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Delhi

Down the river Yamuna

Photo: Prashant Nakwe

Photo: Prashant Nakwe  

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For centuries, the Yamuna has been the city's lifeline. From a pristine water course that mesmerised the Mughals, it now meanders wearily loaded with pollutants. The farmer on the banks bemoan the fate of the river even as wrestlers steer away from the slush and elephants lumber in the shade of overbridges. The Hindu traces this sorry state of affairs in a two-part series.

“Till about 1972, the river used to flow along this village. It was right behind our houses. Its bank used to be our playground and by evening, we would sit with our feet soaked in the water while throwing pebbles into the river. I mostly used to fail in throwing it the farthest,” recalls 54-year-old Subhash. As he said this with a smirk, his friends teased him under the frail roof of his tiny tea stall in North West Delhi’s Palla village.

For the residents of this village, the Yamuna is their pride. It is here that the river enters Delhi after flowing through Sonepat and Panipat in Haryana and perhaps is the only time it ‘lives’ in its 43-kilometre course in the mega city.

Halfway through his tea, Subhash’s friend Rajinder Kumar said assertively, “The quality of water of the Yamuna meets the standard A here, whereas once it crosses Wazirabad, it does not even qualify to standard C.”

As I showed them thumbs-up, I made them promise to take me to the river. After which they tasked me to spot the three colours that the river takes throughout its journey in the Capital.

After a drive of five minutes followed by a walk through farmlands, I began to spot a line of thick phragmites that grows along a river. Excited, I made a short run to reach the bank and there it was - a serene flowing Yamuna with thick trees on the other side of the bank and a herd of buffaloes moving away, perhaps after bathing in the waters.

The water was ‘muddy’ which later, during my visit to the Yamuna Bio-Diversity Park, Faiyaz Khudsar, the scientist-in charge, explained, is the true essence of a river. From farmlands to the man-made greens of the park, the 21-km stretch from Palla village to Wazirabad barrage is the best that one can behold of the river.

My next stop was the Wazirabad barrage. Quite expectedly, the beautiful tall grasses dancing along the winds, trees and the farmlands disappeared while the contours of the river transformed into concrete structures.

‘Green’ is the colour of the Yamuna here. “The river’s natural flow stops here as it is controlled by the barrage. The water around the barrage is green due to algae formation because of stagnant water,” said an official of the Delhi Flood and Irrigation department.

I then decided to take a boat ride and before I could even see the river, I could smell it. The stench was strong enough to make me nauseous. As the boat began to cut through the river, officials of the Flood and Irrigation department prescribed me to pop an anti-allergic pill after the tour was over. “We all swallow anti-allergic after we finish surveys on the river. Once we reach home, we bathe by mixing disinfectant solutions in the water,” said an official.

The river is ‘black’ here and hundreds of small gaseous bubbles float across the surface of the putrid water - thanks to the 22 drains that flow into it. The velocity of water is almost nil and sponge like black lumps of untreated sewage cover the whole river.

The banks on both sides were dirtied by plastics and materials used for religious rituals. Even the tiny islands of the river are not spared from encroachments. Coin collectors and children spend hours diving in the same waters. Feeling uneasy, I looked beyond to find the Players’ Building (Delhi Secretariat) and the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium standing tall. Behind me was the ‘high-tech Signature Bridge’ being constructed right on top of the ‘dying river’.



> Tilling the banks

In a city where flyovers and the metro criss-cross depicting the rapid urbanisation, a few would know that it is home to thousands of farmers for whom the Yamuna is an essence of their livelihood.

> Read More...

> For departed souls

In Hinduism, a flowing water body is needed to perform the last rites. The ghat wouldn’t have existed had it not been the Yamuna.

> Read More...

> Mud wrestling is dead

Tall grass grows where the river once flowed, as wrestlers of the Chandgi Ram akhara that overlooks the banks of the Yamuna start their daily drill.

> Read More...

> Elephantine woes

Delhi now has seven working elephants all owned by this extended family.

> Read More...


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Printable version | Jul 17, 2018 6:08:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/down-the-river-yamuna/article7670493.ece