March to Delhi to save Yamuna called off

Centre to release additional water into river; to construct canals for sewage in two years

By Soma Basu
Published: Thursday 14 March 2013

The Yamuna Muktikaran Padyatra was till yesterday facing a crisis with several activists and participants pulling out of the agitation. On Thursday, they celebrated an announcement which till yesterday they considered a betrayal.

At 10.30 p m Wednesday night, the Union minister for water resources, Harish Rawat, met the protesters camping at Ali Gaon on the outskirts of Delhi and promised the release of additional water into the river.

Photo feature


Cry for Yamuna


The protesters, mostly owing allegiance to the Bharatiya Kisan Union and the Yamuna Rakshak Dal, had marched from Vindavan to Delhi with two main demands . The first was the construction of two canals parallel to the Yamuna which would collect and treat waste water from industries and sewage outlets and divert it to fields to meet irrigation needs. The main demand of the campaigners was the release of 50 per cent of all the water impounded at Hathinikund barrage so that the Yamuna could have its natural flow.

While their specific demands were not met, they were jubilant at the Centre’s announcement to release water from canals into the Yamuna.
“Eighty-five per cent of our demands have been met. We demanded water from the Hathinikund barrage but the minister pleaded that there is no water available there. So the Centre has agreed to release an additional 250 cusec of water into the Yamuna from other canals to maintain the flow of the river,” said Mahesh baba, media coordinator of Yamuna Rakshak Dal.

Stale promises

Rawat’s announcement, however, is just a reiteration of what he had promised the protesters on Tuesday. On Wednesday, before the core committee meeting, Mahesh baba had come down heavily on the Centre’s inaction and explained that the Centre has promised extra water would be released but not from Hathinikund.

Before the core committee meet, Radha Krishna Shastri, a prominent member of the group, had said that the government is trying to fool them by reiterating stale promises. “We would not settle for anything less than water released from Hathinikund. If they do not accept our demands, we would continue to protest and move towards Hathinikund,” he said.

A delegation of agitators on Tuesday met a team of ministers, including Union minister of environment and forests Jayanthi Natrajan and minister of water resources Harish Rawat, in New Delhi for negotiations. When they failed to reach a consensus, officials were asked to provide 25,000 copies of the Centre’s reply in writing for distribution to participants and the media.

Though the ministry had agreed to plug waste water flow into the river and construct canals to treat the water, it has sought two years time to fulfil this promise. But protesters felt there is nothing new in the offer as the Supreme Court had earlier set a deadline for the construction of a canal to intercept the drains in Delhi. The Centre had also refused to release water from Hathinikund and instead had promised to release water from Hasanpur canal, which, the protesters felt, would not be adequate.

In the meantime, the core committee of the movement met to discuss the fate of the agitation amidst disappointed supporters pulling out of the demonstration. A member of the forum confided that with the lukewarm response of the ministry, the protesters are losing direction and thinking of calling off the padyatra. Rawat’s announcement on Wednesday was, therefore, welcomed as a victory of sorts for the movement.

Meanwhile, the Haryana government had declared that the water of the Yamuna was being shared by the three states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in accordance with the agreement signed in 1994. The agreed quantity of water was already being released into the Yamuna, and increasing the volume seemed remote as farmers in Haryana depended heavily on the water for irrigation.

Mahesh baba said that though the protest has been called off, 10 people would camp at Jantar Mantar for two months, which is the time the Centre has sought to prepare the project proposal, and sing kirtans. Two members of the movement would be in the team formed to prepare the proposal for the construction of the canal and also to start the release of additional water.

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