Trump's visit got the Yamuna a makeover: How far will it go?

Over 500 cusecs of water released by Uttar Pradesh's irrigation department in River Yamuna

By Rashmi Verma, Srishti Anand
Published: Monday 24 February 2020

The Yamuna underwent a makeover ahead of US President Donald Trump’s much-publicised visit to the Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh’s Agra. More than 500 cusecs water was released by the irrigation department from Bulandshahr district. However, the impact of this addition of water to the river may improve river quality for only a day or two, according to media reports.

More than 15 drains in Delhi and 37 near Agra dump highly toxic domestic and industrial waste into the Yamuna, resulting in a foul smell. The water quality index (WQI) in this stretch of the river is miserable due to the lack of enough water.

Bhuwan Prakash, a regional officer for the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board was not sure if the 500 cusecs was meant for irrigation, adding that the additional water will improve the river's physio-chemical parameters.

“Excess water from upstream barrages has been released into the river in Agra before. But this much water was supplied for the first time for a specific purpose,” he said.

Environmental activists, however, disagree with this view.

“This is a superficial step by the government to put a better picture of the river to the visitor. It will provide instant cleaning and improve the water quality and make it safe for the time being. But there is no long-term impact of this step,” said Manoj Misra, who heads non-profit Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, which works for the river’s conservation.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) — in a judgement on January 13, 2015 — had ordered for the maintenance of the flow of 10 cumecs (cubic metre per second) of water from Haryana’s Hathnikund barrage and Delhi’s Okhla. The order said the measure was to ensure adequate fresh water for the restoration of the Yamuna’s ecological functions.

However, the action plan submitted by Yamuna Monitoring Committee (YMC) for Rejuvenation of River Yamuna in 2018 said that the release of 10 cumecs of water in lean months is insufficient to sustain the flow of water.

The action plan stated that 10 cumecs of water from Hathnikund barrage evaporated or percolated into the ground as it flowed downstream. The report also stressed that the Yamuna would not be rejuvenated unless a minimum environmental flow was provided for.

Considering this in January 2019, the Uttar Pradesh government undertook a comprehensive study to assess the minimum required environmental flow of the Yamuna.

This report argued that 38 cumecs of water at the Palla barrage in Haryana’s Faridabad would be needed to ensure minimum flow levels for the Yamuna. This flow level however is subject to alterations after a study for different river stretches — which is still being undertaken — is accounted for.

The interim report on environmental flow for the stretch of the river from Palla to Okhla was submitted by the National Institute of Hydrology (NIH) in December 2019.

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