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Rs 1,400 cr down stinking drain

15 years after vowing to help clean up the Yamuna, the Supreme Court admits it has failed, report Bhadra Sinha and Moushumi Das Gupta. The filthy and the effluent.

delhi Updated: Apr 02, 2008 03:16 IST
Bhadra Sinha and Moushumi Das Gupta
Bhadra Sinha and Moushumi Das Gupta
Hindustan Times

This must be the most expensive bit of housekeeping anywhere in the world, and pointless. Over Rs 1,400 crore has been spent on cleaning up 22 km of Yamuna River cutting through Delhi. And it remains just as dirty.

Supreme Court judge Markandeya Katju called it a “stinking drain” on Tuesday. “I went there to perform the last rites of my mother and the smell at the ghat was unbearable.”

This observation came at a hearing by a bench comprising Katju and Justice HK Sema of a public interest litigation seeking the court’s intervention in the implementation of safety measures on national highways.

Katju raised the Yamuna clean up issue to explain why the Supreme Court cannot and should not get into areas marked out for the executive (the government). It didn’t work in the case of Yamuna.

“For the past 25 years (15 years actually) the Supreme Court is trying to clean the Yamuna. Under the garb of judicial orders, the government has spent about Rs 1,400 crore,” said the judge, adding, “But the condition of the river has worsened and it has become a stinking drain.”

There couldn’t have been a starker acknowledgement of the failure to clean up the Yamuna, which was once a great river, but is now a stream – or a drain as Justice Katju prefers to call it – and a very dirty one at that.

While the bench mentioned Rs 1,400 as the total clean-up bill so far, another estimate puts the figure at Rs 1,700 crore. And add to this Rs 4,643 crore more, the cost of a new scheme on the board.

The Supreme Court took up the Yamuna issue following a report in the Hindustan Times in 1994 and has since then monitored the progress of the project very closely and keenly.

The first big plan was to treat the waste generated by the city before it emptied into the river. Using the Thames as a model, a network of sewage treatment plants and common effluent plants was to be installed.

Of the 143 specific projects including setting up of Sewage Treatment Plant (STPs), only 34 made it. And of the 15 Common Effluent Treatment Plants that were to be set up, only four have gone operational yet.

This was not working. So, there was midstream course correction. And a new animal entered – grandly called the Interceptor Sewage Treatment Project. This again is work-in-progress, with 2010 an unrealistic target.

Despite all these efforts and money, half of the city sewage — 384 of 719 million gallons a day – drains into the hapless river untreated.

And this is how clean is Yamuna. The prescribed standard of Coli form – which also determines the water quality — should not be more than 500 per 100 mili litre (ml). While in 1995 the total Coli form at Okhla barrage was 5,72,500 ml, it stood at 7,00,33,333 ml in 2006.

“The problem is that Yamuna does not have enough fresh water left. It is a dead river. Over the years the different agencies just sat and watch as the river’s condition deteriorated,” said Ravi Aggarwal of Toxics Link, an environmental NGO.