THE Yamuna river passing through the national capital of India reflects the state of the nation today. It stinks. People of the cities settled along its banks have poured dirt and sewage into it in billions of litres, unmindful that the river is a living body that needs to be nurtured. The governments in states along its course have spent thousands of crore, adding more sleaze than goodness into the cause. With the result that today, people have decided to take the lead in cleaning Yamuna, with a Yamuna Bachao movement.
According to the Save River activists, “The 600 km stretch of Yamuna, between Panipat and Etawah, has become a drain, and thousands of people are demanding that the river be made free from pollution.” But, for the Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, the demand sounds like some silly political gimmick. Instead of joining the voices of protests or trying to work solutions to clean Yamuna, she has dismissed them with a wave of her arrogant hand. She has every reason to be upset. The Government of Delhi has spent around Rs 2400 crore in the past ten years, the period when Dikshit was at the helm.
The statistics as usual are scary. The Delhi Jal Board has 20 sewer treatment plants with a recycling capacity of 544 million gallons daily (MGD) out of the 650 MGD generated by Delhi. But only 350 MGD of sewage water is being treated. The rest is flowing untreated. While according to pollution control norms, the Bio-Oxygen Demand should not exceed three mg per litre, the water in Delhi has 15-20 points. The minimum level of Dissolved Oxygen required to support aquatic life is 4 mg per litre. The range present in Yamuna is between 0.0 mg/l and 3.7 mg/l. The sewage level in water is checked in laboratories which work 9 am to 5 pm while water plants are supposed to recycle 24X7.
In the past decade, Uttar Pradesh has spent Rs 2,052 crore, Haryana pollution control board Rs 2,084 crore and Delhi around Rs 2,394 crore for the removal of sewage from Yamuna. And yet, the river is dirtier than before. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the polluted length has increased from 500km to 600km. Previously, the dirty stretch was identified from Wazirabad in Delhi to the river’s downstream near Etawah in UP. But now, pollution starts from Panipat in Haryana, almost 100 km upstream of Wazirabad. Delhi draws seventy per cent of its water needs from Yamuna.
So who is accountable for the money? There are multiple agencies involved in the so-called cleaning efforts. Each with their budgets do meaningless and piecemeal exercises that are wasteful. For instance, the Delhi government has erected metal mesh to stop people from throwing flowers and remains from worship, broken idols from thrown into the river, on one of the arterial bridges, Nizamuddin Bridge. But it is a common sight to see several holes in the mesh through which people freely throw things. The least the government could do is to appoint a few inspectors along the way to stop it. The Clean Yamuna campaign will not be a success if it does not involve the people of the city. More awareness, more participation at school, college and Residents Welfare Associations level is required to achieve this. And it is a sustained effort that would finally pay.
Beyond Yamuna being a source of water, it is the cultural heritage of India. It is embedded in our collective memory as the waters that witnessed the childhood of Lord Krishna. If Ganga is worshipped as mother, Yamuna is revered for its connection with Krishna. Yamuna is one of the seven punya nadhi named in the morning prayers of millions of Hindus. Its banks are dotted with several pilgrimage centres, like Vraj and Mathura. The drains that pour sewage into this sacred river are the modern-day Kalias that are poisoning the waters of Yamuna. The need of the hour is a Krishna who will subdue this hydra-headed monster and restore our heritage to us. One of these hydra heads belong to the greedy politicians.