(During monsoon the polluted river cleanses itself allowing migrant fishermen to move in and seek out their livelihood through fishing ; Photo by Burhaan Kinu)
The exploitation of Yamuna Rivers that starts in upper basin comprising Uttarakhand (UKH) and Himachal Pradesh (HP) gets worse as the river is dammed at Hathini Kund Barrage (HKB) while passing through Shivalik Hills located at the border of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh (UP), the barrage has severely compromised lean season (8-9 months) water flow in the river downstream.
As a result, the waterless riverbed resembles a desert till Delhi’s potable water is released back into the river at Palla village, the border of Delhi and Haryana. The absence of flow facilitates intensive illegal riverbed mining for sand and boulders for longer periods in a year which further destroys the river’s eco-system. More over industrial and domestic effluents in great volume from nearby towns reach the river via tributaries, storm water drains. Amid all this successive State Governments show no will to achieve even basic flow of freshwater in the river, even as they keep pushing more dams.
Here is an account of the projects planned and launched in 2016 related to the River Yamuna.
In Feb 2016, the State Government approved Rs 600 crore project to revive augmentation canal to increase the supply of irrigation (paddy) and drinking water especially in the southern Haryana. Augmentation canal branches off from Western Yamuna Canal (WYC) at Hamida head in Yamuna Nagar. It runs for about 70 km in semi circle and joins back the WYC at Munak Head in Karnal. The lined Canal is built in 1970-71 to reduce the seepages losses from unlined WYC.
In 1977 the capacity of canal was increased from 3700 to 4300 cusecs. Despite that the canal till today hardly carries more than 3500 cusecs water. Now the Government has proposed to increase its capacity from the claimed 4,300 to 6,000 cusecs. But the fact is that the river water has already been over exploited and the planned abstraction is unlikely to be met.
More Hydro Projects getting push Around 2005 Government invited private players to develop two Small Hydro Power (SHP) Projects on the Augmentation canal. The projects were completed around 2012. After that, there has been couple of incidents of canal breach in the area which has caused significant damage to farmers and villagers. These breaches also exposed the faulty planning of the Government in pushing hydro projects on the canal. According sources the canal structure lacked required head-fall ratio critical to run SHP at full capacity. Irrigation Department has also accepted that the canal was meant for irrigation and not for hydro projects.
A legal dispute between the company and the Irrigation Department has revealed that the State is water stressed hence has low potential for hydro power. Yet, in March 2016 the same mustard oil producing company which developed the earlier SHPs signed a MoU with the Government to invest Rs 210 crore in four SHPs presumably on the irrigational canals. Once the canal is repaired more river waters would be allocated for the operations of canal based SHPs. Government dependence would also increase on the canal. Resultantly it would be difficult to negotiate ecological flow in Yamuna.
Overused Water Resources, Demanding Dams Elsewhere In May 2016, Manohar Lal Khattar, the Chief Minister (CM) urged Central Government to hasten the construction of Lakhwar dam on Yamuna River in Dehradun. In August 2016 the CM announced five projects worth Rs 2,000 crore to tap 5000 cusecs of Yamuna river water during flood season. Much detail is not available about the said projects but the Government is already constructing Ranny Wells in several districts along the River Yamuna to meet the growing water demand.
In June 2016, the CM urged the National Capital Region Planning Board to ensure release of the state’s legitimate share of water from Okhla barrage, Delhi. He also sought early execution of the Renuka, Kishau & Lakhwar dam projects to overcome water shortage in the state. There were also discussions on diversion of Yamuna water to fill 22 British Era dams in Ramgarh Rajasthan. Interestingly the areas like Gurgaon continued wasting water and facing water crisis. Similarly due to lack of planning the very areas were also drowned during monsoon.
Reviving Lost Saraswati, neglecting Yamuna Saraswati River remained in news throughout 2016. In September 2015, the Government approved Rs 20 lakh to set up Saraswati research centre in Kurukshetra. In Nov 2016, an expert committee claimed of convincing evidence to prove the existence of disappeared river. The Government first in July and then in August 2016 conducted a trial run of releasing 100 cusecs water into the Saraswati river in the 11-km stretch in Yamunanagar district. Groundwater and Yamuna River were reportedly the source of the released water.
Yamuna river waters through WYC collected at the Dadupur head which was supplied to the Saraswati River through the Shahbad-Nalvi feeder. Three dams at Adi Badri, Lohgarh & Haripur on the Shivaliks are proposed, shockingly, to make the river flow! Further, the water from Somb River could be shifted to the route of the Saraswati.
So ultimately the Saraswati is to be revived at the cost of Yamuna River, dams and ground water. Seeing the ignorance and indifference of government, it seems, River Yamuna would be going Saraswati way. The state has already done away with its other rivers Ghaggar, Sahibi, Markanda, Somb and Tangri. Interestingly in inconclusive political fight over Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) with Punjab, the Haryana Government is demanding Sutlej water for Yamuna canal but diverting the Yamuna River water in search of lost Saraswati River. Also the Government appears more interested in artificial revival of a river than making its cities harvest the rain water.
No Solution to Increasing Pollution There has been no reduction in the amount of industrial and domestic pollution reaching River Yamuna via Dhanuara Escape (Karnal) and Drain Number (Panipat), Najafgarh drain (Gurugram). Scores of villagers living along these drains are suffering from severe health related problems due to the polluted water. These drains have reportedly caused immense pollution to ground water table also. Every few months, the pollution reaches the Delhi affecting the potable water supply.
The Sewerage Treatment Plants (STP) at Yamuna Nagar, Panipat, Karnal currently under up-gradation have proved inefficient, or almost useless. There is no clarity on the efficiency of the Central Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) built at Pantipat. Similarly, the newly renovated 45 mld STP is waiting for inauguration. Whatever little actions were taken against the pollution were only because of NGT’s efforts.
Mining Menace As usual, unsustainable river bed extraction kept happening all along River Yamuna in 2016. Yamuna Nagar, Panipat, Faridabad districts in Haryana and Saharanpur, Shamli, Baghpat and Noida districts of UP turned out to be most mining infected areas.
Observing the uncontrolled riverbed extraction, the green tribunal in Feb 2016 imposed a complete prohibition on riverbed mining in Yamuna Nagar and Saharanpur districts for a period of 45 days. Slamming the Haryana Government in June 2016, NGT directed it to submit a report on actions taken against illegal sand mining. In the same month the ban was lifted and the Government also planned to resume the mining in Yamuna River. The sand miners continued the mining in monsoon. As a result in July 2016, eight people involved in sand mining got stranded in flood water in Yamuna Nagar and had to be airlifted.
The uncontrolled mining around HKB is also endangering the barrage structure which in turn might pose a risk for Delhi water supply. In October 2016, the NGT set up committee in its report highlighted that massive illegal mining could affect the course of the river making the adjoining villages vulnerable to disasters. The committee also submitted that a large number of farmers opposed the mining because it affected their livelihood and farming.
HARYANA & UP
Dried River, Parched Cities, Rising Water Disputes: In 2016, Yamuna water level at HKB repeatedly registered record lows in pre-monsoon months. As a result, several districts including Yamuna Nagar, Hisar, Bhiwani, Mahindergarh and Rewari faced water scarcity. The SHPs on WYC also reportedly stopped working. Although post NGT order officials at HKB were purportedly releasing 352 cusecs instead 160 cusecs, the river was hardly in flowing state at Karnal, Haryana.
Though the monsoon has been poor in Yamuna catchment yet during a mild flood in August 2016, the river breached an embankment near Kelra village in Shamli district, submerging huge tracts of farmland.
In April 2016, the Agra town also reported of remarkable decline in Yamuna water level causing water crisis. The city required 402 million liter per day (MLD) but was getting only 250 MLD. According to report, due to pollution authorities were forced to add 10 times more chlorine and alum than WHO standards.
Further downstream, farmers of 100 villages in Etawah, Auraiyya, Jalaun districts in UP alleged that farmers in upstream Morena and Bhind districts in MP were diverting water from Kwari river by constructing check-dams and using powerful pumps. People in more than 100 villages near Kwari, that meets at a confluence called ‘Pachnada’ (confluence of five rivers Kwari, Pahuj, Yamuna, Chambal and Sind) near Bhareh town of Etawah. They were allegedly not getting a drop of its water during pre-monsoon days.
At a time when the districts in Yamuna basin were reeling under drought, a group of villagers from Malakpur in Shamli district were trying to breathe new life into Katha, a 150-km long dead river. With help from a local scientist (Prof. Umar Saif, who heads Dehradun-based Natural History Research and Conservation Centre), farmers were leading the effort to turn a 1 km stretch of the barren riverbed into a lake by building a check dam and harvesting rainwater. Prof. Saif says Katha earlier used to flow between Saharanpur and Rampur but it died in 1830 when East Yamuna Canal came into being.
NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION (NCR)
Floodplains: Endless Fragmentation and Encroachment Continue Several reports in 2016 revealed massive encroachment of Yamuna floodplain in NCR. It seems thousands of acres of fertile land in the floodplain had been converted into real estate by mafia along Yamuna Express Way. The express way itself has been laid over active flood plain and in turn has facilitated encroachment of floodplain.
In an important development in October 2016, UP Government officially admitted before the NGT that over the years, huge chunk of floodplain had been encroached in Noida, Greater Noida to build apartments and housing societies. Similarly the new under-construction bridge over Yamuna River in Karnal Haryana is being laid over active floodplain. Such pseudo bridges in times of high floods face structural damages due to limited flood way. Increasing contraction of the river due to infrastructural projects and mining activities has increased the threats of embankment breach and change in flow path of the river. As a result villages close to the rivers are always under threat.
In a similar case, the River Yamuna has reportedly shifted closer to Kambakshpur village in Noida at the border of Haryana and UP. Environmentalists attributed the change to the rampant illegal sand mining, unchecked construction as well as legal infrastructure projects on or near the banks.
Further downstream, Agra too, it is learnt, is fast doing away with River’s floodplain. According to an ongoing case in NGT, several building complexes have been built in the floodplain of Yamuna in the city. In August 2016 rapping the Government for its dillydally approach, the green tribunal asked registrar general Agra to file a report on correct position of flood plains and the distances of the various projects. Subsequently in November 2016, the tribunal found that about 80 per cent of constructions on Yamuna floodplain is eligible for demolition.
‘River Front Development’ Plans Eating Away Floodplain & Revival Funds With the beginning of 2016, Noida Authority unveiled an ambitious Rs 200 crore riverfront development project along Yamuna and Hindon rivers. In September 2015, the Central Water and Power Research Station Pune had reportedly carried out a detailed survey and hydraulic studies of the area to determine the location of the green corridor across 5,036 ha of floodplains. Ironically the project was being taken up to deal with the encroachment of floodplains yet the project itself involved construction of several commercial facilities in the floodplain. As per the report, UP irrigation department has already given the project in-principle nod.
Then in September 2016, the Government asked Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee to assess impact of beautification of the Yamuna river front in Mathura and Vrindavan. According to report, in June 2016, UP CM Akhilesh Yadav had approved Rs 177.81 crore for the project.
But the state irrigation department started dismantling the heritage structures in Vrindavan and laying huge pipelines for sewer without clearances. As a result the matter reached NGT which in turn has issued notices to various State Government Agencies including to Union Water and Environment Ministries. The Allahabad High Court has stayed the project on October 21, 2016.
UTTAR PRADESH (UP)
No change in the fate of Yamuna After along the border of Haryana and UP for about 400 km, the highly polluted river enters the later state in Mathura district. The area is famous as birth place of Lord Krishna who is closely attached to River Yamuna. As a result, several religious bodies have been protesting against the increasing pollution. In this sequence, hundreds of Yamuna devotees organized a protest march in January 2016 demanding action against discharge of pollution in the river. In August 2016 foundation stone of 20 MLD STP was laid in Vrindavan, Mathura by Central Government under National Mission for Clean Ganga.
According to reports, like Delhil, Agra too was discharging untreated sewage in the river. In January 2016, Central Pollution Control Board found shortcomings in two STPs in Dayal Bagh area in the city. The pollution had also caused significant damage to aquatic life in the river.
The increase in pollution has reportedly led to growth of insects which were harming several monuments including Taj Mahal. According to Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) due to pollution and pools of stagnant water, the Yamuna had turned into a breeding ground for the insects that were sullying the white marble of Taj Mahal with green stains. As per report, there was no water but only harmful effluents discharged by various industrial units sitting on River banks as a result small fish which used to feed on these insects had vanished.
Concerned over increasing pollution in Yamuna, citizen groups in January 2016, urged CM Akhilesh Yadav to save Yamuna. Handing over a memorandum they demanded for dredging of the river bed, release of water from Okhla barrage and construction of a barrage on Yamuna downstream of the Taj Mahal.
In August 2016, the Supreme Court issued notice to government departments on a plea seeking construction of a barrage over the Yamuna near the Taj Mahal. As per report, an order to build a barrage in Agra was passed in 1996 by the SC itself. The petitioner also sought directions from the court to the Central and state governments to start work on the barrage immediately.
Then in September 2016, activists in Agra and Vrindavan again demanded immediate release of water into the dying Yamuna. They alleged that barrages upstream of Agra – HKB Haryana, Wazirabaad and Okhla Delhi, and Gokul Mathura had reduced the Yamuna into a sewage canal. According to hoteliers, because of the polluted Yamuna, tourism had taken a beating in Agra. Surprisingly they also demanded construction of Barrage in Agra to ensure water flow in the river.
Contrary to this, activists in Mathura held Gokul barrage responsible behind rise in pollution in downstream areas. According to them, the water held upstream of the barrage had a reduced current, with most of the gates closed to maintain the water level.
Hindon Pollution Harboring Bigger Trouble Hindon is the lone tributary of River Yamuna between Saharanpur and Greater Noida stretch. The river is polluted so much that it has poisoned the groundwater table in adjoining areas. As a result a scientist in January 2016 approached NGT seeking demolition of 12 check dams constructed over Hindon and its tributaries. The petitioner alleged that through check dams polluted water of the river was percolating down in groundwater. It further said the villagers were forced to drink the contaminated water due to which children were facing health problems. The 12 check dams were constructed by the Department of Agriculture in 2004 in Baghpat and Shamli districts. The plea was rejected by the tribunal.
But the tribunal in September 2016, pulled up Government for not providing clean water to villages in the Bagpat district. According to report, for more than ten years, drinking water sources in the villages, situated near the Hindon River, had been contaminated by the polluted river water. Hundreds of persons in the area were suffering from permanent physical and mental diseases, which they said was a result of the polluted water.
In October 2016, a ‘water panchayat’ was held in Baghpat. It was attended by cancer-affected residents of close to a hundred villages across western UP, mostly located on the banks of highly polluted rivers like Krishni, Kali and Hindon. As per report, in the last two years, hundreds of deaths had occurred in the region, which extends from Saharanpur, Shamli and Baghpat to Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Ghaziabad and Noida. Villagers alleged that continued administrative apathy had rendered the groundwater of these areas toxic resulting in cancer, bone deformities and other diseases.
There were several claimed efforts by Government to clean the Hindon. In February 2016, it started Hindon Rejuvenation Project to make the Hindon River pollution-free. A special committee set up for the purpose in April 216 submitted a plan suggesting massive plantation drive along the bank of river under social forestry. Since then there has been no information on the development of the project.
Contrary to this, the irrigation department planned to change the course of the Hindon river, near Safipur village, for over 800 metres in Noida and Greater Noida. The course of the river was being changed to make way for a dedicated railway freight corridor project. Three more road bridges were proposed over Hindon river to connect various districts.
Chambal Conservation Becoming Up-hill Challenge Chambal is longest tributary of River Yamuna. It actually infuses a new life in Yamuna in Etawah. The river is biodiversity hotspot and last refuge for endangered Gharials species. The river is facing an extinction due to chaotic activities going on for past many years.
The Madhya Pradesh Government has an ambitious project to flatten 1.8 million ha of ravine areas into agriculture land. According experts, the destructive project would dry up the Chambal river and store the rain water releasing it in river during lean season.
Rajasthan Government has been restricting the water flow downstream the dams severely affecting the aquatic and terrestrial wildlife. Illegal fishing and unsustainable sand mining from the river have been pushing aquatic life to the verge of extinction.
Government Bent Upon Clearing Ken-Betwa Link All through the year, controversial Ken-Betwa Link remained in the news. The fraudulent in the EIA has been exposed. The ill fated link would transfer water from Ken River basin, claimed by NWDA to be a surplus basin, to Betwa basin, claimed to be deficit basin. Government officials have however, not disclosed the hydrology data, but available studies shows that they have used manipulation of data. Expert Appraisal Committee has raised concerns about the impacts of proposed Barethi Thermal Power Project on Ken River and Panna Tiger Reserve. Concerned groups have been repeatedly informing Government against the disastrous impacts of the link and that Bundelkhand will not get any significant benefit.
Despite all this, none other than the Union Water Minister, Uma Bharati in August 2016 insulting all democratic processes and putting pressure on statutorily set up decision- making bodies, threatened to go on strike if clearances to the project were not granted. Pushing the unjustified project further, the Standing Committee of National Board of Wild Life, headed by the Union Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave in September 2016 recommended wildlife clearance to the destructive link. Following the development, environmentalists are planning to approach NGT against the unjustified and unscientific recommendations for clearances to the project.
The project still lacks essential approvals but both the Union Ministers are announcing approvals in coming months. Meanwhile there have been many planted stories in media claiming green signal to the project.
Composed by Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org) SANDRP
To read first part of this series, kindly visit Yamuna River 2016: Unjustified Dams and Hydro Projects