shri Manu Bhatnagar, INTACH, Ms. Martina Burkard, GIZ. , Dr. Niladri Dasgupta, Wildlife Institute of India and Shri Suresh Babu, from WWF-India were the expert panelists for the various sessions.

The panelists emphasized on the intrinsic relationship between river and economy which has to be a win-win situation for both. River and river basins should be seen as ‘national capital or asset’. They also stressed on developing an Urban River Plan from where the river enters the city and where it exits. Emphasizing the importance of ghats, the experts further noted that not only do ghats connect river to the people but also promote safety of the river and people. The experts further stressed upon advocacy and resolve combined with public participation as vital elements for restoring our river ecosystems.