The first-ever de-silting of Okhla Barrage, which was carried out from June 1-15, may prove to be a futile exercise. Environmentalists claim the silt removed has been piled within the reservoir and the first monsoon showers will undo the de-silting exercise.
Manoj Misra, convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, a civil society consortium, has submitted pictorial evidence to union minister of environment and forests Jayanthi Natrajan and said the de-silting was a hurriedly planned and executed operation. He has also shot off copies of his letter to UP and Delhi governments, besides central pollution board, Yamuna standing committee and central water commission.
The Uttar Pradesh government spent Rs 11.96 crore to de-silt the Okhla Barrage. The barrage has been set up on Noida-Delhi border to store and supply Yamuna water.
Because of heavy silt, the water storage capacity of the barrage had become almost nil. It could store water which could be supplied barely for 4-5 hours for irrigation purposes against the ideal situation of 6-7 days. The water stored in the barrage is supplied through Agra Canal to Delhi, Noida, Agra and Mathura.
"Within a few days of the de-silting, the barrage, the river downstream as well as Agra Canal are back to their old conditions. The de-silting exercise should have been carried out in a more systematic way," said Ravi Agrawal, director, Toxics Link, an NGO working for environment protection.
The barrage had not been de-silted in the last 25 years. The work began after UP irrigation minister Shivpal Singh Yadav visited Noida recently and ordered officials to de-silt the barrage.
Both Misra and Agrawal have taken up the issue together. "The Yamuna is one of the most polluted rivers. The silt removed from it is likely to be full of toxins. Careful storage and proper disposal was the need of the hour.
The ministry of environment and forests and bodies like the central pollution control board must have a role," they said.
In their letter to Natrajan, they have asked, "Was any environment impact assessment carried out for the de-silting? Was any assessment of the site/sites where the removed silt would be deposited carried out and informed to relevant stakeholders/affected people? Was the de-silting operation carried out as a proper project and its report made public?"
Even the irrigation department which oversaw the de-silting work in tandem with the Noida authority sounds ignorant about the importance of proper disposal of the removed waste and admits little care was taken in dealing with the matter. "There is no threat of spread of toxins during rains. We flew the silt downstream. We achieved desired level of cleaning," said Rajeshwar Yadav, executive engineer.
"The allegations are baseless. The entire process has been photographed. Even top officials of Lucknow have appreciated our effort," he said.
The district administration is ready for a probe. "I will look into the matter. If any irregularity is found, I will speak to the department principal secretary in Lucknow ," said Gautam Budh Nagar district magistrate MKS Sundaram.