Ebb in the Yamuna flow

As the Yamuna passes through the Okhla barrage, the water — smelly and layered with oil at certain areas — starts to froth at its two gates.

“When I was young, the river extended right till where my car is parked. Whatever little water the river has now is highly polluted,” says Mehender Bhargava, 67, who had come to the river to dump puja items.

The Yamuna is one of the “most polluted rivers in the world”, especially in Delhi, and it is getting more polluted, said experts.

Both experts and a Monitoring Committee appointed by the National Green Tribunal state that less flow in the river is one of the main reasons for pollution.

Three plans to augment the Yamuna’s volume and flow have either missed deadlines or are progressing very slowly — a National Mission for Clean Ganga-commissioned study on minimum flow needed in the Yamuna, a project to rejuvenate waterbodies and recharge groundwater, and a plan to build an off-channel reservoir to store water along the river.

“Presently the pollution in the Yamuna is far in excess and no impact on river quality is likely unless there a minimum environmental flow,” stated a report by the Monitoring Committee headed by former Delhi Chief Secretary Shailaja Chandra and retired NGT expert member B.S. Sajwan.

“Pollutants will be diluted if there is enough flow in the river,” said Manoj Misra, former IFS officer and convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan — a group fighting to clean the river.

The NCMG had last year ordered the National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee, to conduct a study on the minimum flow needed in the river.

It set a deadline of April 30, 2019, but the study is nowhere near completion. “The study is being done in several phases; the first-phase report will be submitted in a few months,” said Sharad K. Jain, NIH director.

An NGT judgment of January 13, 2015, had also sought the immediate preparation of a plan to ensure proper flow in the river. “We direct the Chief Secretaries… to prepare an immediate action plan required to ensure proper environmental flows throughout the year, in the entire river and particularly the stretch flowing through Delhi,” stated the green panel order. “If groundwater is recharged by waterbodies, then during the lean period it would flow to the Yamuna through aquifers, increasing the river flow,” said Mr. Misra.

The 2015 NGT order, which had a deadline of March 31, 2017 for cleaning the Yamuna, had also made reviving waterbodies a priority. But not much has moved on that front. The Delhi Jal Board has made a list of 159 waterbodies to be rejuvenated and is working on the project.

“We are carrying out the rejuvenation in coordination with the departments, which own the waterbodies,” a DJB official said.

On Thursday, officials were undertaking a survey to revive Satpula, a 13th century water harvesting dam in south Delhi that is now bone dry.

There are hundreds of such waterbodies in the city; only one has been rejuvenated so far, but tenders have been invited for 19 others and for the creation of two artificial lakes.

Off-channel reservoirs

On May 6, 2015, a Principal Committee, in its report submitted to the NGT, had recommended a host of measures including creating off-river reservoirs along the floodplain to increase the river’s flow. Such reservoirs would be filled by diverting excess water from the Yamuna during the monsoon and allowed to percolate, thus recharging the groundwater and in turn helping the river’s flow.

An official at the Flood and Irrigation Department of the Delhi government said that they have awarded the consultancy work for exploring the feasibility of creating such reservoirs. “We expect the report by July 15,” said the official, declining to give a deadline for the project.

(The series is concluded.)

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Printable version | Aug 14, 2020 5:53:37 PM |

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