To call Yamuna a river, particularly in Delhi, is an aberration of the first order. The water is black, looks heavy and oil-laden with suspended pollutants and worst, barely moves.
So when the Government of Delhi conducted its annual three-day shramdaan to clean Yamuna on the occasion of World Environment Day (June 5), one was a bit amused. It is a symbolic gesture, true, but the awareness levels still remain abysmally low and so does government inaction.
The shramdaan was kickstarted by the Green Chief Minister of Delhi, Sheila Dikshit on June 2, 2003. The drive concluded on June 4. It was conducted at various points - Wazirabad bridge, Kudasia ghat (ISBT), ITO bridge, Garhi Mandu Pontoon bridge, Geeta Colony and Pontoon bridge Opposite Bank Enclave.
Who will clean: For Reema Sharma, who is participating in the cleaning operation for the second year, public participation holds the key. She says, "People living on the banks of the river must feel the pain. It is imperative. Unfortunately, in the two years that I have been participating, I notice these people actually encourage throwing of plastic bottles and other garbage into the river. I think there must be a sense of ownership among people for things to change."
Sharma is attached to Bharat Scouts and Guides, a voluntary, non-political, educational movement for young people started in 1907.
Officialspeak: However, for an optimist all is not lost. On being questioned about the difference in the last four years, Dikshit said, "But the plastics and hyacinths have drastically reduced. When the shramdaan was conducted four years back, you should have seen - the river was full of these life-guzzling plastics. This time, I hardly saw any."
Ever since her government ran its "Say No To Plastics" campaign and cracked down on the use and misuse of plastics, things have definitely improved. But these are the smallest of the pollutants. True, hyacinths are poisoning plants that kill the river-life. No living creature can survive in hyacinth-infested water bodies.
But the disaster is much bigger. Nearly 80 per cent of Delhi city's untreated sewage is emptied into the Yamuna every day! According to Central Pollution Control Board, the Najafgarh drain alone throws 50 per cent of city's sewage into the river. This, along with industrial waste, has made a mess of the once mighty Yamuna.
Clearly sewage treatment in the city was and remains a colossal failure, in an otherwise impressive track record of Delhi's Chief Minister. Though the sewage issue is an inherited legacy, comparatively little seems to have been done during the tenure of the present government too. Sewage treatment is under Delhi Jal Board.