The government has decided to rope in a Dutch firm to chalk out a plan on how the Yamuna can be made navigable by bringing back all-season fresh water flow to what has become a noxious black thread.
Saving the fabled river has never been more critical for Delhi as the city meets 70% of its water needs from its waters, before the channel becomes shallow and starts carrying only domestic sewage and industrial pollutants — half of it untreated.
“The ministry of shipping is trying to work with a reputed consultancy company in the Netherlands for a scientific study,” said a senior Delhi government official, adding, “We want to start boating in the river. It’s not impossible”.
During monsoon a lot of rainwater flows out of Delhi, the official said, and the government he claimed was looking to trap this. “Dredging the channel is an option. Building dams and raising the height of existing barrages are other options”. In the meantime, the Delhi Jal Board must give a deadline by which it will have to ensure that no untreated sewage or industrial affluent go into the river,” he said.
“I keep hearing about the Ganga and that it’s very holy. That’s true but the Yamuna is equally holy for me. We have to restore it to the extent that we can swim in it as we used to years ago,” Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung had recently told HT. In the absence of an elected government in Delhi, Jung has been making efforts to somehow bring the river back to life, but the enormity of the task and multiplicity of authorities — both past baggages — have slowed the progress.
Noted ecologist CR Babu, who is part of court-appointed committees and government teams, working on the river’s revival, however, was not entirely happy with the Dutch plan. “De-silting of the river channel and reservoirs is fine. This will help hold the rainwater. But building dams and raising the height of existing barrages will breach the embankments and flood the city”.
At Wazirabad in north Delhi, we drain the river and get about 3,000 million litres a day (MLD) of water that meets Delhi’s 70 per cent needs. As much as 3,000 million litres of Delhi’s sewage goes into the Yamuna through 22 drains. So much so that the 22-km stretch in urban Delhi is 3% of the river’s total length, but contributes to 70% of the total pollution in the whole channel.
Manoj Misra of NGO Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan said, “Experiments and wild dreams must stop. Yamuna must be first understood in its entirety, its rejuvenation spirit needs to be appreciated and appropriate measures howsoever strong must be taken on a priority basis.”
Misra feels an apex fully empowered and enabled Yamuna River Conservation Commission must be formed and must be made the last word on any decisions concerning the river. “It must have in addition to government officials, non-government experts and civil society representatives on it,” he said.
Misra’s demand sounds valid in view of the fact that multiplicity of authorities actually seem to be hampering efforts to revive the river. The Delhi Development Authority is in-charge of the river zone spread in 9,700 hectares. The flood control department builds embankments. Pollution control through sewage treatment is the job of the Jal Board. The ministry of water resources looks after inter-state water sharing issues. The Inland Waterways Authority of India is working on plans to make the Yamuna waters navigable.
Experts say the government is trying to build recreational spots in the floodplains, which should be stopped immediately. “Floodplains, which are a major source of ground water recharge and checks floods, should be left as they are. No river front recreational project should come up there,” said Babu. “Let us not forget that a river without its flood plains (to freely flood and recharge ground water) and its biodiversity (to self cleanse) is no river at all,” added Misra.