Drain on resources

Published : Jun 29, 2012 00:00 IST

The Najafgarh drain, one of the six main drains that discharge wastewater into the Yamuna.-SHOVAN GANDHI

The Najafgarh drain, one of the six main drains that discharge wastewater into the Yamuna.-SHOVAN GANDHI

The government has approved the Rs.1,650-crore Yamuna Action Plan III after YAP I and II, which totally cost Rs.1,306 crore, failed to clean the river.

Delhi has a large, noxious drain flowing through it that many of its residents call a river. Some even think it is the holy river called Yamuna, which it most certainly is not. The water of the holy Yamuna, which comes down from Yamunotri in the Himalayas, drains away just before the Haryana-Delhi boundary into one of the many canals that siphon off the water of the river almost as soon as it reaches the plains.

What one sees in the drain is what a drain is supposed to have sewage coming from the Najafgarh drain, the Shahdara drain, the Barapullah drain and a number of drains that were at one time water sources fed by groundwater welling up through various openings, even as far as in the now arid Aravalli range of hills.

Those sources still do provide scanty amounts of water to the city, and the rest comes from the innumerable tubewells of varying sizes that the rapidly growing population of the city dug when that technology became available. Before that the only source of water was wells as we know them, sometimes with elaborate structures built around them.

These water courses then became drains that carry the city's wastes. A number of industrial units also use these drains for their industrial wastes where it goes is of as little consequence to them as it is to the other residents of the city.

These wastes go where the newly named drains had once carried fresh water in days gone by, when they had added to the waters that had flowed down from the Himalayas as the river Yamuna. Except now there is no river, as all the water has been diverted, so what goes into the river's dried-up course is only the waste. This is what flows if it flows at all sluggishly, a fetid, black almost glutinous mass some of which is, ludicrously, actually stopped by that comic antique, a barrage, at a place called Okhla, where this filth is held back, and a portion allowed to continue down the course of what used to be the Yamuna. Some smaller rivers and streams marginally dilute the toxic wastes being carried down to cities such as Mathura and Vrindavan, where the devout actually bathe in this, in the belief that it is the Yamuna.

Not until it passes Auraiya, well downstream of Agra, is the Yamuna nurtured to a semblance of what it originally was by generous tributaries such as the Chambal and the Betwa. Once again it is a river, still dirty and polluted, but not the toxic drain that goes through Delhi.

Some people have tried to clean the drain flowing through Delhi, to make it the Yamuna again. In 1993, with the help of the well-meaning but gullible Japanese, the Yamuna Action Plan, aptly named YAP, was announced to clean up the river by intercepting all the sewage and industrial waste, treating them and then discharging the clean water into the river's course. An amount of Rs.682 crore was spent most of it from the Japanese and 10 years passed. In 2003, the YAP was declared completed, but the river continued to be a drain.

Not to be deterred, the authorities once again wheedled the credulous Japanese into providing more funds, for what they themselves called YAP II. This, too, has, on paper, been completed at a cost of Rs.624 crore, but the condition of the drain they insist on calling the Yamuna is, in fact, worse. In 1996, three years after YAP I was started the dissolved oxygen (D.O.) concentration in the water it must at the very least be 4.5 parts per million, that is, milligrams per litre, for aquatic life to exist in the water was 0.3 ppm. In 2009, after YAP I and well into the implementation of YAP II, the D.O. was 0.0 ppm, in other words, there was no oxygen in the water. No aquatic life could exist in the so-called river along its length in the territory of Delhi State.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Forests, in its latest report, said that the project (that is, both YAPs) has failed, after an expenditure of Rs.1,306 crore. After all the money that was spent on it, Delhi still has a large drain flowing through it. And now, brazen though it is, the Government of India has cleared YAP III, at a cost of Rs.1,650 crore. Two failed schemes and now a third, even more expensive one. Will that mean that whenever it is completed there will actually be a river, in which people can bathe, even if they cannot drink the water?

Nothing achieved

It is not as if things do not get done in Delhi, far from it. Look at the spanking new and growing Metro network; look at the flyovers that have, whatever people say, made it easier for one to move around in this giant city-state; and there are more medical facilities, more schools, and so on. But the question is, just where do the priorities lie. It was all right, it seems, to have spent Rs.10,000 crore on the Commonwealth Games (this is the official figure; the one given in a White Paper prepared by non-official experts is Rs.30,000 crore) and provided the city with great stadiums and such wonders as the Barapullah elevated road. It also seems to be all right to have spent a smaller figure in comparison, though a Rs.1,000 crore is a huge amount of money, on trying to clean up the Yamuna and to have achieved, literally, nothing.

It means no one gives a toss whether the river is cleaned up. After all, no one has to live next to it. Some people may have to cross it sometimes, but a passing stench is bearable, especially when bridges like the DND flyway and the new ones further north mean a much more rapid transit over the smelly drain. And what would a clean, fresh-smelling river do for the city anyway? For goodness sake, we have our malls, multiplexes, and eating joints.

One cannot resist quoting that repeatedly quoted line from W.B. Yeats: Everywhere, the ceremony of innocence is drowned. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

Hindu mythology has it that Yamuna, in the poem Yamunashtakam, is the daughter of the Sun, young, and innocent, coming to meet her lover Krishna. Today, when she meets her lover in Mathura and Vrindavan, what ceremony of innocence could make her look as she did in the mountains?

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