Union Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri have said that 97 towns and cities along the Ganga will be declared open-defecation free by March 2019. The Ministry has also announced a special category of awards for these 97 Ganga towns under the ongoing “Swachchh Survekshan 2019”.Addressing a gathering at a workshop on ‘Solid Waste Management in Ganga Towns”, the Housing and Urban Affairs Minister said a total of 44 Ganga towns have so far been declared open-defecation free.“It is expected that all Ganga towns will achieve ODF status by March 2019,” the minister said at the event.He said the Government has accorded highest priority to rejuvenate the Ganga through its flagship programme, Namami Gange.“In this regard, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) is supporting the Ganga towns in achieving ODF status and effective solid and liquid waste management through the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM -Urban) and the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) respectively,” Puri said.All Ganga towns have been directed to implement scientific solid waste management expeditiously,Puri said andv added The Ministry has also deployed the Quality Council of India (QCI) as a third party agency (TPA) for independent on-site assessment to evaluate the actual on-ground situation in these towns. The findings advocated putting up install bar screens on drains falling into the Ganga to prevent solid waste flowing into the river, river surface cleaning and waste disposal arrangements among others. Housing and Urban Affairs Secretary Durga Shanker Mishra announced a special category of awards for Ganga towns under Swachh Survekshan 2019, the fourth edition of the annual cleanliness survey conducted by MoHUA which is presently ongoing (January 4 -31, 2019).A protocol for this special category of award will also be issued shortly by the ministry, he said. He was also critical of Delhi Government headed by Arvind Kejriwal for not being cooperative with the concerned ministry in implementing metro and other connectivity projects in the Union Territory.