The Yamuna river, along whose stretch the capital was founded, has become clogged with filth and pollution, and is slowly dying.
Delhi hides its river and blocks access to it.
Its residents look away, usually from inside the coaches of a Metro, when the river comes into sight. The black, stinking water that flows in the Yamuna is uninviting and ominous. The pollution figures show that the Yamuna is no better than a drain.
Despite thousands of crores spent on various projects to clean the river, the Yamuna, over the years, has just become more and more polluted.
In February, 2014, a parliamentary panel noted that the Yamuna seemed dirtier despite around Rs 6,500 crore having been spent on it. The panel said the delay in setting up interceptor sewers along the major drains of the city was among the major reasons for its high pollution levels.
So, what does a dirty Yamuna mean to people living in Delhi, the mega-city?
Apart from killing an entire ecosystem — which is disastrous for any habitation — Yamuna’s pollution affects Delhiites in various other tangible ways.
A report published by The Energy Resource Institute released in 2012 showed that vegetables grown along the river contained high levels of nickel, manganese and lead.
The study stated that the dumping of untreated industrial effluent and sewage into the river contaminated the riverbed and even the ground water in areas near the river.
In 2012, reports claimed that the toxic fumes emanating from the Yamuna were causing serious health issues, especially those related to the upper respiratory tract.
Doctors from the area have reported a consistent increase in the number of people coming to them with upper respiratory tract infections. The untreated sewage and industrial waste dumped in the river leads to expulsion of hydrogen sulphide and ammonia gases.
And, it is not just your health that takes a beating. The gases have also been corroding air conditioning and refrigeration units in areas such as Mayur Vihar. Even Delhi Metro’s blue line has witnessed corrosion in its AC plants in stations along the river.
The Okhla Bird Sanctuary, too, has not been spared from the pollution and the construction on the river’s floodplains. The area, which has been a hotspot for birdwatchers since 1970s, has seen a sharp decline in the number of avian visitors over the years.
A field visit by activists Manoj Misra and Bhim Singh Rawat from the South Asia Network on Dams Rivers and People found that unseasonal rains in March this year had managed to clean up the Yamuna marginally but, overall, there was no change in the pollution figures or pollution activities.
“It is also clear… that more finances, more infrastructures and more drains by themselves are not going to help unless there is a fundamental change in the governance of rivers, urban water sector and industrial pollution sector, to make them participatory and accountable,” a report on the visit read.