Sewage chokes Yamuna as DJB continues to miss deadlines

Sewage and solid waste flowing into the Yamuna near a colony in Wazirabad.   | Photo Credit: V_V_KRISHNAN

The slightly discoloured river water at Wazirabad barrage turns black about 150 metres downstream. This point is where the smelly, mucky sewage from the about 10-metre wide Najafgarh drain empties into the Yamuna.

In the second part of a three-part series on Yamuna’s pollution, The Hindu explores how the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), responsible for laying sewer network and treating sewage, has missed multiple deadlines for projects to treat sewage generated by the city.

The DJB has missed deadlines of June 2019 for setting up of a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP), to increase utilisation of the existing STPs to 99%, plugging of four drains which fall into the river and setting up of an Interceptor Sewer Project (ISP) to treat sewage in areas without sewer lines.

Both experts and a monitoring committee (MC) appointed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) state that untreated sewage flowing into Yamuna through 22 natural drains in the city is a major cause of pollution.

Our team travelled along the Najafgarh drain — the largest drain in the city — to find out that sewage from slum clusters and unauthorised colonies flow directly into the drain and eventually the river, untreated.

The Yamuna is one of the “most polluted rivers in the world” and is getting more polluted, say experts. “The heavy metals from industrial effluents present in the water can affect the heart, brain, and even cause cancer,” said Dr. S.P. Byotra, senior consultant physician at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

“In unauthorised colonies, sewer lines were not laid before developing them. Now, the streets are very narrow and when we excavate, we cannot go deep as it would endanger the buildings on either sides. Sewer lines have to be laid in all the unauthorised colonies to trap the sewage which is difficult now,” said DJB member R.S. Negi.

Sewage generated

Delhi generates 720 million gallons per day (MGD) of sewage whereas the STPs have a capacity of 617 MGD. However, of the total capacity, only 500 MGD is utilised, according to the DJB, leaving about 220 MGD of untreated sewage into the river.

The DJB had informed the monitoring committee that they would increase the sewage treatment capacity to 657 MGD by June 2019, by starting a 40 MGD plant at Coronation Pillar. However, they missed the deadline.

“We will examine the delay and if it is not justified, then penalty will be imposed on the company [who is working on the project],” said a senior DJB official. But, the official said that no such review has been done so far.

The DJB has also not met the deadline to start ISP and of 99% utilisation of the existing STPs by June 2019.

“The ISP will be ready by July, but it will be operational only by December 2019, as the sewage has to be supplied to a plant at Coronation Pillar, which would be ready only by that time,” the official said.

The Interceptor Sewer Project has been in the pipeline since 2006 but delayed multiple times.

The DJB told the monitoring panel that they would be able to achieve 95% utilisation by December 2019.

“The monitoring committee expressed concern that the Board (DJB) first gives very soft timelines but even those timelines are rarely met. This defeats the sanctity of fixing timelines and defeats the exercise of monitoring,” the panel said in a report.

Different authorities not meeting deadlines have been a problem in the past too. In a January 13, 2015 judgment, the NGT had put forward a plan to clean the Yamuna and set a deadline of March 31, 2017. It did not materialise. “These 22 natural drains are storm water drains which were the Yamuna’s tributaries and they used to bring rainwater from different areas to it. But now they bring only sewage,” said Manoj Misra, a former IFS officer, convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan — a group fighting to clean the Yamuna.

“It is also a moral question to Delhi, as people downstream in Agra, Mathura and other places are drinking the waste water we are releasing,” he added.

“Cost of treatment of drinking water will be more in any place downstream of Delhi such as Agra and Mathura,” said Sushmita Sengupta, programme manager of water programme, Centre for Science and Environment.

Tracing the largest drain

At Nandlal jhuggi, when asked about where their waste water goes, everyone pointed to the nearby drain, which the locals call “ganda naala”. The slum cluster consisting more than 1,000 houses has no sewage system.

Pramod Mandal, 58, pointing to a green hose from the slum to the drain, said, “The waste water gets accumulated in a pond in the slum and then the government get it pumped out to the drain through a pipe.” A worker at the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board (DUSIB) office who operates the pump, said that they do it at least once in a day.

The channel joins the Najafgarh drain about 500 metres from the slum cluster, near C block of Nehru Vihar. About 1 km from there, the Najafgarh drain flows into the Yamuna near Wazirabad barrage, turning the river also black and mucky.

In Gokulpuri, an unauthorised colony, sewer lines are being laid and a board reads: “Delhi Jal Board Work in Progress.”

Way forward

There are about 1,700 unauthorised colonies in Delhi with a population of about 40 lakh.

Only 345 of these have sewer lines, according to DJB. In the rest of the colonies, sewage goes to drains, which eventually flow into the Yamuna.

“From YAP [Yamuna Action Plan] 1 to YAP 2, the money spent increased, but the pollutants also increased. It did not work as the focus was on creating sewer lines and STPs,” Ms. Sengupta said. “It is difficult to lay sewer lines in areas that are already developed. In these areas, sewage should be treated in open drains with plants and microbes,” she added.

“In the last hearing on January 29, the NGT had categorically stated that if the timelines are not met, the DPCC and the regulatory bodies will be at liberty to levy environmental compensation,” the monitoring panel stated in its report. Experts said it is a welcome move, but has to be executed.

“The whole city has to be sewered. We have the plan, we have the technology, now it should translate into action,” Mr. Misra said.

This is the second of a three-part series. Here is part one.

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 5:42:23 AM |

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