River Yamuna’s revival is intimately linked to the restoration and maintenance of the health of its many tributaries across several States

It is a common refrain that the river Yamuna originating from Yamunotri till its confluence with the Ganga at Allahabad is a 1,376-km-long river. But if a claim was made that the Yamuna is actually around 90,000 km in length, then many would hold that we are either exaggerating or have lost our head! But it is neither. Let me explain.

No river exists just on its own strength. But for the tributaries that lend its waters to the more popular channel, the Yamuna in this case, there would be no river to talk of. One of the little appreciated tragedies of the Yamuna is the sad state of many of its numerous tributaries, few of which — Khokhari in Uttar Pradesh being a case in point — are today extinct while some are under active threat of conversion into alternate uses like agriculture and mining.

The Yamuna has three clearly defined stretches.

The Upper Yamuna, stretches from its beginning at the Bandarpunch glacier at Yamunotri till where the river leaves its hilly stretch and enters the Indo-Gangetic plains at Hathnikund, where a barrage stands over it. This founder basin of the river has a number of sub basins representing its key tributaries and their sub tributaries. Most notable of these are the rivers Tons (including Rupin, Supin and Pabar); Hanuman Ganga; Kedar Ganga; Aglar; Asan; Giri and Bata. These combined with their sub tributaries equals some 8,300 km of length distributed over the States of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

The Middle Yamuna, from Hathnikund till the village of Bhareh in Etawah district, where river Chambal merges with it revives the mother river. This stretch is the most critical for the Yamuna, as on one hand there are few perennial tributaries to feed the river, and on the other number of human settlements, including the national Capital, debauches all its waste into it.

It is here perhaps that the role of tributaries is most vital, as in the past these very tributaries with their combined waters ensured that the Yamuna remained in reasonably good health even during the non-monsoon months. These include the rivers Somb; Katha; Sahibi; Hindon (and its tributaries, Karsan and west Kali); Karwan, Gambhir (also called Utangan) and Parbati (a tributary of Gambhir).

In addition, a number of storm water drains on both sides of the river fed it from time to time. The 18 ‘notorious’ drains that presently serve poisonous cocktail to the river in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, were all such life-giving little tributaries of the river originating from the Delhi ridge and its surroundings. Such were also to be found in the cities of Mathura and Agra.

How many of us are today even aware that the river Karwan meets the Yamuna little downstream of Agra? These tributaries have a combined length of 15,000 km and lie in the States of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan.

The Lower Yamuna, from Bhareh till Allahabad, sees a dramatic revival of an almost dead river at Allahabad where it out-sizes even the Ganga. First the river Chambal, then Sindh (including Pahuj and Kunwari), then Betwa followed by Ken — all emerging from the south and west-lying States of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan respectively add considerable amount of water and enrich the biodiversity of the Yamuna, as all these tributaries are rivers in their own right with their own sizeable basins to collect their waters and sediments from. These have a combined length of a staggering 60,000 km.

But not to be outdone, although certainly out-noticed in comparison to their southern cousins are the rivers Sengar, Rind, Non and Sasur Khaderi paying their tribute to the river — all originating from the north of Yamuna within the State of Uttar Pradesh and with a combined length of 6,250 km.

Clearly the Yamuna river system is around 90,000 km-long. Also just like a chain is as strong as its weakest link, a river is as healthy as its sickest tributary. And thus the current focus only on cleaning the 22-km-long stretch of the Yamuna in Delhi is awfully inadequate; unless efforts are made not just by the State agencies but by all the people who subsist on this system act to restore each of these tributaries as well, a truly restored river Yamuna shall remain a much cherished pipe dream.

(The writer is the Convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan)