Wanted: Yamuna counsel

By Suresh Babu S V
Published: Wednesday 31 August 2005

Wanted: Yamuna counsel

It is crucial the consultant u In view of the growing pollution in river Yamuna and the widespread disappointment with the Baijal committee report on it, the Delhi Jal Board (djb) has decided to appoint a consultant for cleaning the river. But the "invitation of Expression of Interest (e o i) for consultancy services for abatement of pollution in river Yamuna", issued on June 17, 2005, fails to address many needs, indicating the exercise might prove futile.

The Supreme Court had appointed the high-powered Baijal committee, headed by Anil Baijal, secretary, Union ministry of urban development, in August 2004 (see Down To Earth, 'The Political Economy of Defecation', April 30, 2004). Its report banked heavily on djb's conventional sewerage-based paradigm and drew criticism from all quarters. A senior djb official reveals: "Delhi government was unhappy with djb's plan and hence decided to appoint a consultant." djb's chief executive officer Rakesh Mohan admits that the board "needs some one to tell us why the assets created in the last 10 years did not yield expected results".

So, does this encapsulate the expectation from the consultant? Experts say consultancies are guided by the scope of work defined by the appointing agency. Thus, djb has to meticulously define the scope and objective for the consultant. The invitation, however, reveals it has erred majorly in this regard. It wants the consultant to suggest sanitation solutions for unsewered localities, but doesn't specify whether "unsewered" refers to unauthorised, regularised or unauthorised, unregularised colonies; 40 per cent of Delhi lives in unauthorised, unregularised, unsewered areas. Categorised as "illegal", waste from these areas is neither collected nor treated. Thus, it is possible the consultant looks into only the former areas.

The consultant's fieldwork is to include measuring flow in drains and rivers, analysing drain catchment and examining the possibility of trapping sewage into the existing network. But djb mentions only 17 of Delhi's 22 drains. Besides, the consultant is expected to suggest the technology for sewage treatment in drains, suggesting that the waste in drains comprises only domestic waste, a misconception. It has considerable amounts of industrial waste too.

The invitation also doesn't link water usage and waste; suggesting ways to reduce waste by judicious water use won't be on the adviser's agenda. Nor would be the treatment of waste at the source, reuse of treated effluents and sludge management. Besides, no policy framework will be suggested.

There would be other implications too. A flow data assessed by Tata Consulting Engineers (tce) was the basis of capacity augmentation of two sewage treatment plants and technical tenders were to be finalised. What if the consultant finds errors in tce's work? Also unclear is the fate of approved Yamuna Action Plan ii schemes.

Meanwhile, the selection of the consultant has also generated a controversy. While Mohan insists the "tender is open to all", it is alleged that it has been manipulated to favour a London-based agency. A clause says the bidders "should have experience in implementing solution of reduction of pollution load in river carried by overflows of sewage in drains"; river Thames was cleaned by intercepting sewage.

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