A group of concerned citizens is rallying thousands of people to form a 22-kilometer-long human chain on the banks of the Yamuna on June 4 to draw attention to the sorry state of the river plagued by pollution and degradation.
The chain will extend from Wazirabad to Okhla in Delhi, a 22-kilometer stretch which accounts for 75 per cent of the river’s pollution load. Twenty-two drains fall into the river in this stretch.
This will probably be the biggest such effort to sensitize the people of Delhi and ensure their participation in cleaning the Yamuna in the capital, said members of “Yamuna Sansad”, a campaign by environmentalists, conservationists, academicians and researchers working to revive the river.
Experts say untapped wastewater from unauthorised colonies and jhuggi-jhopri clusters, and poor quality of treated wastewater discharged from Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) and Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) is the main reason behind high levels of pollution in the river.
The river can be considered fit for bathing if biological oxygen demand is less than 3 milligram per litre and dissolved oxygen is greater than 5 milligram per litre.
“At 6.30 am on June 4, a 22-km-long human chain will be formed on the banks of the Yamuna in Delhi. Around one lakh people will stand hand in hand between Wazirabad and Kalindi, pledging to keep the Yamuna river clean. The purpose is to sensitize the people to work in this direction,” said K N Govindacharya, former general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a member of the ‘Yamuna Sansad’.
Ravishankar Tiwari, the coordinator of ‘Yamuna Sansad’, said it will probably be the biggest campaign so far to sensitize the people of Delhi about the current situation of the Yamuna river.
Waterman Rajendra Singh, environmentalist Ravi Chopra, Manoj Mishra of ‘Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan’, Sanjay Singh of ‘Jal Jan Jodo Abhiyaan’, Prof. Ram Kumar Singh of Patna Central University and environmental science experts from Delhi University are looking at the technical aspects of this campaign.
“A report highlighting the reasons for massive pollution in the river’s Delhi stretch is also being prepared. This report will be submitted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, Water Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and chief ministers of basin states,” he said,
The campaign calls for removal of encroachment on the river floodplains, improving the sewer network and sewage treatment plants in the capital, stopping the direct discharge of industrial effluent into the river in Haryana and Delhi, developing biodiversity parks on the floodplains, ensuring environmental flow and making the polluters pay.
Delhi generates around 770 million gallons a day (MGD) of sewage. The 35 STPs located at 20 locations across Delhi can treat up to 630 MGD of sewage and have been utilising around 85 per cent of their capacity. The rest of the untreated sewage falls into the river directly.
Government data shows that only 10 out of the 35 operational STPs in the capital meet the prescribed standards for wastewater (BOD and TSS less than 10 mg per litre). Together, they can treat 150 million gallons of wastewater a day.
According to the city government’s Outcome Budget, 29 per cent of the sewage generated in Delhi in 2021-22 fell into the Yamuna untreated. It was 28 per cent in 2019-20 and 26 per cent in 2020-21.
The Delhi Jal Board is upgrading and rehabilitating the existing STPs to be able to meet the prescribed norms and reduce the pollution load in the Yamuna.
However, several projects have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, air pollution-related construction ban, and delay in land allotment and tree cutting permissions.
Sewer networks have been laid in just 747 of the 1,799 unauthorised colonies in Delhi.
Multiple reports submitted by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) to the Union Jal Shakti Ministry have highlighted that the river cannot become fit for bathing in the absence of a minimum environment flow — the minimum quantity of water flow that a river must have in order to preserve its ecosystems and meet the bathing standards.
A study conducted by the National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee, had in 2019 recommended that 23 cubic metre per second (cumec) water (437 million gallons a day) be released in the river from the Hathnikund Barrage in Haryana’s Yamuna Nagar district in the lean season for sustaining downstream ecosystems.
At present, only 10 cumecs (190 MGD) is released from the barrage. A gap of 13 cumecs (247 MGD) remains.
According to the ministry, the water sharing agreement of 1994 among the riparian states of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi is due for revision only in 2025.
According to the DPCC, an e-flow of 23 cumecs will bring down the level of biological oxygen demand from 25 milligram per litre to 12 milligram per litre and other steps being taken will bring it down further.
The sewage system in Delhi is not functioning properly. The river becomes ecologically dead after the Najafgarh drain joins it. A law is needed to hold the local municipality, legislators, and MPs accountable if dirty water from their areas is discharged into the river without treatment, Govindacharya said.
The government is concretising the catchment area of the river in the name of development. All such plans should be stopped, and the money should be used to clean up the river and carry out sanitation work, he said.
The members of Yamuna Sansad also called for development of biodiversity parks on the river floodplains.
“Fifteen to 20 biodiversity parks can be created in 9,000 hectares of land available in the Yamuna floodplains. The Yamuna Sansad will seriously work in this direction after June 4,” Chetan Sharma, one of the members, said.
The Delhi Development Authority, which owns the land in the Yamuna floodplains between the Wazirabad Barrage and the Okhla Barrage, had last year told the Delhi forest department that there is just 1,267 hectares of land available for development along this stretch of the river.
Of this, 402 hectares have already been given for compensatory afforestation and plantation for different projects while 280 hectares is “under dispute” and the demarcation process is going on there.
The remaining 585 hectares of land has been pledged for the plantation of riverine grasses; recreation for public use; development of depression zones to catch floodwaters; eco-friendly kaccha pathways and public amenities and ecological plantation of riverine species, it had said.