Interview with Rajiv R. Mishra: “HAM has become an attractive option for state governments to overcome financial constraints”

“HAM has become an attractive option for state governments to overcome financial constraints”

Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, Director General, National Mission for Clean Ganga

The government launched the Namami Gange programme, an integrated conservation mission for the Ganga river, in May 2015. It aims to abate pollution, and rejuvenate and protect the river. In the past couple of years, the programme has gained momentum. Higher investments have been made in sewage treatment capacity creation and there has been increased technology adoption. The hybrid annuity model (HAM) has been successfully adopted to encourage private sector participation (PSP) in the wastewater sector. In an interview with Indian Infrastructure, Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, director general, National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), talks about the programme’s progress, investment requirements and funding sources, key initiatives and measures taken to adopt new technologies and increase private participation, unaddressed issues and challenges, targets and timelines for project implementation, and outlook for the wastewater sector…

What is your assessment of the progress made under Namami Gange during the past year?

The past year has been a momentous one for Namami Gange as it has made rapid progress. Under Phase I, 97 towns within a 5 km radius of the Ganga river were selected for development. Besides, the NMCG adopted the innovative HAM that had earlier been limited only to select sectors.

With respect to progress under the mission, in Uttarakhand, a number of projects were completed last year. In Haridwar, work on two major sewage treatment plants (STPs) that have a combined capacity of 82 million litres per day (mld) is nearing completion under HAM. The model has been a huge success in the region as it has helped to bring in efficiency in PSP through performance-based contracts. Another 16 mld STP was completed before time.

Uttar Pradesh has also seen some landmark achievements in the past year. The largest drain in the country, the Sisamau drain in Kanpur, was intercepted and tapped successfully. With this, the flow of 140 mld of untreated sewage into the Ganga river has been restricted. In Prayagraj, seven sewerage projects have been completed.

Noteworthy developments also took place in Varanasi where two STPs have been completed. In November 2018, the 140 mld Dinapur STP was inaugurated by the government. Thereafter, in January 2019, another 120 mld STP at Goitha was completed. At present, a 50 mld STP at Ramana is being developed under HAM and is expected to be completed this year.

Cities such as Patna and Bhagalpur in Bihar also achieved considerable progress. In Patna, 11 sewerage projects are being developed, of which work on nine started last year while another two projects were awarded this year. New STPs are also being constructed in the state as the existing 60 mld capacity STP is lying defunct. The NMCG aims to raise treatment capacity in Bihar to about 620 mld. Of this, about 350 mld capacity STPs are being developed in Patna with 150 mld recently awarded under HAM. Further, in Patna, projects of 200 mld capacity are already in progress. Of which, 80 mld capacity STPs are likely to be completed by end 2019.

What are the key initiatives that have been taken in terms of technology upgradation and technology adoption under the NMCG?

Under the mission, a huge resource component has been kept for research studies for technology improvement and the creation of knowledge and databases. In the wastewater segment, a policy decision has been taken for evaluation of tenders regardless of the technology being offered. The only parameter taken into consideration is the quality of wastewater produced after treatment. An expert committee has been set up to ensure adoption of new technologies. Further, technologies such as supervisory control and data acquisition systems for online monitoring are being deployed and online databases for sewerage infrastructure are being created.

Technological measures have also been taken to monitor industrial pollution. An online effluent quality monitoring system has been deployed to keep a check on all the grossly polluting industries along the Ganga and take action if necessary. Further, state-of-the-art common effluent treatment plants are being constructed (allowing chrome recovery) that can be integrated with small zero-liquid-discharge pilot projects. Besides, a survey is being conducted in the area between Kanpur and Kaushambi to study groundwater levels in the region. Pilot projects are being conducted with in-situ technology for wastewater treatment, in association with the National Environment Engineering Research Institute in Nagpur.

What is the total project cost of the mission and what are the new funding sources being tapped?

A cumulative budget of Rs 200 billion has been set aside for the mission for a period of five years. About 300 projects worth Rs 285 billion have been sanctioned. Of these, 150 projects worth around Rs 231 billion are related to sewerage infrastructure development.

Unlike other programmes, there is continuity and certainty with respect to funds under Namami Gange. As a result, HAM projects saw significant private participation in the initial stages itself as there are government guarantees with respect to payments. Apart from this, smaller sources of funding such as corporate social responsibility funds are also being encouraged so that people can directly fund projects of their choice. In this regard, a trust called the Clean Ganga Fund has been set up. So far, the fund has received a contribution of around Rs 3.5 billion. Measures are also being taken to develop a mechanism wherein people can directly own a ghat and take care of its maintenance.

What are the measures being taken to accelerate private participation in the NMCG and what has been the experience with HAM?

Private participation is being encouraged through HAM contracts and the Clean Ganga Fund. The response, which has been encouraging so far, has been made possible with the support of advisers such as the International Finance Corporation.

Two STPs are being set up in Haridwar based on HAM. Of these, one STP is already working and the other will start working on a trial basis in October 2019. The project in Varanasi is also progressing well. Further, larger contracts are also being taken up under HAM, like those in Kanpur and Prayagraj. In Kanpur, three new STPs worth Rs 8 billion are being developed. The private developer has also taken over the O&M of all the old STPs in the region to work under the one city, one operator scheme. This will ensure single-point accountability, desired performance levels, and long-term sustainability. A similar model has been adopted in Prayagraj, which has a large number of existing STPs.

Another major project in Howrah is in progress and is expected to entail an investment of Rs 5 billion. Meanwhile, the largest project under HAM was awarded in Patna. It involves the development of two STPs – at Digha (100 mld) and Kankarbagh (50 mld) – and the laying a 450 km sewer network on a design-build-finance-operate-transfer basis. This project is being funded by the World Bank.

What are the targets and timelines for the Namami Gange?

Of the 150 sewerage projects sanctioned under the mission, 39 will be developed along the tributaries of the Ganga river. Of these, 25-28 projects were sanctioned last year. In Uttarakhand, all the projects are expected to be completed by end 2019. In Uttar Pradesh, the STP projects are expected to be completed by 2021. Further, the projects in Kanpur and Varanasi will be completed in the next one year. Similarly, in Bihar, sewerage projects will be completed by 2021 while some of the sewage network laying projects will be completed by 2022. In Jharkhand, one of the two projects has already been completed while the other one will be completed during the year. Similarly, in West Bengal, three projects have been completed and another three will be completed this year. All the remaining projects in the state will take another two years to complete.

What have been the key challenges faced in project implementation and what have been the strategies adopted to address them?

One of the biggest challenges has been the lack of expertise in preparing sound detailed project reports (DPRs). When DPRs are not of the required quality, the entire process has to be repeated. While things have improved over the past two-three years, much more needs to be done. Maintenance of older projects, land-related issues, convincing people to take sewer connections, and lack of capacity uitilisation of existing infrastructure are some unresolved issues. In the long term, inclusion of rivers in urban planning is a challenge. The NMCG has already started working on an urban river management plan with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs to integrate the health of mainstream rivers and waterbodies into the planning and decision-making process for rural/urban sanitation.

What is the outlook for the wastewater sector in the next one-two years?

The wastewater sector has been growing tremendously. Several projects have been taken up in the country under programmes such as Namami Gange and the Atal Mission for Reju-venation and Urban Transformation. Apart from this, the National Green Tribunal has been monitoring rivers and directing states to follow an approach similar to that under Namani Gange.

At the state level too, initiatives are being taken to improve wastewater management. HAM has become an attractive option for state governments to overcome financial constraints. Reuse of wastewater has also become a key focus area for which state governments are formulating specific policies. Gujarat has adopted a recycle and reuse policy for encouraging the use of treated wastewater. A similar policy is being formulated by Haryana. Bihar too has come up with a policy to treat sludge and utilise treated wastewater. Besides, power plants located within a radius of 50 km from an STP have been mandated to use treated wastewater.

“Under the mission, a huge resource component has been kept for technology improvement research studies and for the creation of knowledge and databases.”