(Feature image by Nishant Panwar, Vikas Nagar, shows Yamuna River in upper reaches in Jan. 2019)
On April 11, 2019, is the birthday of Yamuna river. The Yamuna Jayanti comes every year on the sixth day of ‘Chaitra’ (summer) Navratra. The Kapat (door) of famous Yamnotri shrine would be opened this year on May 7 for Char Dham Yatra.
In April-May 2019 India will vote to elect 17th Lok Sabha or Parliament. On April 11, the 1st of the 7 polling days, the home state of Yamuna river, Uttrakhand and the districts of Western Uttar Pradesh through which Yamuna river flows, will vote.
The two other states heavily dependent and Yamuna river, Haryana and Delhi will see voting on May 12. The district Mathura, Agra, Etawa, Kanpur, Hamirpur, Fatehpur and Allahabad of Uttar Pradesh located along Yamuna river will witness voting from second (April 18) to sixth phase on May 12.
The NDA government come to power in May 2014 promising clean Ganga and Yamuna. The thousands of devotees of Mathura and residents of Agra were especially convinced of a promise of clean flowing Yamuna river. People were also hopeful that the government of the same party, BJP, in centre and in key basin states of Yamuna (Uttarakhand, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh) would bring a change in the situation. But over the five years, things have only deteriorated further. In fact, under the present government apart from dams and pollution a illegal sand mining has emerged as equally dangerous threat for the Yamuna rivers from upper reaches through middle and lower stretches.
On the occasion of Yamuna Jayanti, the Yamuna Nadi Mitra Mandli (YNMM) a voluntary group of villagers and concerned; established along the length of Yamuna by Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan is highlighting the issues affecting the Yamuna river and riparian communities which have remained unaddressed during past five years and none of the political parties even now have remotely focused on these. They also warn that ignoring the problems of Yamuna and dependent community will soon affect every state and dependent people in a significant way apart from endangering the river itself.
Uttarkashi: Projects Ignoring Cloud Bursts, Landslides, Flash Floods Threats
In Uttarkashi, the district from where Yamuna river originates, has been witnessing natural calamities with increased frequency. In 2018 monsoon, on July 17, there was a massive cloud burst incident at the Yamnotri shrine itself. The aftermath damage included destruction at temple complex, washing away of make shift shops at Janki Chatti and damage to rope way and road bridges.
In the last 14 years, this was the fourth incident of cloud burst in area. Despite this the Char Dham highway project is going ahead without so much as any environment impact assessment. This project, affecting this region too, was started by the current NDA govt at the centre and everyone has been asking for whom is the project pushed ahead, besides contractors? Hotels and tourist facilities are being built close to river. The increasing tourism pressure and haphazard development is surely a recipe for 2013 like (or worse) disaster but government refuses to promote holistic development which respect the geologically fragile and climatic sensitive area.
“In Uttarkashi, Yamuna river flows through a narrow valley. The mountain slopes are very steep and set precariously. We already have several perennial landslide zones which in past have created disaster and are still cause of worry. Cutting down these slopes to make way for Char Dham Highway road expansion is making them further vulnerable to landslides. The coming monsoon would bring a disaster if the issue is ignored by government and contractors”, says Jagmohan Bartwal of Yamnotri Sewa Samiti, Kharadi. He further reveals that the muck and debris being generated in the process are being loosely dumped along the river.
“One more pressing concern with Char Dham project, which most of people are overlooking is dust pollution. The suspended dust particles are forming dust clouds locally, which are trapping the sun light and getting heated up easily. As a result there is unusual fluctuations in local temperature as the particles are catching up heat during day and making the area warmer despite being located close to glaciers”, adds Omkar Bahuguna a reputed journalist based in Uttarkashi.
In fact, the Khanera and Kishala villages of Kharadi in Badkot some 35km downstream Yamnotri have been facing landslides for years. During 1991 earthquake a landslide lake was formed at Khanera village which is located 500 metres uphill of Gangani small hydro power project (HEP) head.
Locals say that the tree felling, blasting and construction work of the Gangani SHEP has triggered landslide close to Kishala village sitting opposite of Khanera. The ongoing landslide at Ojhari, Syana Chatti situated some 25 km downstream Yamnotri shine, is a glaring example of geological fragility of the region. The landslide is going on intermittently since 2016 resulting in many fatal accidents. Now under the Char Dham project, the government has proposed to build a tunnel through the mountain.
“On account of some geological fault or seismic activity, in 2016 the hill top kept accumulating water for a long time and one day suddenly burst out, since then the landslide has not stopped. The resultant flash flood down the hill has washed off the vegetation cover. Now whenever it rains, the remaining soil comes down in form of mud slide and when it is sun shine the loosened boulders keep falling apart creating havoc”, explains Bahuguna. The government has done a study in 2018 to look into the possible causes of the landslide but the study has not been put in public domain as yet.
Bahuguna thanks the extended winter and record snowfall in catchment area this year, which he feels will keep the river flowing during lean season.
As per locals the 8 MW Gangani SHEP was responsible for increasing 2013 flood impact in the area, which wiped away about 25 big hotels in Kharadi. At the time the project was under construction. Locals complain that the SHEP has now manipulated the flow of river. It takes most of water through intake channel and leaves negligible flow in the river. During summer when demand is high and availability is low it makes the matter worse.
The flash flood also damaged a bridge connecting dozens of villages to district headquarter. Even five years after the 2013 flood disaster, the bridge has not been repaired.
Riverbed Mining Begins in Naugaon, Uttarkashi
Riverbed mining which was earlier limited to foothills or plain areas of Yamuna River has now started impacting the river even in pristine reaches. About four stone crushing units have been set up Naugaon in Uttarkashi. More will reportedly be set up.
Locals complain that the company is mining the riverbed in excess through heavy machines and the movement of heavy dumpers, trucks has been damaging the road essential for public. They also say that there is no information about the norms to be followed by the crusher units.
Muck Dumping worry the People
Similarly several crusher units have come up around the under construction 120 MW Vyashi Hydro Project (HEP) at Vikas Nagar in Dehradun. Local people feel that the crusher units have been excavating the riverbed materials without permission. The muck dumping is another important issue making locals worried about the benefits of project.
“We earlier felt that the dam projects would bring prosperity to us but now we see the other side of the picture. Two crusher zones have come up in our area, one at the Vyasi HEP head near Juddo and second opposite the project power station which is some 8 km downstream. To supply raw construction material to the project, riverbed is being dug massively. Gravels, coarse sand is used but the fine silt is being dumped by the river”, says Sandeep Tomar, member of Yamuna Swachchta Samiti, Katapathar.
He also states that the same case is with the muck generated by tunnel digging work. “Earlier they created a huge dump by the river. Now one more has come up. Most of the muck is overflowing in the river as protection wall was weak and created to complete formalities. We have been raising the issue of riverbed mining and muck dumping but nothing has changed. If things keep going like this, we fear a repeat of Srinagar like flood in our area which was instigated by irresponsible dumping of muck by the river”, adds Sandeep Tomar with a worried voice.
Indeed the muck dumping and riverbed mining could affect the natural flooding pattern of river Yamuna. If the issue is not resolved immediately, the river would erode away huge fertile agricultural land of Katapathar and endanger human habitats located near the river.
The stretch between Dakpathar barrage and Hathinikund Barrage is also infested with illegal and mechanized mining. But the respective state governments of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have shockingly remained silent on the issue.
On the contrary, the central and all basin state governments last year have signed an agreement to build Lakhwar dam in seismically active and geologically fragile location. The matter is challenged in NGT which has issued notices to the respective governments which so far have not replied to it.
The Renuka and Kishau are other big dam projects being pushed on the Giri and Tons rivers which are key tributaries of Upper Yamuna river.
Vikas Nagar Treats River As Waste Dump Yard
Apart from muck dumping and mining, the bustling town of Vikas Nagar has been dumping hundreds of tonnes of solid and liquid waste in the river. “The issue was raised many a time. Ultimately last year, the local authority decided to transport the Vikas Nagar waste to Shesham Bada plant for safe disposal. But nothing has happened so far” laments Nishant Panwar, a Yamuna activist.
He further adds that the amount of solids waste in villages and towns along the river is increasing manifold and most of the waste is ultimately reaching the river. Harbatpur town also dumps its waste in Asan river. “The irony is that the location of planned waste disposal plant of Vikas Nagar is also close to Asan river. There is no talk of treating the liquid waste”, says Nishant.
Yamuna Nagar a Mining Disaster, Haryana Drains Continue To Pollute Yamuna
The land mark Supreme Court decision of 27 Feb 2012, was delivered to stop the adverse impact of unsustainable quarrying in Yamuna Nagar. The district has again fallen back to the clutches of unjustifiable quarrying and sand mining menace over past couple of years.
For a long time the local media could not muster up to speak against the mining mafia which is allegedly supported by leaders in government. Now the reports in local dailies are quite shocking and showing how the current government has only facilitated the exploitation of the river.
“The mafia is strong and threatens the villagers if they raise voice. The mining has created deep pits in the riverbed. Village roads are damaged by ferrying trucks. But the administration is mute spectator despite knowing everything” says Kiranpal Rana of Yamuna Sewa Samiti Kanalsi.
“The mining mafia has damaged a large section of the “right lower down-stream embankment” (RLDSE) along the Yamuna at Tajewala village by carrying out illegal digging up to 50 feet deep along the embankment. The illegal mining poses a threat of breach in the RLDSE during the rainy season and may further cause damage to Hathnikund Barrage besides wreaking havoc in villages in the area.
An 11,000 feet long, 20 feet wide and 25 feet high RLDSE had been constructed on the right bank of the Yamuna on Haryana side — the left bank of the river falls in Uttar Pradesh — close to old Tajewala Barrage to protect villages from flooding. The Irrigation Department also spent Rs 34 crore to strengthen the RLDSE from 2010 to 2016.
Sources said the bed level of the Yamuna was around 35 feet deep from the upper end of the RLDSE. However, the depth of its other side had gone down to around 50 feet due to illegal mining along the RLDSE, posing a strong threat of breach” reads The Tribune report dated 10 April 2019.
SANDRP in March 2016 has raised the issue of how illegal mechanized mining in and around Yamuna river at Hathini Kund Barrage was posing a threat to the structural safety of the barrage.
The story is no different in Karnal, Panipat and Sonipat, the other districts of Haryana lying along the river. “This is purely illegal mining. Miner from both states Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are involved. Against norms in-stream mechanized mining is happening. Active river channel is also being diverted at will. Who can stop this, if government itself is sponsoring it” says Manoj Thakur a Yamuna reporter.
As per The Hindu report of 9 April 2019, the movement of heavy sand laden vehicles has also become a threat to the safety of embankment in Sonipat. Complaining against the Irrigation and Flood Control Department, a person has filed petition in the National Green Tribunal (NGT). However it is surprising that the NGT has constituted a committee to look into the matter, including persons from the very department against which complaint is made.
Yamuna Rivers Turning Seasonal; Farmers Migrating Towards Ganga
Mustkim Mallah, associated with Yamuna Gram Sewa Samiti, Ramra alleges that to facilitate illegal sand mining, water is not released in lean season in the river from Hathini Kund Barrage by Haryana government. “The stretch of Yamuna river lying between Hathini Kund Barrage and Sonipat has been turned into a seasonal channel. The sand deposit are crucial to recharge the groundwater and provide some water to river during lean season. There should be no or limited sand mining in this vulnerable stretch but on the contrary the governments are bent upon robbing the river of ecologically valuable sand deposit. This is water mining also will which create water scarcity in the lean reason” says a worried Mustkim.
When a River Vanishes; HT June 2017 Infofraphic on drying Yamuna.
The village of Mustkim is adjoining the Yamuna river in Kairana tehsil which is opposite Panipat district of Haryana. For past many years, Yamuna river has turned seasonal for about 200 km length lying along Yamuna Nagar, Karnal, Panipat and Sonipat. There are many riverbed farmers dependent on River Yamuna but a drying river for past many years has been forcing the riverbed farmers to migrate towards Ganga belt.
“First the fish diversity has gone now the riverbed farmers are moving towards Ganga. I have never thought I would be seeing such days” states Rahman Mia a traditional fishermen from Kairana.
It is a tragedy that more than 20,000 villagers in Kairana will not be able to cast their votes during the ongoing elections. Most of them are plegia (riverbed farmer) and have migrated to Ganga for riverbed farming till monsoon” reveals Mustkim. The mining and non-release of water from Hathini Kund have greatly aggravated the situation but the respective government has never taken any step to address the situation.
Dhanaura Escape & Drain No. 2 Polluting River
The Dhanarua Escape and Drain No. 2 have been discharging industrial and domestic effluents from Yamuna Nagar and Panipat into Yamuna river over the years. They are big enough like Najafgarh and Shahadra drains in Delhi.
The toxic waste water flowing in these drains has polluted the groundwater along them thus affecting the farmers and villagers adversely. The load of pollution is so massive that at times it disrupts the functioning of water treatment plants in Delhi.
As per a report in The Tribune on 25 March 2019, an RTI response has revealed that about 400 industrial units in Panipat are using about 110 MLD of groundwater without mandatory NOC from the Central Ground Water Board. Locals report that the industries are either pumping back the polluted ground water or dumping it untreated in Drain No. 2.
Despite upgradation in treatment capacity, untreated waste water from industrial units of these districts continue to reach Yamuna through these drains. It’s most disappointing that the Haryana State Pollution Control Board had knowingly created ditch drain to bypass Yamuna Nagar waste water into the Dhanaura escape.
What could be more tragic for the river, that the agency which is supposed to take action against its pollution creates and implements plans to pollute the river. The fact that the state government has silently supported the act shows that it does not care for the only river of the state. On the contrary the state government is making more fruitless efforts in the search of lost Saraswati. To bring that river back, it even plans to build dams on Somb river catchment and take water from Yamuna river via Western Yamuna canal. Somb is a seasonal tributary of Yamuna river in Yamuna Nagar.
Delhi: Eating Away The Floodplain Bit By Bit
Large part of floodplain in Delhi has already been taken away though government sponsored projects. The latest assault has come from Delhi Development Authority (DDA) which has approved plans for creating waste dump and disposal facility over a 45 acre land in Ghoda Gujran which is part of active floodplain.
In past people and local representative have opposed the project. The experts have also warned the authorities of side effects of having waste dump close to the river. The google earth image of the area clearly shows that it undergoes submergence even during moderate floods. But it seems the respective agencies and government have no holistic vision of a river and floodplain. They are just after land in the unsustainably growing city. The effort to artificially beautify the river banks by chasing away the farmers under Yamuna riverfront development project is another instance of government apathy towards floodplain farmers feeding the city with fruits and vegetables.
The case of millennium bus depot built temporarily for 10 days during the Common Wealth Games on Yamuna floodplain, but now permanently encroached proves that the Delhi Government is ignorant and insensitive towards Yamuna river conservation. Despite Supreme Court order it has not removed the depot to alternative sites offered by DDA thus decisively and indefinitely delaying floodplain restoration work.
Apart from governmental illegalities, the floodplain is succumbing to private encroachments too. The newly built Signature Bridge has bifurcated vast part of floodplain thus making it vulnerable for encroachment. In recent times, a Gurudwara has already come up in the floodplain there. Similarly the guide bund of Delhi- Noida- Delhi (DND) flyover has facilitated the Batla house settlements expand further into the floodplain. On any given day, the huge amount of construction debris can be seen dumped inside the wetland sliced off from river Yamuna courtesy DND guide bund.
At Delhi-Haryana border in Faridabad large scale illegal colonies are being built quite close to the river. This has happened post the remarkable NGT January 2015 order chalking out Yamuna revival plans. One can wonder, how the responsible agencies and government in both state can ignore such gross violations.
The google earth images of the said area are revealing evidence. The colonies will surely face damage during floods. Actions must be taken against the concerned department and land mafia for the broad daylight violation of law. It is ironical that on the one hand, hundreds of multi-storey buildings in NCR are lying vacant, while growing mass of population is being inhabited on disaster prone location.
Despite promises by State and Central Government, the situation of pollution has only worsened in the river. Even in this election year, Yamuna river and affected people been left to fend for themselves by the leading political parties.
“I have not seen Yamuna in Delhi. I often visit to Yamuna banks around Palla. The river survives on water released through drain no. 8 to meet potable water demand in Delhi. There is lots of native vegetation and bird life active here. People occasionally come for fishing. I have spotted Sarus crane, woolly necked stork and so many water and riparian birds” says Yayati Bhardwaj a Yamuna walker and activist living in Delhi.
He feels that a flowing river is must for reviving Yamuna but finds that none of the governments have ever raised the issue of environmental flow in the river.
Greator Noida: Hindon Remains grossly polluted
In March 2019, the green tribunal directed the Uttar Pradesh government to furnish a performance guarantee of ₹5 crore for failing to take steps to clean the Hindon river. The court observed that: “In view of serious failure of U.P. so far and alarming situation of pollution of the river that is affecting public health, we find it necessary to require furnishing of performance guarantee…”. It further, it asked the State government to implement the action plan prepared within six months, failing which the amount will be forfeited.
The Monga Bay India video reports by Hridesh Joshi also writes that: “The river today is reduced to a drain of hazardous effluents, discharged by industries and sewage from homes. The state of this river – which originates from a small village Pur Ka Tanda, in the Shivalik hills around Saharanpur in western U.P. – has deteriorated in the last three decades, say locals.”
Vrindavan: Controversial RFD, Fish Death & mysterious Untimely Flood
For next 300 km from Delhi to Agra what flows in the river is cent percent pollution. The polluted water channel has tuned the lives of farmers and villagers of Noida, Greater Noida, Faridabad, Palwal miserable. They are suffering health wise and paying heavily for the problems they have never created or contributed to.
In the religious city of Virndavan, a privately sponsored initiative severely affected the river and floodplain under the disguise of River Front Development (RFD). The matter came into public notice only in January 2019 after plea in NGT, which then stopped the government from carrying out the work. How the unauthorised and massive intervention on the floodplain which included creation of pond, diversion of drains and road construction in floodplain went unnoticed has not found answers from the responsible authorities.
Similarly, there was mass fish kill in the river around ‘Yam Dooj’ or Bhaiya Dooj in November 2018. Various theories and reasons were given for the incident including discharge of pollution from Okhala barrage Delhi which has not found many takers.
It is sure that the pollution led to the event but still the source of pollution and exact cause responsible for it has not been revealed to public at large.
Now in the first week of April there has been an unusual flash flood event submerging farmlands adjoining to river. Again the source of flood water is unknown. “Some says water is released from Tajewala, Haryana.
Others say it has come from Hindon. There is even rumour doing rounds that Gadkari has diverted water going to Pakistan in Yamuna. Nobody knows the exact source and reason behind increased water level in Vrindavan” says Nakul, a Yamuna activist from Gokul. He further says that the colour of water is black and it emanates foul smell.
Agra Battling Pollution, Water Scarcity and Floodplain Encroachment
The Yamuna floodplain encroachment case in Agra is going on in the NGT with hardly any conclusion in sight. It is ironical that despite being located on the bank of Yamuna river, a Rs. 2880 crores project to supply about 140 cusec Ganga water for Agra has been launched in January 2019. However, the Agra city is facing water scarcity which like pollution of river has become a perennial problem.
The worsening pollution of river which remains in dry state for most time of a year has been affecting the beauty and structural safety of Taj Mahal. As a solution to this, a Yamuna barrage project is being pushed for past many years.
“The groundwater in the city is declining. It is already contaminated with fluoride and other contaminants. Only polluted water would remain stagnant behind the barrage. Hence it would further deteriorate the groundwater quality and affect the river irreversibly. We should first protect the water bodies in Agra. Clean the drains here and study the impact of Gokul barrage on river and groundwater before planning a new barrage in Agra” opines Pandit Ashwani Misra, raising the issue of Yamuna pollution and floodplain encroachment for over a decades in Agra.
It is sad that the state government instead of looking into the merits of argument, in March 2018 has announced to release 50 crore for the Rs 706 crore barrage project which as per reports will be 475 metres long with 22 gates.
Chambal, Ken, Betwa Rivers Threatened by Illegal Sand Mining
The Yamuna river in lower part manages to survive mainly due to flowing water coming from Chambal river downstream of Agra, Betwa river in Hamirpur and Ken river in Banda. The aquatic biodiversity in these rivers like gharial, fish, turtle and dolphins are being threatened by illegal sand mining operation. Ken River is also threatened by the proposed Ken Betwa River Link Proposal.
The Supreme Court in 2003 has banned sand extraction in Chambal gharial sanctuary. But the ban is good for nothing as sand mafia has become very powerful attacking the government officials at will.
“Betwa river is almost dead. The only reason is illegal, machinzed sand mining which going on amid ongoing CBI inquiry into 2013 mining scam. Keeping in mind the dire situation, NGT has also prohibited sand mining in Ken and Betwa. But nothing has stopped the mafia. We have resorted to protest, approached government officials but nothing has changed. The media is afraid of raising the issue due to sand mafia. Who will save the river?” asks Rajiv Kumar, member of Yamuna Betwa Nadi Mitra Samiti. Indeed his question needs answer but government has shut its eyes and ears to the plight of Betwa river.
In March 2019, when the Ken river has turned bone dry in Panna in Bundelkhand, illegal sand mining at scale was happening in the river. During Madhya Pradesh state elections in Nov 2018, the Congress promised to take action against illegal mining activities. But things have only gone worse after the elections. On the contrary, terming it a surplus river, the present central government is violating statuary norms to promote unviable Ken Betwa River linking. The fate of Baghen, Dhasan and other rivers in the Bundelkhand is similar.
Fatehpur; A Bridge Project Affecting Dolphin Movements
Sighting of Dolphins in Yamuna river in Fatehpur district (UP) was a normal routine for the Ekdala villagers, who even developed a dolphin watch centre on the bank of Yamuna to make people aware of dolphin conservation and promote village tourism as well. But for last couple of years, there has been no dolphin sighting. As per them the reason for this the construction work of a bridge across Yamuna connecting Kishanpur to Donda ghat.
The about 1km long bridge is being built at the cost of 67 crore rupees which will replace the pontoon bridge. The demand was first raised in 2012. The construction work started in October 2016 and is supposed to be completed by June 2019. One of the objective behind the project is facilitate easy transportation of sand from the river.
“Dolphin is a sensitive creature. There is lot of noise pollution and heavy vehicle movements going on round the clock due to bridge construction work hardly about 1 km upstream of our village. This has affected dolphins’ movement in our area as the mammals stay away sensing unusual vibration in the river water” guesses Jaikant Singh of Panch Dev Yamuna Mitra Samiti Ekdala. He wonders how such developmental work could go ahead without impacting the river and its biodiversity.
In Conclusion This detailed account on Yamuna Birthday in 2019 is testimony of the fact that the respective state and central governments are grossly indifferent towards the cause of Yamuna. It is also clear that they are knowingly taking up and allowing activities and projects that are not in the interest of Yamuna and dependent people. Shockingly, the Yamuna river is absent in the manifesto and narration of leading political parties.
The river is a complex eco system. The mining, barrages, dams, roads and bridge projects affect the river and aquatic life in variety of ways. On the occasion of Yamuna Jayanti, the friends of river along Yamuna appeals to the respective governments to be more sensitive about the issues concerning to Yamuna river and riparian communities.
Sad, but Happy Birthday, Yamuna!!
Composed by Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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