Reality check: A boat ride down the stinking Yamuna

  • Mallica Joshi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 17, 2015 19:36 IST
Team of officials and experts led by DJB chairperson Kapil Mishra went across the polluted river to have a first-hand experience of the problems facing the Yamuna. (HT Photo)

The black water was bubbling as a rotten smell emanated from the sacred river. It took barely an hour for those who took a boat ride on the Yamuna on Wednesday to develop headaches and nausea because of exposure to the toxic methane gas.

That the Yamuna is more a drain than a river is well known but what this actually means became clear to those who were part of the team, headed by Delhi Jal Board chairperson Kapil Mishra, that visited the river.

Mishra, who has made a commitment to make the river fit enough to bathe within 36 months, was accompanied by officials from several gover nment de par tment of ficials who are working on the Yamuna clean-up mission, civil society members and media persons. The water is black and one cannot look even a few centimetres past it, the smell is unbearable and encroachment on the banks is rampant.

Water quality

As per samples picked up from seven points between ITO and the Najafgarh Drain, the dissolved oxygen (DO) was between 0.24 parts per million and 0.32 parts per million. DO levels in healthy water are above four. Below a DO of 2, aquatic life begins to get affected. The methane that causes headaches and nausea is produced because of the decomposition of organic material in anaerobic conditions in the river.

Samples of water were picked up from seven points between ITO and the Najafgarh Drain. (Sushil Kumar/HT Photo)

In a lifeless river, the noxious gas bubbles up, harming those who live along it. The poor water flow because of a deficient monsoon has also meant that the river is not being able to clean itself.

Desilting the bed

According to Yamuna activist Sanjay Sharma, who accompanied the battery of officials on Wednesdayfs ride, the water in the river does not appear black just because waste water and sewage are being dumped into it but also because the river bed is covered in trash.

Even if you fill the river with clean water from a tap today, it will not appear clean since the bed is blackened because of things that are dumped in it. Even today, the turbidity (cloudiness) of water was between 67 NTU and 47 NTU, which is not very high.

At this level, one should be able to see a coin if it is dropped into a two-metre column but one could not see anything at all on Wednesday since the bed was also blackened by the trash that has been collecting there,h Sharma said.

Possible solutions

According to Kapil Mishra, the idea behind the visit was to show officers, who make policies and decisions, how difficult was the task ahead of them.

I have made a commitment to clean the river within three years and we wanted to assess the monumental task ahead of us. The river is very dirty and our work is cut out for us. According to preliminary reports, the sewage from the Najafgarh Drain needs to be treated before entering the river.

If that is done, things will improve quickly,h he said. The Najafgarh Drain is believed to be responsible for close to 70% of the riverfs pollution. According to experts, the desilting of the river bed will have to be carried out a few months before the interceptor sewage project kicks off to make sure the desired effect is achieved. A detailed report of the quality of Yamunafs water is expected in three days.

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