THIS appeal of Delhi's department of environment was touching in its concern for the Yamuna - almost. Implying that the government is genuinely interested in cleaning up the river, and would succeed if only the indifferent industrial sector would mend its ways, it urged citizens and industrialists of the capital to install pollution control devices, use environment-friendly technologies and recycle water and waste. Of course, it was a classic example of the administration's hypocrisy.
Delhi discharges more than 2,000 million litres per day (mld) of waste water into the Yamuna. Of this, only 300 mld is contributed by the industrial sector. The bulk of the pollutants comes from untreated sewage, dumped into the river because the city administration lacks sufficient sewage treatment facilities. "The administration has facilities to treat only 1,270 mld," admits J C Kala, joint secretary, Union ministry of forests and environment (MEF).
Even the existing treatment facilities are underutilised. A report published by the Delhi pollution control committee (1993) revealed that a mere 31.8 mld of sewage is treated sufficiently for disposal into the river. The existing sewage plants are capital - and power-intensive. Sewage goes untreated into the river during machinery and power breakdowns; in other cases, badly situated sewage treatment plants (STPS) get flooded during the rains.
As a result, though Delhi covers only two per cent of the length and basin area of the river, it contributes 71 per cent of the waste water discharged into the river everyday! And since most of the Yamuna waters that flow into the city are used up to cater to Delhi's extravagant requirements, what remains of the river after Delhi has finished with it is undiluted sewage sewage. "Even an optimum flow of water is not maintained," points out Sureshwar Sinha, founding member of Pani Morcha, an organisation committed to improving the quantity and quality of Delhi's water supply.
The situation is worse during
summer. The average annual flow in
the Yamuna is estimated to be about
100 billion kilolitres, of which 80 per
cent is during the three monsoon
months. With very little water flowing through it through the other
months, the assimilation capacity of
the river is considerably reduced -
the sewage is neither diluted nor dispersed. Unfortunately, with the
exception of few NGos and individuals, this strangulation of the Yamuna
goes unnoticed by citizens of Delhi.
Caught napping on YAP
Asphyxiation of Yamuna begins the
moment it enters Delhi at
Wazirabad in the north. About 1,800
mId of untreated sewage finds its
way through 18 notorious nullahs
(drains) and ends up in the river at
various points along its 22-km
stretch through Delhi.
Industrial waste from Delhi's 20
large, 25 medium and about 93,000
smallscale industrial units also flows
into the river through these drains.
By the time it leaves south Delhi at
0khIa and for 490 km thereafter (until it is joined by the river
Chambal), the Yamuna is a dead river. The water which the
Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) categorises as fit for
drinking at Wazirabad is deemed unfit for even bathing at
Okhla. The dissolved oxygen (DO) and biological oxygen
demand (BOD) levels at Wazirabad and Okhla differ dramatically: while DO level at Wazirabad was 12.5 mg / 1 in 1987, it
decreased to 4.5 mg / 1 at 0khIa. The BOD levels, meanwhile,
were at a low of about four m g/ I at Wazirabad in the same
year, and shot up to 70 mg / 1 in Okhla.
In 1991, Phase n of the Ganga Action Plan (GAP) was
launched for cleaning up tributaries like Yamuna, Gomti and
Damodar; Rs 340 crore was pledged
for the Yamuna in 1993, 50 per cent
of which was to be borne by state
governments. The Yamuna Action Plan (YAP) covered six towns of
Haryana (Yamuna Nagar, Karnal,
Panipat, Sonepat, Gurgaon and
Faridabad), 11 towns of Uttar Pradesh (Saharanpur, Muzaffar nagar, Ghaziabad, NOIDA, Mathura,
Sultanpur, and Jaunpur) and Delhi.
"YAP aims at intercepting, diverting
and treating municipal waste water,"
Among other schemes, the project included the construction of
community toilets, electric and
improved wood-based crematoria,
afforestation and development of
the ghats within a period of five
years. But two years later, much of
this is yet to begin. Though 12 more
STPs are needed to deal with the
additional 1,000 mld of untreated
sewage in Delhi, the YAP' s contribution will only be two STPS (at Sen
Nursing Home and Delhi Gate
drains), effectively taking care
of only 20 mld of sewage. The
rest are to be set up by the Delhi administration. But little has been done despite an outlay of
Rs 282 crore for sewage disposal in the city's Eighth Five
A March 2, 1995 directive from the Supreme Court to the
MEF - to sanction the STPS within one week - following a
public interest petition filed by lawyer M C Mehta in 1985 and
then again in 1994, may hurry things up. The STPS have been
sanctioned, and Kala expects them to be ready in a year's time.
Another public interest petition was filed by Sinha in 1993
demanding a stay order on YAP until it was reviewed on the
basis of successes and failures of the GAP. "Several reports on
GAP have branded it a failure," says Sinha. "There is no reason
to expect that the Yamuna plan, modelled on GAP, Would succeed. What is likely is that huge amounts of public funds and
precious time are going to be wasted."
To support his allegations, Sinha quotes from several
reports. A study conducted by the National Environmental
Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur, in 1991, when a
major part of GAP had been completed, showed no improvement in the amount of fecal coliform in Ganga waters.
Another report by S K Mishra and S N Upadhyay from the
Institute of Technology, Benares Hindu University, showed
that the installation of sewage pumps near the bathing ghats in
Varanasi had made little difference to the pollution levels.
Under YAP, a similar plan to install sewage pumps near the
ghats in Mathura awaits implementation.
Sinha complains that YAP accepts a low flow of water
during lean season as normal. The Yamuna's low flow leaves
no scope for the river to clean itself. "The minimum flow
requirement for any river should be at least 285 cu in / sec,"
says CPCB's R C Trivedi. "But the flow in Delhi goes down to 5
cu m / sec during summer. Aquatic life, needing a minimum
flow of 10 cu rn / sec, dies. So, even if we could somehow divert
pollution from the river, it would not help unless the flow is
Strangely enough, reducing industrial waste is not on YAP's
agenda. "Industrial pollution will be left to better implementation of pollution control laws," says Kala. But T Venugopal,
CPCB'S pollution assessment department head, admits that
preventing industrial pollution from entering the river is a
difficult job. Besides, he adds, the overall impact of pollution
reduction through these laws is never felt because new
industries are always coming up.
Water: a capital crisis
"The water system of Delhi has been one of the major
casualties of the last 40 years of the city's 'planned'
development," says K T Ravindran from the School of
Planning and Architecture, Delhi. The Ridge in north
Delhi, the hills in the west and the Tilpat range in the south
once formed an excellent drainage system for Delhi. Till early
this century, perennial streams from these slopes fed the
Yamuna, filling up storage tanks along the way. Reservoirs like
Dhaula Kuan and Hauz Khas were used to store water from
Of the several streams which brought in water to the
Yamuna from the north-west, one was called Shahibi Nadi
(Regal River). Known as Najafgarh drain today, it carries
sewage instead of water. The other streams have either met
with a similar fate, or have been diverted and cut off by shortsighted development plans.
The Ring Road is One example of such development. it
landlocked the Yamuna, causing swamps to form in areas like
Sarai Kale Khan. The administration has dumped garbage to
reclaim the swamp and developed a bus terminal on it.
"Where do they suppose the water will go now?" asks
Ravindran. Thanks to similar planning, while traditional
water reservoirs like Hauz Khas cater to fashionable tourist
requirements, the Yamuna must provide all the water this city
needs. Delhi presently draws about 2,584 mId of water from
the Yamuna, which allows for a respectable consumption of
257 litres per capita daily (Ipcd). In this respect, the capital is
the most privileged city in the country (most cities around
Delhi have a consumption lower than 125 Ipcd).
But this contradicts the water crisis that afflicts the
city every summer. Wastage during supply and uneven
distribution ensure that while parts of the city get more than
their share, the crisis wors ,ens every year for the other half
(Down To Earth, Vol 2, No 21)).
The reason behind the water problem is mismanagement.
The only planning that has gone into solving the problem is
the decision to continue to rely on the Yamuna after building
'three dams - Renuka, Kishau and Tehri. None of these dams,
if ever completed, will provide water to Delhi before the next
century. Until such time, Delhi must beg for water from
Haryana and Uttar Pradesh (up) every year.
Several NGOs have spoken up for the revival of traditional
water harvesting systems for improving Delhi's water supply.
They have pointed out that while steps should be taken to
ensure that Yamuna gets recharged during its course through
Delhi, reservoirs should be built to store water. Since the
streams which flow down from the hills surrounding Delhi are
unpolluted before they reach the city, check dams could be
built to trap as much water as possible wherever the gradient
permits. But the administration is sceptical of such plans,
claiming that the city's mammoth water requirements cannot
be dealt with in this manner.
The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has come up with a harebrained scheme to "plan the river Yamuna and its bed". The ostensible purpose of this scheme is to channel and clean the river, and also to reclaim and develop land along its banks. But, in fact, the DDA report on the project does not provide any specific clean-up proposal. Its main objective is to make more land available for development.
Understandably, the project has come up against stiff
opposition from several quarters. "For the DDA, the city is a
commodity and the land around the Yamuna real estate," says
Ravindran. "After the new economic policy, cost recovery is a
big bug with everybody." And the DDA can see megabucks in
the canalisation project, which will make 8,055 ha of land
available for development.
"The canalisation of the river bed will only open up opportunities for extensive corruption, will be damaging to the environment, create a serious flood risk and will accentuate the
present urban problems of congestion and pollution," says
architect Solly Benjamin. "As a land development institution,
DDA has to depend upon the availability of land for survival as
an autonomous institution. With no other land being available, the DDA, like other development agencies around India,
has started eyeing water bodies," Benjamin adds.
In the absence of any specific law to protect water bodies, there is nothing to stop the
DDA. Any land reclaimed from the
river is bound to be flood
prone, and development will
interfere with the drainage patterns
of the city and also affect the
how of the river in Haryana and
up. Though no study has been
carried out so far, R G Gupta,
DDA'S former director (planning) is quick to counter this
argument. "The river has already
been jacketed by the seven
bridges and barrages-built
in Delhi," he says. "The
canalisation will help by
velocity and depth of the river,
and reducing the silting."
A number of mega projects are
being planned in this area.
The stretch between ITO and
Ashram, particularly, is being
targeted by the DDA, the railways,
the Delhi Electric Supply
Undertaking and the ministry of
surface transport. The proposals include flyovers, a
5,000-capacity convention centre,
hotels and inter-state bus
terminals. "The area -around the
river bed is already being used
by unauthorised jhuggies
(slums), so why should anybody
object to doing it in a planned
way?" says Gupta.
But Ravindran points out that
the nature of the soil and
hydrological conditions of
reclaimed land make it necessary
to build on pile foundations. To
recover the high cost of pile
foundations, it becomes
imperative to construct high-rise
buildings. This implies high
rentals and sale value, denying
access to a large number of
The total cost of the
canalisation project is
estimated to be
about Rs 20 billion. Benjamin is
sceptical of what the DDA
partnership'. "Such arrangements
the lack of strong regulatory
mechanisms, and the powerful
real estate lobby will only
he says. A revision of the
master plan of Delhi is in
and Ravindran warns that unless
moves are made to stop the
canalisation, the master plan
will legalise the scheme.
If the project comes through, it
is likely to spell death not
only for the Yamuna, but the
entire capital. The National
Capital Region plans, aimed at
decongesting the city, are
bound to be trashed. And the
fate of the Yamuna as a sewer
will be sealed forever.