Considering the unique cultural, social, economic and ecological value of the Ganga River, the Government of India (GOI) has been working towards its conservation through the Prime Minister’s flagship programme – Namami Gange to achieve “Aviral and Nirmal Dhara”, and to ensure its ecological and physical integrity. Conservation of the Ganga River including its aquatic biodiversity, thus, has been one of the most important attributes of ‘Three Year Action Agenda 2017-18 to 2019-20’ of the NITI Ayog. In view of this, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) designated the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), an autonomous institute of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, GOI as the lead knowledge partner of NMCG and entrusted WII with the “Biodiversity Conservation and Ganga Rejuvenation” project to prepare a science-based aquatic species conservation plan for Ganga River, for a duration of three years from 2016 to 2019. 

WII as a lead knowledge partner and conservation planning body of NMCG established the Ganga Aqualife Conservation Monitoring Centre (GACMC), a virtual centre, to spearhead conservation of the Ganga River and its biodiversity. The GACMC team carried out the first ever comprehensive ecological monitoring survey of entire Ganga River, through which it concluded that 49% of the River still harbours high biodiversity, as opposed to a common notion of Ganga being highly polluted and devoid of any life. The survey also found that the efforts made under the Namami Gange programme are having a significant impact on improving the river’s integrity. Twelve conservation priority zones were identified along the mainstem of the Ganga River, which are being promoted for conservation planning. 

The spearhead teams comprising of the officials of the Forest Department of the five Ganga states are carrying out training and ecological survey on their own such as Gangetic dolphin survey in Bihar, migratory bird survey at Sahibganj, Jharkhand and training on ecological monitoring of rivers and wetlands in West Bengal. A total of 736 and more than 12000 stakeholders comprising of personnel of the Forest and Veterinary departments, university professors, religious groups and local communities have been trained and sensitized. These trained and sensitized stakeholders have initiated Ganga conservation activities and cleanliness drives. Under Bal Ganga Prahari programme, 8000 school children have been sensitized and 64 schools have become part of the programme.

The three rescue and rehabilitation centres established under Phase I of the project are enabling the Forest Department to scientifically tackle large consignments of confiscated aquatic animals especially turtles of the Ganga River. The rescue team have successfully rehabilitated more than 6000 turtles, gharial and mugger back in the Ganga River, translocated mugger and assisted in species restoration. The trained cadre of forest staffs, veterinarians and network of local communities and Ganga Praharis have improved the information network of poaching/entrapment/trade for the Forest Departments. The Project’s rescue teams and Forest Departments are now getting 50% more such information compared to the past years.

Livelihood and skill enhancement activities for local communities have built their stake in Ganga conservation. Livelihood activities are being carried out through six livelihood centres and an innovative mobile livelihood centre “Jalaj”. The business model created is now recognised and is being replicated by District Administration of Sahibganj, Jharkhand. A total of 1290 trained volunteers “Ganga Prahari” from riverside-communities are adopting sustainable livelihood practices and promoting sustainable use of natural resources, conducting cleanliness drives, plantation drives, biodiversity monitoring, rescue operations and actively participating in all NMCG activities. The specific skill sets and workforce of these trained volunteers is being recognized at national and state level inspiring more youth to join the cadre. At Kumbh 2019, the Ganga Praharis actively coordinated in sensitization and cleanliness activities with local administration and NMCG. These Ganga Praharis were felicitated by Shri Ganjendra Singh Shekhawat, Hon’ble Union Minister of Jal Shakti, on 5th June 2019, at New Delhi on the occasion of World Environment Day. Nature interpretation centres ‘Ganga Darpan’, ‘Anubhuti’ and a mobile exhibition centre ‘Ganga Tarini’ established at Sarnath, Kanpur and Varanasi, respectively are playing a major role in public outreach. The social media pages on platforms like Facebook, Instagram are followed by people across globe from all walks of life. 

The impact of the project is visible through the enhanced synergies between departments, agencies and communities at local, national and global scales, all committed to a cleaner Ganga River.