Keynote address minister Van Nieuwenhuizen Opening Indo-Dutch Clean Ganga Seminar

“The Ganges is a river like no other. It’s vital to the existence of the 400 million people who live along its course, who use the water for drinking, agriculture – for life itself! It is also a holy river, for millions and millions of Hindus around the globe. India is one of the most colourful and diverse countries in the world. But when it comes to the Ganges, India speaks with one voice…”

Keynote address by Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen at the Opening of the Indo-Dutch Clean Ganga Seminar, 24 mei 2018

Mr. Singh, Mr. Mishra, ladies and gentlemen, friends of the mighty Ganges,

May I, too, welcome you all to the Indian-Dutch Ganga Seminar. We’re here today to restore the purity of a vital natural resource. Or, as Prime Minister Modi put it: to free Mother Ganga from pollution.

The Ganges is a river like no other. It’s vital to the existence of the 400 million people who live along its course, who use the water for drinking, agriculture – for life itself! It is also a holy river, for millions and millions of Hindus around the globe. India is one of the most colourful and diverse countries in the world. But when it comes to the Ganges, India speaks with one voice…

I have great respect for the ambition and goals set by the Prime Minister in the Namami Gange Programme. It’s one of the many ambitious programmes with which India is making progress. Like Make in India, Smart Cities, Sagar Mala and Digital India.

India is steaming ahead. The new India is confident and has huge ambitions. This country is set to become the world’s third biggest economy in 2030. And importantly – especially for the businesses represented here today – India has shot up the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index. According to the World Bank and the IMF, India’s growth rate is set to remain steady and high.

The Netherlands is eager to make a contribution. And it just so happens that water management is our specialty!

There are huge differences in scale of course. Our entire country has fewer inhabitants than the city of New Delhi alone. But still. The Netherlands is the drain of Europe: the place where three big European rivers drain into the sea.

The case of our biggest river, the Rhine, is comparable to that of the Ganges. The Rhine flows through 8 countries, the Ganges through 11 states. In the 1970s the Rhine, too, was severely polluted. Like the Ganges today. The turning point came in 1986, when there was a catastrophic fire at a chemical plant in Basel. 20 tonnes of pesticide were released into the river.

It was a disaster, but at the same time…a blessing in disguise. A year later, the Rhine Action Programme was born, to improve the river’s ecosystem. It was a great success. Nitrate and phosphorus pollution was halved. The discharge of certain other substances was reduced by 80% and, in some cases, eliminated entirely.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m telling you this because I want to emphasise that such a clean-up is possible. It takes time, but there are solutions. What we need is action and collaboration.

India has made a flying start with the Namami Gange programme. Plans are in place and major new water treatment plants are up and running. The National Mission for Clean Ganga has its work cut out, and I take my hat off to you for all you have achieved.

But we also have to look to the future: preventing discharge on top of purifying wastewater. And for that we need legislation, permits, monitoring… and cooperation! The companies here today have a great deal of relevant experience. I trust that today’s seminar will help build mutually beneficial partnerships between Indian and Dutch companies.

Allow me to highlight two projects I’m really proud of.

1.    In Kanpur we’re helping 100 tanneries to work more cleanly. Previously, they were responsible for the worst pollution in that part of the Ganges. All the stakeholders are working together to tackle pollution at the source. Not only is the water cleaner, it’s also boosting employment. A win-win approach!  

2.    In the Hindon Basin we’re supporting a Dutch consortium that’s working with the paper industry, the municipal authorities, the Uttar Pradesh government and the National Mission for Clean Ganga. Together they’re developing a programme to collect and process waste from cities and industry and convert it into something of value. Again: win-win!

A striking element is the major role played by private companies. That’s where I see the greatest chance of success for the Ganga project: by getting businesses on board! And supporting this at government level by removing obstacles and creating an enabling environment for private investment.

If we can make this work, we all stand to gain: the Ganges, the people who live on its banks and the businesses involved. Doing well by doing good!

Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude. Earlier this year, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Prime Minister Modi spoke of the ‘energy of ideas’ and the ‘warmth of goodwill’. May the energy of ideas and the warmth of goodwill generated here today have the capacity to shape the future of the Ganges!

Meh aapko sjoebkaamenai detie hoe  (I wish you every success!).
Thank you.