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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

Delhi government to launch drive dissuading farming on ‘toxic’ Yamuna floodplains

A study in 2012 by The Energy Research Institute revealed that the Yamuna floodplain soil had high doses of heavy metals such as nickel, manganese, lead and mercury. It also indicated their presence in vegetables cultivated there.

delhi Updated: Feb 04, 2019 13:57 IST
Joydeep Thakur
Joydeep Thakur
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
People working in their vegetable farm on the banks of river Yamuna near Geeta Colony flyover,  New Delhi. Much of the produce from the floodplains is distributed throughout the city through mandis.
People working in their vegetable farm on the banks of river Yamuna near Geeta Colony flyover, New Delhi. Much of the produce from the floodplains is distributed throughout the city through mandis.(Burhaan Kinu/HT Photo )
         

The Delhi government is planning an awareness campaign to discourage cultivation on the Yamuna floodplains, and citizens from consuming such produce. This comes four years after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned cultivation along the polluted river.

The issue was discussed in a meeting held on December 24, 2018 between the government and the NGT-appointed two-member Yamuna pollution monitoring committee.

“A public awareness campaign was agreed to be undertaken for discouraging agriculture and cultivation of vegetables on the Yamuna flood plain and dissuading people from eating such produce as it leads to entry of toxins in the food chain,” stated the record note of the meeting. The committee has also sent a report to the tribunal.

Much of the produce from the floodplains is distributed throughout the national capital through mandis.

A small portion is sold on bridges over the river and nearby areas. It was decided in the meeting that civic bodies would be asked to seize such vegetables sold on bridges.

The meeting was attended by deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia who, despite several attempts, could not be reached for comment.

The NGT ban

A study in 2012 by The Energy Research Institute revealed that the floodplain soil had high doses of heavy metals such as nickel, manganese, lead and mercury. It also indicated their presence in vegetables cultivated there. Another study by Toxic Links, a city-based NGO, found similar results. “We found high concentration of metals in sediment samples from the river bed and vegetable samples grown on the floodplains,” said Satish Sinha, associate director of Toxics Link.

In 2015, NGT issued the ban saying, “It is an established fact that presently, vegetables, fodder grown and allied projects at the flood plain of river Yamuna are highly contaminated.”

Spot check

Hindustan Times visited farmlands at Geeta Colony, Usmanpur-Garhi Mandu and Mayur Vihar. Swathes of lush green farms, at the outside, do not show anything seriously wrong with the produce. There were hardly any pumps drawing the river water. “Barring a few, no farmer uses the river water. We use borewells to draw groundwater, which is safe,” said Nirbhay Singh, a farmer whose family owns nearly 600 bighas. “Even those drawing river water use it only to grow cattle feed.

“The vegetables are regularly tested in the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) at Pusa and pesticide levels are safe. We know the river water is polluted. The crops would die and the yield drops drastically if we use contaminated river water,” said Dalbir Singh, vice president of Delhi Peasants Multi-purpose Society.

Farmers warned that if agriculture here is stopped, then Delhi would have to depend on neighbouring states, which would not just lead to price rise, but also quality.

A senior scientist from the IARI said, “The vegetables were tested for pesticides, not heavy metals. Pesticides were found to be below safe limits.”

Experts speak

Most of the groundwater samples collected beyond 200m from the river bank and tested by the Central Ground Water Board were found to within safe limits.

“The interaction between the aquifers and river water varies,” said Shashank Shekhar a Delhi University geology professor. “At some stretches it is the river which recharges ground water, and, at others, it is vice versa. The flow also changes during the monsoon. So, we can’t say that groundwater is contaminated throughout the river’s stretch.”

“Even where river water flows towards ground water, several metals are absorbed by the soil. We need to find out the exact location where ground water and soil are contaminated and red flag them,” said Janardhana Raju, a professor of hydro-geology at JNU.