It’s now or never for the Yamuna

Decades after govts. and judges woke up to the state of the Yamuna, and after thousands of crores of rupees were spent, the river is as polluted as ever

Updated - November 17, 2021 01:58 am IST

Published - March 28, 2016 12:00 am IST

Religious paraphernalia floating in Yamuna nearITO Shanker Chakravarty

Religious paraphernalia floating in Yamuna nearITO Shanker Chakravarty

The lifeline of the city is dying. The statement won't cause a controversy or shock anyone these days. The Yamuna has been dying for years. Some environmentalists say the river’s 22-km-long stretch in Delhi is already non-existent.

Decades after governments and judges woke up to the state of the Yamuna in Delhi, and after thousands of crores of rupees were spent, the river is essentially unchanged today.

Storm-water drains meant to carry excess surface run-off during the monsoon are still being used as makeshift sewers, with untreated waste entering the Yamuna from 22 outfalls.

In January last year, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) came out with a comprehensive plan to tackle pollution in the river when it gave its order on a petition filed by Manoj Misra, the convenor of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan.

The order, titled ‘Maili Se Nirmal Yamuna project 2017’, banned construction on the floodplains, called for the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) to set up 15 sewage treatment plants (STPs) and imposed an additional environment compensation on households producing sewage.

Over a year later, there is no perceptible change. “This order was our ‘now or never’ moment. The NGT came up with a detailed plan involving all the stakeholders and looking at all the possible factors. But, nothing has happened so far,” said Mr. Misra.

He added that the only change in the river in the past year was the increased amount of water released by Haryana at the Hathni Kund barrage in that State.

“The river at Hathni Kund needs about 2,000 cusecs of environmental flow. Haryana was earlier releasing 160 cusecs. After the NGT order, they are releasing 352 cusecs,” said Mr. Misra.

As a result, the river is perennial till it reaches Panipat in Haryana. When it reaches Palla, on the outskirts of Delhi, a portion of the river is diverted so it can be used for drinking water in the Capital.

This “artificial” river, as Mr. Misra terms it, is a beautiful site. The water is still polluted, but is fit for drinking after conventional treatment.

By the time it reaches Wazirabad treatment plant, the water is used up. “The river is sucked dry,” says Mr. Misra.

A total of 3,500 million litres per day (MLD) of water – both treated and untreated – is released into the river through 18 major drains. By the time the river leaves Delhi, it has gained 70 per cent of its pollution in two per cent of its course, as per the Central Pollution Control Board.

Since the NGT order last year, the Delhi government and the DJB have been asked not to spend any money on sewerage infrastructure without the Tribunal’s consent.

The aim was to make sure that new treatment plants or sewers address the problem of pollution in the Yamuna.

However, it seems to have backfired. The DJB is currently in the final leg of its ambitious Interceptor Sewer project, which will likely be launched in December.

The massive 59-km-long sewer will target the Najafgarh, Supplementary and Shahdara drains by carrying the waste water to a treatment plant before releasing it into the river. With the Najafagarh and Supplementary drains accounting for 66 per cent of the pollution in the river, this project will substantially improve the quality of Yamuna water.

“But, the NGT has ordered us to make new STPs, which will treat sewage in those areas that feed the Najafgarh and Supplementary drains. So we will be spending money to treat the sewage at these STPs, and then take the treated water through the Interceptor and treat it again. It is a huge waste of money,” said a senior DJB official.

To make things worse, the Centre, which has otherwise talked a big game on cleaning the rivers, is yet to help financially.

“We have not received any funds from the Centre yet,” confirmed DJB chairperson Kapil Mishra.

As Mr. Misra put it, it is now or never. Unfortunately, now it is looking like never.

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