New Delhi: Twenty-seven years have passed, several promises made, multiple deadlines missed, three Yamuna Action Plans devised and “implemented”, over Rs 5,000 crore spent, yet the 22 km stretch of Yamuna that passes through Delhi remains choked and dying.

As per media reports successive Delhi governments have spent a cumulative Rs 5,400 crore to clean the Yamuna since 1993, out of which the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government has spent Rs 700 crore since 2015.

According to an RTI reply received by The Sunday Guardian in July this year from the Delhi Jal Board, one of the nodal agencies for the Clean Yamuna project, the Delhi government had received a fund of Rs 618.50 crore under the Yamuna Action Plan III from the Central government and had spent around Rs 687 crore for cleaning the Yamuna.

The RTI reply to The Sunday Guardian further states that the projects which the Delhi government had undertaken with these funds include rehabilitation of sewers, waste water treatment plants and consultancy services for Yamuna Action Plan.

While the Central governments’ Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation in a press release in December 2018 had said that the Ministry had released a sum of Rs 2,361.08 crore in 2018 to the Delhi government for 11 projects for cleaning the Yamuna.

Despite thousands of crores being put into cleaning the Yamuna in Delhi over the last few years, the river is dead/dying in the 22 km stretch that passes through Delhi.

According to environmental experts and river conservation activists, a river is termed as a dead river when the river becomes incapable of housing any flora or fauna in its bed due to the presence of poisonous pollutants in it.

According to Delhi Jal Board’s water quality status of River Yamuna, the river becomes virtually dead as soon as it enters Delhi from Haryana’s Palla, with the dissolved oxygen level in the water becoming unfit for the survival of any flora and fauna. The faecal Coliform in the river also rises to an exorbitant level, sometimes 500 times more than what is desirable to be in a river. In October 2021, the Dissolved Oxygen (DO) Level in the Wazirabad stretch of Yamuna after it entered Delhi was about 1.9 mg/litre, while the permissible limit for flora and fauna to survive in a river is at least 5 mg/l.

As the river moves downstream into Delhi, the DO level in the Yamuna further decreases. At a point where Yamuna meets with the Shahadra drain, downstream of Okhla barrage, the DO level in Yamuna becomes zero. The faecal Coliform (which is released from human and animal excreta) in the Yamuna at the Wazirabad area is about 11,000 MPN/100 ml and as the river meets the Shahadra and Tughlakabad drains as it flows into Delhi the faecal Coliform matter in the Yamuna increases to about 94,000 MPN/100 ml.

The ideal level of faecal Coliform in 100 ml of water is about 500 MPN, while a desirable level of faecal Coliform in the river can be considered as 2500 MPN/100 ml of water. The Yamuna Monitoring Committee, which was set up by the National Green Tribunal had also made startling observations on the health of the river Yamuna in Delhi. In its report in 2019, the Committee said that the five-year trend analysis (2015-2019) of the water quality of Yamuna in Delhi was critically worse, and gives an alarming picture of the water quality.

In another report to the NGT by the same Yamuna Monitoring Committee in January this year, it had pointed out several lacunae, and how multiple authorities in Delhi responsible for cleaning the Yamuna had been failing year after year.

The 22 km stretch of the Yamuna that flows between Wazirabad and Okhla constitutes just 2% of the total 1,370 km length of the Yamuna that originates at the Yamunotri. But this 22 km constitutes over 80% of the total pollution load of the river.

POLITICS OVER YAMUNA

The rising pollution level in the Yamuna has led to a political blame game being played out in Delhi, with the BJP and the Congress blaming the AAP-led Delhi government for failing to fulfil its promise of cleaning the river.

While the BJP has accused the AAP for not doing enough to ensure that the Yamuna is cleaned and of playing unnecessary “petty” politics, the AAP has hit back by saying that the pollutant in the Yamuna is a “gift to Delhi” from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh who according to the AAP have been discharging pollutants into the river. The AAP has also accused the Haryana government of not releasing enough fresh water into the Yamuna for it to be cleaned. Delhi Jal Board’s vice-chairman and AAP leader Raghav Chadha earlier said, “About 105 million gallons per day (MGD) waste water from the Yamuna in Haryana and about 50 MGD waste water from the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh merged into Okhla Barrage and this water had industrial waste, untreated detergents and ammonia that led to formation of the dirty frothing. BJP governments in UP and Haryana should be blamed for this. Year after year we have written to the UP government to use irrigation technology, bio culture method…but BJP governments didn’t pay any heed.”

The poisonous froth floating on the Yamuna in Delhi almost making it look like a glacier floating on the river and Chhath Puja devotees taking a holy dip into the toxic water was witnessed this week. The Delhi government faced flak from the media and on social media after visuals of Delhi Jal Board officials were seen spraying water on water to remove the poisonous froth from the river. Visuals were also seen of barricades being used to keep the froth away from the ghats.

Delhi BJP spokesperson and media head Praveen Shankar Kapoor told The Sunday Guardian that successive governments have lacked the political will to clean the Yamuna.

“The AAP is playing blame game politics by unnecessarily blaming Haryana and UP. Look at the river near Palla where it enters Delhi, it is much cleaner there, but as soon as it enters the Wazirabad area and meets with urban Delhi it turns into a sewage. This shows that the AAP government and the earlier Congress government failed to create sewage treatment plants to ensure that sewage is not directly dumped into the river. Till the time the Kejriwal government makes it a priority to build sewage treatment plants, we cannot even imagine cleaning the Yamuna.” Praveen Shankar Kapoor told this newspaper.

The Congress, which has ruled Delhi for almost 15 years, accused the AAP and BJP of playing politics with Yamuna. Senior Congress leader and spokesperson of Congress, Dr Naresh Kumar, while speaking to The Sunday Guardian, said, “Both the AAP and BJP are misleading the people of Delhi. Both the state and the Central governments are responsible for this. In 2015 during the election, Kejriwal had said that he could clean Yamuna, then again in 2019 he said the same thing, and now again in 2021 he says by 2023 he will clean Yamuna. But they have not spent even a single rupee to clean the Yamuna. They have not even cleaned the ghats along the river.” The claim was refuted by the AAP.

Chief Minister Kejriwal said on Wednesday that the Yamuna would be cleaned and fit for bathing by 2024. The Delhi government has earmarked Rs 2,300 crore for cleaning the Yamuna in this year’s budget.

WHAT ENVIRONMENTALISTS SAY

Environmentalists and Yamuna river activists criticise political parties for their lack of political will and responsibility with respect to cleaning the Yamuna. Notable environmentalist Vimlendu Jha while speaking to The Sunday Guardian said, “Lack of understanding and lack of political and bureaucratic will has kept the river in its most pathetic form for several decades and successive governments have failed to clean the Yamuna, despite spending crores of rupees for cleaning the Yamuna.”

While another notable environmentalist, former Indian Forest Service officer and head of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Manoj Misra, speaking to The Sunday Guardian said that it was lack of political will and neglect of their responsibility that hurt the Yamuna. Both Jha and Misra say that the political parties and successive governments have failed to understand the basic problem with Yamuna’s Delhi stretch.

Misra said, “Government after government failed to understand the problems of Yamuna and even if they have understood they have done very little about it. First, we need to understand that anything that does not flow cannot be called a river and no government has ever addressed the issue of disappearing flows in the Yamuna. All these years, the focus of authorities and the government has been on creating sewage infrastructure.”

Jha, corresponding to the view of Misra added that “The main problem of the river is that it has no minimum flow. The river is shrinking. Fresh water is extracted for drinking and irrigation purposes by Haryana, UP and Delhi. Over extraction of fresh water for domestic and industrial purposes has turned the Yamuna into a sewage canal.”

Manoj Misra added that the Yamuna river after Palla as soon as it enters the Wazirabad area turns into a sewage canal as all the freshwater is extracted for consumption in the city.

“The Yamuna till Palla can still be called a river, but as soon as it crosses the Wazirabad barrage the river dies as the entire water is extracted by the DJB for supply to Delhi residents. There is no river after Wazirabad barrage, so whatever river that you see after the Wazirabad barrage is sewage filled with industrial pollutants, surface runoff, muck, agricultural waste, and sewage that the city produces. It is only natural that toxicity in the sewage would increase and the oxygen level in the river would decrease and this is exactly what happens.”

Jha told this newspaper, “When the DJB says that 150 MGD of sewage is discharged into Yamuna, I want to ask, if 650 MGD is greater than 150 MGD? Delhi itself produces 65 MGD of sewage and discharges it into the Yamuna and Delhi’s pollution is its own gift.”