Ecosystem Services of River Ganga

The National Institute of Ecology, in partnership with the WWF-India, and with full support of the  National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) – a registered Society of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govt of India, organized successfully a 2-day National Workshop on Ecosystem Services of River Ganga, focusing especially on its indirect and intangible services, in New  Delhi on 15 and 16 July 2014. The Workshop was attended by more than 80 participants representing a wide range of disciplines and institutions as well as NGOS. Representatives of the World Bank,  Australian High Commission, GIZ, and Danish Embassy also participated.  The Workshop was opened with the thought provoking address by Sri Shashi Shekhar, IAS, Additional Secretary,. Ministry of Environment and Forests. Sri Ravi Singh, Secretary General & CEO of WWF-India, Sri Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, Mission Director, NMCG, and Prof. D.K. Marothia, president, NIE also addressed the opening session.

The objectives of the workshop were to elaborate the concept of ecosystem services as applied to rivers, to identify most important ecosystem services of river Ganga, and to develop a programme for their assessment and valuation.


The following brief note provides further background to the Workshop.  Its Proceedings and report will be placed here as soon as finalized.

The notion of ‘nature’s services’ or ‘environmental services’ was put forward as early as 1970s in the wake of environmental problems of global concern caused by rapid economic growth. In 1981, it was replaced by the term ‘ecosystem services’ which were later defined as “the direct and indirect benefits derived by humans from the functions of the ecosystems” (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005). The indirect and intangible benefits of ecosystems have attracted great attention of economists who have tried to put monetary values to the non-market goods and services which often constitute a significant proportion of a nation’s economy. Pavan Sukhdev (Special Adviser to UNEP’s green economy initiative) indeed calls it “invisible economy” and pleads for taking it into account in the national GDPs.

Whereas the ecosystem goods and services of forests and wetlands have started receiving some attention in recent years, the rivers have been almost totally ignored. This stems from the fact that rivers have not even been considered as ecosystems until recently, despite numerous problems being experienced with their conservation and management. However, the river flows – one of the provisioning services – have been overexploited for agriculture, domestic and industrial supplies and hydropower. This has resulted in the decline of all other ecosystem goods and services, and consequently many livelihoods, whose economic values are wholly overlooked.

River Ganga is undeniably the most important river of India as its basin accounts for 26% of its land mass and supports 43% of its population whereas the river carries 28% of surface water resources. River Ganga is so deeply ingrained into India’s socio-cultural ethos that it is impossible to perceive the nation without Ganga. Yet, the very existence of Ganga is threatened today by excessive flow diversion and discharge of domestic and industrial wastes. Most of the tributaries of Ganga are not left unscathed by human exploitation and abuse. These human interventions are all in the name of economic development.

There has never been an attempt to examine the ecosystem services of rivers and their value in India. Although the importance of River Ganga has been well recognised, an assessment of the contribution of various indirect and intangible ecosystem services of the river Ganga to the nation’s economy, will significantly contribute to its conservation and restoration. It may be stressed that the goals of a clean Ganga can be achieved only after ensuring a flow regime that in turn supports the river’s habitats and natural biodiversity. While the flows are stored and diverted for their economic uses, innumerable tangible and intangible benefits of the flows moving downstream need to be appreciated and assessed.