There are large number of stories this week from all over India highlighting the crisis that Urban Rivers in India face. Urban rivers, like the Urban Water sector, exist in complete policy vacuum. There is no policy to guide the Urban water governance. Cosmetic efforts being done when President Donald Trump of USA visits India on Feb 24-25, 2020 at Yamuna (in view of his visit to Agra) or Sabarmati (visit to Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad) won’t really help. The crisis not only affects the rivers, but the health, livelihoods and lives of millions and millions of city dwellers too, in addition to the downstream river users. Our Water Resources establishment has no clue, as is evident from their calling the Dravyawati river channelization in Jaipur as an example of river rejuvenation and suggesting such rivers should be given to corporates to rejuvenate in similar ways! It’s doubtful if the new National Water Policy now being formulated will help, unless it dares to suggest radical changes.
Feature image: A Hindu woman worships the sun god in the polluted waters of River Yamuna during Chhath Puja in New Delhi, on Nov. 14. (Image Source: Quartz India.)
In its latest report, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) appointed monitoring committee overseeing Yamuna River cleaning progress in Delhi says that the river is “fighting to stay alive” and it would not be possible to rejuvenate the Yamuna unless minimum environmental flow is provided as it is “virtually reduced to a trickle and remains dry in some stretches for almost nine months of the year”.
In the action plan, it is mentioned that “Although the Yamuna river flows only for 54 kilometres from Palla to Badarpur through Delhi, the 22 km stretch from Wazirabad to Okhla, which is less than 2 per cent of the river length of 1370 km from Yamunotri to Allahabad, accounts for about 76 per cent of the pollution level in the river”.
The committee has suggested that a team of scientists be formed from CPCB, DPCC and other institutions like IIT Delhi or NEERI to carry out inspections and submit reports to it for remedial action. The team can look into the risks and benefits of an alternative way of routing the same quantity of water which can help in reducing the pollution level, it said.
The monitoring committee also raised objection to the capacity utilisation of common effluent treatment plant (CETP) which is as low as 25 per cent. There are 28 industrial clusters in Delhi and 17 of these are connected to 13 CETPs. The remaining 11 clusters are not connected to any CETP. Another area of concern is the direct discharge of completely unregulated waste from industries and residences into the river.
(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.