Yamuna lifeline of Braj region, but not talking point in polls

Updated on Jan 31, 2022 01:04 AM IST

Yamuna faded as a poll talking point in the Braj region’s Mathura because the release of water, as required from the Hathini Kund dam in Haryana and from the Okhla Barrage in Delhi, is an inter-state matter where the elected MLA has no say

Devotees offering prayers at Vishram Ghat on the banks of the Yamuna in Mathura, a key city in the Braj region of western Uttar Pradesh. (HT FILE PHOTO)
Devotees offering prayers at Vishram Ghat on the banks of the Yamuna in Mathura, a key city in the Braj region of western Uttar Pradesh. (HT FILE PHOTO)

The river Yamuna, considered the favourite of Hindu god Krishna by the faithful, no longer finds much of a resonance as a talking point during the polls in the Braj region of western Uttar Pradesh.

Construction of Gokul Barrage in Mathura and Ganga water pipeline reaching Agra has reduced dependence of locals on the Yamuna as a source of drinking water. Both cities are in the Braj region.

Lakhs of devotees, who reach the Vishram ghat and other prominent ghats in Mathura and Vrindavan, often find the water not matching the standards required for rituals or even for bathing, barring important occasions when extra flow of water is ensured.

After flowing through the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi, the Yamuna enters Uttar Pradesh through Mathura, the second most important holy destination along the river after its origin Yamunotri (Uttarakhand).

The Mughals found the banks of the Yamuna ideal locations for prominent monuments and archaeological sites like the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Itimad-ud-Daulah, Ram Bagh and Mehtab Bagh.

“The Yamuna had been an important source of drinking water on which a large population of Agra relied on for long. It was the lifeline for residents of Agra. However, the Gangajal project bought 140 cusec of Ganga water every day to Agra from the Palda headworks of the Bulandshahr Upper Ganga canal through a 165-kilometre pipeline and this resolved much of the drinking water crisis in Agra,” says environmentalist Braj Khandelwal who heads the River Connect campaign in Agra. The campaign conducts Yamuna aarti every evening on the banks of the river in Agra.

“Yamuna had been an issue in the polls of the past but is now only so for the Chaturvedi community residing near the Yamuna ghats. They complain of degradation in the quality of water available in Yamuna. Lakhs of devotees reaching Yamuna in Mathura and Vrindavan often hesitate to perform aachman (drinking river water as a ritual),” says Chandra Pratap Singh Sikarwar, a veteran journalist and member of the UP Bhujal Sarankshan Parishad, a body for underground water preservation.

“This is because of the Yamuna turning into more of a drain after more than 90% of the water was stopped at Hathini Kund Barrage in Haryana in compliance with the Centre-state pact during the tenure of former prime minister Indira Gandhi. Whatever water that flows (thereafter) is stopped in Delhi and it is more of sewage flowing into Yamuna as it crosses Haryana and enters Mathura district,” Sikarwar says.

“Yamuna has sacred value for Mathura, a pilgrimage city, and we do not want it to be an issue in polls. In 1985, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi came up with the Ganga Action Plan. To make it effective, cleaning of rivers merging into the Ganga was also stressed. The Yamuna was prominent among those rivers. There were agitations for cleaning of Yamuna. A PIL was filed in the Allahabad high court in 1998,” says Gopeshwar Chaturvedi, the petitioner of the said PIL.

“On court directions, things began to happen and effluents plant were made mandatory for industrial units. Plantation was undertaken and river police was constituted to stop pollution and illegal activities. Hospitals were asked to treat bio-medical waste, and drains falling directly into the Yamuna were tapped,” he says.

“However, the problem begun when Mathura and Vrindavan Nagar Palika was entrusted the task because the officers there lacked technical know-how and the Parishad was short of funds. As such, the Yamuna remained neglected after 2010. With chief minister Yogi Adityanath taking keen interest in Mathura, things have begun moving again and DPR (detailed project report) is to be forwarded for funds from the Centre,” states Gopeshwar Chaturvedi who is a petitioner in PIL No. 1644 of 1998.

“Yamuna faded as an issue in polls Mathura because the release of water, as required from the Hathini Kund dam in Haryana and from the Okhla Barrage in Delhi, is an inter-state matter where the elected MLA has no say. While those living near the river may press the issue before candidates for the Mathura city assembly seat, for other four assembly constituencies in rural Mathura, Yamuna is not that a big issue now. Further, Mathura has got a barrage at Gokul which helps in ensuring water quality at the Vishram Ghat in Mathura,” Sikarwar says about the situation in the Braj region.

“With Ganga water reaching Agra (via pipeline), the Taj City’s reliance on Yamuna for drinking water has reduced. But the rich cultural heritage of Agra is incomplete without healthy a Yamuna. We find the Yamuna river bed dry for most part of the year, barring the monsoon months” argues Brij Khandelwal.

“We will continue to rally for the cause of Yamuna even if it is or is not an election issue,” says Khandelwal.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Hemendra Chaturvedi is based in Agra serving as a Principal Correspondent, covering districts of Agra and Aligarh division of western Uttar Pradesh. He has been with HT since 1992 and has completed 25 year of association with HT.

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