Blow by Blow, how pollution kills the Yamuna  river: A Field Trip Report

              Yamuna River from Hathini Kund Barrage to Delhi (All maps from Google Earth, created by author)

A field trip along the Yamuna River this April 2015 showed how the river is killed blow by blow, by the pollution and diversion. The visit was planned with an objective to study and observe actual status of industrial and domestic pollution reaching River Yamuna via various Escapes and Drains in Haryana, upstream Delhi. A team of two members Sri Manoj Misra, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan and Bhim Singh Rawat, SANDRP spent three days (03-05 April 2015) closely travelling along the river through four districts of Haryana (Sonipat, Panipat, Karnal and Yamuna Nagar) and tracking various drains, escapes (from origin) which pour massive amount of effluents  in River Yamuna .

Yamuna River: from perennial to seasonal

Unseasonal rain in March 2015 made Yamuna River flowing clean, what governments after having poured millions of rupees could achieve not in past three decades. The 1376 KM long river has been reduced to a mere 400 KM which is hardly 30 % of its entire length. Originally Yamuna River flowed from Yamnotari  upto Allahabad finally merging her identity into River Ganga.

Having left with no live and perennial river, Haryana, well known among key agrarian states draws maximum waters from Hathini Kund Barrage via Western Jamuna Canal (WJC), which has the capacity of around 15000 cusecs (cubic feet per second. Here, the State, unfailingly and unfairly robs River Yamuna of 99 % of total water available at Hathini Kund Barrage (HKB). The Mighty River is left at the mercy of claimed 160 cusecs release from HKB which seldom flows for more than next 10 KM. It is Somb, perennial-turned–seasonal river originating from lower Shivalik hills in Haryana, which brings some waters to Yamuna that is erratically released by Dadupur Barrage in Chhachhrauli Block, Yamuna Nagar.  A couple of ground water fed  local streams natively known as Thapana falls into Somb, which try to wet vast dry riverbed with few cusecs more water apart from 160 cusecs released from HKB. All this keeps flow in River Yamuna alive upto Kalanaur Bridge, Yamuna Nagar roughly 40 KM downstream of HKB.

Dry Yamuna River (21 April 2014 exactly one year back) Downstream HKB, Somb and Thapana reviving it downstream Dadupur Barrage
Dry Yamuna River (21 April 2014 exactly one year back) Downstream HKB, Somb and Thapana reviving it downstream Dadupur Barrage

For next 200 KM from HKB, Yamuna Nagar to Wazirabad, Delhi legendry Yamuna River runs dry.  What in return, comes back to river is black stinking industrial and domestic effluents dumped via Dhanura Escape which drains in Yamuna in Karnal, Munak Escape (Drain No. 1 & 2) which drains in Yamuna in Panipat and Drain No. 6 which starts in Sonipat which for more than a decade, without any reprieve, have been polluting and poisoning the river incessantly.

Flowing magnificently again

The unseasonal rain in Himachal and Uttarakhand and other northern parts of India, in the months of March-April 2015 has, so far, kept Yamuna River flowing with water. Al though this is welcome, it is at the same quite unusual, too, or rarely seen during lean season during past decade. Post 2000, Yamuna River with gradual decline in lean month discharge has turned seasonal. It has nominal flow in lean season from December to February and totally dry, with stagnant pools of water here and there on riverbed from March to June. This is first time in several years that during lean season river is flowing homogeneously.

Khewara, Sonipat (03 April 2015)

During the (I travelled with Shri Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan) field trip, I saw that Yamuna has a changed course post 2014 floods, shifting towards eastern banks. There was around 2000 cusec of waters flowing in the river. The sky over head was cloudy because of on-going western disturbance. Many passer-by and locals could not resist the pleasing weather and they were seen strolling on the banks of the river or standing on bridge gazing at gently moving Yamuna. With Rabi crop harvesting period on, irrigational need were almost nil, hence substantial water from HKB not directly but via Munak escapes was being released into River Yamuna.

Yamuna River at Sonipat (03 April 2015) [All photos by Shri Manoj Misra]
Yamuna River at Sonipat (03 April 2015) [All photos by Shri Manoj Misra]

Mawi, Shamli (03 April 2015)

Children from nearby villages were playing and swimming in the river. Few were busy with fishing out coins from the bridge with the help of locally made magnetic hook tied with a long rope. The river had around 1000 cusecs of water at Mawi as per our estimation. Further, Munak escape with 1000 cusecs of waters was joining river downstream of Mawi. The amount of water was sufficient to make the river alive. It attracted few amateur anglers sitting patiently on river banks and trying their luck at fishing. New release of water will certainly lend fresh lease of life to fisher community, who due to seasonally dry River were suffering reoccurring financial losses. Riverbed farmers have also replanted their Pledge a traditional floodplain crop.

River Yamuna in different form at the same place, same season, in different years

Yamuna River at Mawi, Shamli (03 April 2015)
Yamuna River at Mawi, Shamli (03 April 2015)
Yamuna River at Mawi, Shamli in April 2010
Yamuna River at Mawi, Shamli in April 2010

Gumthala, Karnal (05 April 2015)

The Yamuna temple and Ghat at Gumthala in Yamuna Nagar, sprang to life with fresh discharge of about 3000 cusecs of water (1000 cusecs directly from HKB and 2000 cusecs indirectly via Somb from Dadupur Barrage). Villagers started frequenting river bank and there were devotees beholding increasing Yamuna’s water level. Once common but now forsaken and forgotten in lean season boat-ferrying culture got unexpected opportunity to prove ‘Nadi-Naav Sanyog’ proverb. There was one boatman transporting about 20 people with few motor cycles and other stuff at one-go. Widening river span with increase in water, waiting for passengers, strong current etc. all these were making the boat journey at least 25 minutes long excluding the waiting time. In case of dry river there was no need for boat the time taken to go across was about half.

With fresh release of 3000 cusecs, thanks to unseasonal rains,  Yamuna River started swelling at Gumthala Yamuna Nagar (05 April 2015)
With fresh release of 3000 cusecs, thanks to unseasonal rains, Yamuna River started swelling at Gumthala Yamuna Nagar (05 April 2015)

All this undoubtedly has brought a dead river to life; on the other hand toxic pollution is still going on untreated into river which will bring the river back to square, once the impact of rain is gone.

Drain No. 6 and 8 at Narela and Sonipat (03 April 2015)

Drain No. 6 carries around 50 MLD (Million litres per day) sewage from Sonipat town and country side area much more than sewage treatment capacity of 30 MLD. Central Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) at Sonipat treats about 16 MLD of industrial effluent against the installed capacity of 21 MLD. The figures about sewage and industrial effluent mentioned here are as per CPCB annual report of 2010-11. The treated/untreated sewage & treated/ untreated industrial effluent discharged to drain no. 6.

Drain No. 8 crosses WJC downstream Kakroi Head, which is built on WJC, at Gharhi Bindrauli Village. Water meant for Wazirabad Water Treatment Plant in Delhi is released from Kakroi Head and diverted to drain no 8. Drain No. 6 crosses Drain No. 8 underneath at Akbarpur Barota, Sonipat. Hereafter, it is lined separately, inside Drain No. 8. Drain No. 6 runs inside Drain No. 8. for next 10 KM. Both get separated at Nathupur Village but not before jeopardising public health since drain no 6 carrying the effluents flows inside what is meant to be Delhi Water Supply. During rainy season and at times of accidental breach, both toxic effluents and potable water carriers intermixe with each-other. Drain No. 6 later goes on also takes water from Narela and Holambi Kalan drains and ultimately falls into Supplementary Drain, which finally empties its pollution into Yamuna via Najafgarh Drain few meters downstream Wazirabad barrage.

Drain No. 8 (Bright Blue line) carries Delhi share of potable water & Drain No. 6 (Black Line) flows grossly polluted with effluents
Drain No. 8 (Bright Blue line) carries Delhi share of potable water & Drain No. 6 (Black Line) flows grossly polluted with effluents

During our field visit we found, Drain No. 6 at Narela, carrying less polluted water. The rain over the recent weeks had ensured that WJC was flowing with waters more than demand, hence it had discharged much more water into Drain No. 8. As a result Drain no 8 had completely submerged Drain No. 6, with surely leaving NO EVIDENCE OF DRAIN NO. 6. EXISTENCE, all the polluted water of Drain No 6 had mixed up with the water meant for Delhi’s Wazirabad Treatment Plant.

Drain No. 1 & 2 at Panipat (03 April 2015)

Drain No. 2 in its initial part is known as Munak escape since it branches off from Munak Head. It drains into river Yamuna about 100 km upstream of Delhi.  Before 2008, it was used to carry Delhi’s share of potable water, helping river keep flowing for 100 KM upstream of Delhi. Drain No. 1 runs through Panipat town and industrial units collecting sewage as well as industrial pollution, which it dumps into Drain No. 2 upstream Shimla Gujran village. The Panipat city with 45 MLD Sewage treatment capacity (constituted of one 35 MLD and another 10 MLD STPs) generates around 105 MLD of waste water including both sewerage and industrial effluents. Officially, Drain No. 1 carries about 75 MLD of treated/untreated waste water. Industrial effluents were not reaching to 21 MLD Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) in Panipat. Treated/untreated water from 10 MLD STP was being released into an abandoned drain which later merges with Drain No. 6.

Munak Escape also known as Drain No.2 off-takes from Munak Head on WJC at Karnal  &  Drain No. 1 which dumps massive amount of pollution to it
Munak Escape also known as Drain No.2 off-takes from Munak Head on WJC at Karnal  &  Drain No. 1 which dumps massive amount of pollution to it

On the day of of our visit, up-gradation and rehabilitation work going on for last one and half years meant that the 35 MLD STP at Sivah was not functioning. Drain No.1 was found laden with effluents, stinking so badly that it was difficult to stay close to it.  It was emptying itself into Drain No. 2 which in turn reaches river Yamuna downstream of Atta village, Panipat and polluting the river irreversibly. Drain No. 2 was seen flowing with about 1000 cusecs of water released from Munak Head. This not only was diluting the pollution dumped by Drain No. 1, but also adding to fresh water volume flowing in River Yamuna.

Munak, Indri Escape Karnal (03 April 2015)

At the outskirts of Munak village in Karnal, Munak Head on WJC is a key regulator, Satluj-Yamuna-Link (SYL is still non-operational following Punjab Haryana dispute going on in the Supeme Court), Narwana-Bhakara-Link (NBK) and Augmentation Canal (AC) all in turn fall into WJC upstream of Muank and downstream Indri Head. Indri Head is around 50 KM upstream of Munak Head and it diverts water mainly for Sirsa branch. Indri escape is non-functioning and large tract of this escape has been converted into farmland. Any water release in Indri escape from WJC will either destroy crops or inundate villages located along it. The around 100 KM long stretch of WJC from Hamida Head to Indri Head off late is used only during two occasions, either in the event of excess water in WJC or when they need to allocate water for Sirsa Branch, otherwise it lies unused. Sometimes Yamuna Nagar pollution is directly allowed to flow in WJC upstream of Indri Head from where either it flows downstream or it gets diverted into Sirsa Branch.

Dhanura Escape Yamuna Nagar (03 April 2015)

Dhanaura Escape[1] is located about 15 KM upstream of Indri Head, in Yamuna Nagar district. It is around 50 KM long drain with first 23 KM length being relatively straight channel and the rest 27 KM meandering course. It carries to Yamua River the industrial pollution dumped into it by Ditch drain (Ditch drain originates from downstream of Hamida head and ends in Dhanaura escape). Dhanaura escape drains in Yamuna river 4 KM downstream of Shergah Tapu village in Karnal its path going via Garhi Birbal. Villagers of nearby 50 villages along the Dhanaura Escape[2], in recent years have been  complaining about ill effects of pollution on their health, cattle and ground water sources but all in vain so far.

Dhanaura Head & Escape at the outskirt of Dhanaura village, Yamuna Nagar (Imagery 11 Aug. 2014)
Dhanaura Head & Escape at the outskirt of Dhanaura village, Yamuna Nagar (Imagery 11 Aug. 2014)

On the day of field visit, it was business as usual at Dhanaura Head. Ditch Drain laden with industrial pollution was seen falling into Dhanaura Escape. Withe great difficultly we collected the water and sediment sample. Interaction with villagers revealed that they have in the past raised the issue with their elected representatives at village and state levels but nothing has changed. They described the ground water contamination and air pollution caused by Dhanaura Escape. Villagers knew about the source of pollution but have no idea of possible solution. They appeared miserably suffering but helpless.

Hamida Head Yamuna Nagar (03 April 2015)

Hamida head became functional in 2000. It diverts WJC water into 69 KM long lined Augmentation Canal to prevent seepage and evaporation losses. It cuts through Karnal district & rejoins WJC upstream of Munak Head. It has rendered WJC for about 100 KM as abandoned canal. There are couple of small hydro power projects being run on Augmentation Canal

Hamida Head and Ditch Drain, Yamuna Nagar (Imagery 08 Feb. 2015)
Hamida Head and Ditch Drain, Yamuna Nagar (Imagery 08 Feb. 2015)

On the day of our visit, WJC had almost no flow of water downstream of Hamida Head. Maximum water was being diverted into Augmentation Canal. There were few fishermen busy in fishing upstream of Hamida Head.

Ditch Drain (05 April 2015)

Yamuna Nagar has a number of big water consuming and polluting industries like Ballarpur Industries Limited, Bharat Strarch Mill, Sarswati Sugar Mill, Haryana Distillery, several hundred small plywood and steel industries as per CAG report[3]. All these industrial units including two Sewage Treatment Plants of 25+10 MLD capacity run by Public Health Department were discharging all treated/ untreated industrial effluents into WJC. Under Section 64 of the Haryana Canal and Drainage Act, 1974, the Haryana Government issued an order in July 2003 that nobody would be allowed to discharge any treated/untreated trade effluent or sewage effluent into canals. With a view to overcome Yamuna Nagar pollution problem, the Government in June 2007 administratively approved Rs 13.71 crore budget for construction of Ditch Drain project. Ditch drain was 23 KM long unlined channel with a capacity of 60 cusecs.

The Ditch drain, officially, was to carry treated/untreated effluents to Dhanaura escape channel. The Dhanaura escape channel ultimately outfalls in River Yamuna in Karnal district. It was believed that the toxicity and amount of effluents will get reduced and diluted due to aeration and other effects during transport through long distance. The Irrigation Department was to construct the Ditch drain whereas PHED and four major industries discharging effluents were to share the cost of the project proportionately. The work was completed in March 2009, after incurring a total expenditure of Rs 10.28 crore.

During test check (March 2011) of the records in the office of the Execuitive Engineer, Water Supply Department, Dadupur, it was observed that effluents flowing from the town after treatment were discharged in the Ditch drain. However, due to a faulty design, the effluents started flowing in the reverse direction as the Ditch drain in initial about 3000 feet length was in the cutting section through 20 feet high Tibba consisting of sandy soil. The gap between the drain and WJC in this initial stretch was only about 10 ft. As a result, its embankment near the head got breached and was washed away in September 2009. The ditch drain was lying abandoned since then and no efforts were made to make it functional and treated/untreated effluents again were continuously being discharged into the WJC, thereby polluting the water. Thus, the drain constructed to carry treated/untreated effluents failed to serve the desired purpose of providing pollution-free drinking water.

Dhanaura Escape (Black Line, it also carries effluents brought by Ditch drain, which is not visible on this map) & Augmentation Canal (Blue Line) polluted and potable water in different directions, both ultimately reach Delhi
Dhanaura Escape (Black Line, it also carries effluents brought by Ditch drain) & Augmentation Canal (Blue Line) carry polluted and potable water in different directions, both ultimately reach Delhi

During field visit it was found that around 10 feet wide brick-cemented wall had been constructed at the breach (WJC Running Distance 71000) to prevent reversal of Ditch Drain effluents. However there was spill-over of effluents, topping the wall and pollutants, in significant amount were found ultimately finding its way into WJC. Ditch Drain too was also seen loaded with effluents being carried to Dhanaura Escape.

In conclusion It is clear from this field visit report that while the unseasonal rains have given a fresh life to otherwise dry Yamuna, the pollution from urban and industrial effluents goes on unabated under the new state and central government, both of whom have declared their priority to rejuvenate rivers in general and Ganga Basin (Yamuna is part of Ganga basin) rivers in particularly. However, as we can see above, we see no impact of such claims on ground, in fact there is absolutely no change in pollution situation or in treatment of Urban and Industrial effluents. It is also clear from this that more finances, more infrstructure in the form of STPs, CETPs and more drains  by themselves are not going to help unless there is fundamental change in governance of rivers, urban water sector and industrial pollution sector, to make them participatory and accountable.

We also saw how severely this pollution affects water sources, livelihoods, health, cattle, groundwater & surface water quality for the rural areas that have no option but to use these water sources. But this situation of serious health hazard has been going on for years without any change. This does not meanthat urban areas are not affected by such pollution, they are in various ways, though not as directly as the rural areas in immediate vicinity of the water sources.

Since Delhi’s freshwater supply depends on what happens in this region and since National Green Tribunal is trying to achieve Maily se Nirmal Yamuna, we hope the Delhi government of Aam Adami Party and NGT too take cognisance of this reality.

Bhim Singh Rawat (we4earth@gmail.com), SANDRP


[1] During field trip and examining goggle earth imagery, we found that Munak and Dhanaura escapes in their initial length appeared like straightened channels, at the same time, moving towards tail areas they exhibited pronounced meandering like rivers. On the basis of these observations, we sense, that these escapes while constructed and trained by human beings in initial reaches, were eventually merged, either with relict channels of River Yamuna or her tributary.

[2] See for details: http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/haryana/y-nagar-jagadhri-effluents-harm-27-karnal-villages/49260.html

[3] http://aghr.cag.gov.in/Civil/civil11(e)/ch3.pdf, see p 115  on PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT (IRRIGATION BRANCH), section 3.3.1 Non-functional ditch drain polluting drinking water supply chapter

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