Millennium Post

Dying Yamuna

Every river in the country has a history of cultural significance and has been worshipped for several reasons. The rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Narmada, Krishna, Kaveri, Godavari, etc find their mention in almost every religious ritual of the country. Rivers are also indicators of birth of civilisations. It has been believed that the water of Ganga and Yamuna is very pious and one can get rid of their sins just by taking a dip in the holy rivers. In earlier times, rivers were the only source of water for quenching the thirst of habitats living alongside and due to this fact, all major cities had come up on the banks of important rivers be it Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada, Kaveri, or Satluj.

Nearly 57 million people depend on the waters of Yamuna. With an annual flow of about 10,000 cubic billion metres (cbm) and usage of 4,400 cbm (of which irrigation constitutes 96 per cent), the river accounts for more than 70 per cent of Delhi's water supplies.

In contrary to earlier days, the situation now is totally different. If you offer someone a free land to build a home on the banks of Yamuna, he may not find the offer a lucrative one as the river has now turned into a massive drain. And living on the bank of a drain is never a wise decision as it will be on open invitation to several diseases. Then the pertinent question is who is responsible for converting the Yamuna into this filthy stream? The reasons could be many and the major one is we, who let the sewage, industrial effluents and dirt flow into the river due to lack of proper drainage system in place.

The governments - be it the Central or states - are also taking extra measures to save thus affected rivers from losing their original identities. Even though a lot of public money is being spent on its revival, the River Yamuna is on the verge of death. The river has been reduced to a stream at many places across Uttar Pradesh, mostly carrying sewage, industrial effluents and dirt. Its water — already gravely compromised by Delhi — faces death at the hands of politics in a state where caste angles and communal lines define the election syllabus. It is not that the state governments of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh are not taking any concrete step to bring back the original status of the river. The Delhi government has drawn up an elaborate plan for Yamuna revival with its major focus on cleaning of drains, development of green areas along the river and creation of reservoirs.

Why is the river Yamuna dying and who are responsible for it?
In reply to a volley of questions, noted environmentalist Anil Prakash Joshi told Millennium Post that the devaluation of Yamuna started soon after it was separated from river Ganga. "The hullabaloo over saving Ganga is the main reason for the plight of Yamuna. As religious gurus and social activists jointly raised their voice to save Ganga, the government too constituted mission and authority with the sole objective to save Ganga while they let Yamuna take its last breath. Also saving Ganga means harvesting vote, which is not the case with Yamuna," noted the environmentalist.

"Ganga is an exception due to its political significance, as opposed to the health of all rivers across the country. The worst condition of a historical river in the capital city of the country is enough to expose the policies of the Central government towards saving such rivers. As like Ganga, Yamuna is also used to irrigate fertile lands of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. About 40.02 per cent farmland is dependent on Yamuna in comparison to Ganga, yet it is one of the most neglected rivers for years," Joshi said.

Stressing on the need to focus more on Yamuna, the environmentalist said, "We have to think more about saving Yamuna, as saving Ganga has become a national movement with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government starting several projects to save the river on mass mission mode, which is not the case with Yamuna. We have to chart out a comprehensive plan to conserve the river right from Yamunotri to Allahabad, else the country would have to face the wrath of the daughter of Sun."

The legend has it, that in the Dvapara Yuga, the water of Yamuna had become so poisonous that animals started dying after drinking it. The reason of it becoming poisonous was the presence of Kaliya Naag, who had poisoned the water of the river with his venom. When Lord Krishna came to know about it, he killed the huge serpent to revive the water of the river and make ti fit for drinking. The same Kaliya Naag has entered into the river in the form of pollution, which need to be weeded out on an urgent basis, else the whole habitation dependent on Yamuna water would perish. But surprisingly, no one is coming to kill the demon, so the demon is killing the river.

According to Hindu mythology, Yamuna is the daughter of the Sun god (Surya), and sister of Yama, the God of Death, hence also known as Yami and according to popular legends, bathing in its sacred waters frees one from the torments of death.

According to Rajendra Singh, a well-known water conservationist, the Yamuna is no more a river, it is a culvert now. "In Delhi's 22 km stretch, we can easily locate 18 drains flowing in Yamuna. The condition of the river in other states is also similar," said Singh who is also known as 'waterman of India'.

Water Resource Minister in Modi cabinet, Uma Bharti had said in Lok Sabha that about 80 per cent of Yamuna is polluted in Delhi as out of about 500 crore litre dirty water, per day only 300 crore litre get treated while the rest 200 crore litre polluted water is allowed to flow into the river.

The water of Yamuna is of "reasonably good quality" through its length from Yamunotri in the Himalayas to Wazirabad in Delhi, about 375 kilometres, where the discharge of waste water through 15 drains between Wazirabad barrage and Okhla barrage renders the river severely polluted after Wazirabad.

There are three main sources of pollution in the river, namely - households and municipal disposal sites; soil erosion resulting from deforestation occurring to make way for agriculture along with resulting chemical wash-off from fertilisers, herbicides, and pesticides; and run-off from commercial activity and industrial sites.

Involving several agencies, including the Centre, Delhi Jal Board would supervise the work that is expected to take about two years and cost over Rs 6,000 crore.

"The plan has an in-principle approval from the Centre and we have had a couple of consultations with Union water Minister Uma Bharti. The Centre has agreed to finance the Yamuna riverfront development. For the remaining work, which includes improvement of drains, upgradation of sewage treatment plants etc, we are still working out a financing model," said Kapil Mishra, Minister of Water, Tourism, Art, Culture in
Delhi Government.

The work would include the creation of 50m–200m greenways along the river and drains. These greenways would be landscaped with walkways, cycle tracks and recreational places wherever these are close to human settlements. Native trees, shrubs and herbs would be used to attract and sustain wildlife. A major section in the plan has been dedicated to the management of sludge and solid waste for the first time.
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