Methane gas is bubbling up from the black-coloured stew, and the water smells horrible.
The holy river Yamuna, once teeming with life, is practically dead, yet a homeless man is rinsing his mouth with the noxious liquid.
Under a nearby bridge, scavengers on a self-made raft are fishing out votive offerings that drivers throw from their cars to Yamuna, which is worshipped by Hindus as a goddess.
But it is people and politics that are choking Yamuna to death, and ecologists are warning of a looming environmental catastrophe as World Water Day approaches on March 22.
The river, New Delhi’s lifeline, is reputed to be India’s most polluted as well as one of the most toxic waterways worldwide.
The Yamuna provides an example of Indian government policies that are focused on economic growth, often at the cost of the environment.
In the meantime, the river is dying a slow yet unpublicized death, partly because it has mostly vanished from public sight behind concrete after the river was moved. A highway now runs along the old riverbed.
Access to the river is possible at only a few points and glimpses of it can be gained only from road or subway bridges.
Vimlendu K Jha, executive director of the environmental organization Swechha, estimates that 60 per cent of New Delhi’s 14 million people have never seen the river.
“How can you save the Yamuna if nobody ever sees it?” he asks.
The river is indeed rather beautiful -- before it reaches New Delhi and is polluted with raw sewage and toxic waste.
Outside the capital, its waters are clear, birds are sailing above its surface and fishermen cast their nets.
But at this point of its course, most of the river’s waters are held back by an irrigation dam in the neighbouring state of Haryana in violation of federal agreements, which is one of the causes for the problems downstream.
The sluice gates let pass only a trickle, which is then “replenished” with human and industrial sewage as soon as the river reaches New Delhi.
Eighteen major sewage canals in the capital are emptying into the holy river, depleting it of its oxygen.
Authorities in New Delhi have assessed the water as so toxic that they have even prohibited cleaning animals with it. It may only be used to cool industrial machinery.
But the many homeless people living along its banks have no access to a regular tap water supply. They are forced to use the Yamuna’s waters to wash themselves and their clothes. Some even use it for cooking and drinking, according to Jha, because they had no alternative.
“For them, it is better to have unhealthy water than no water at all,” he says.
The Yamuna stretches for 1,370 kilometres, but only 22 kilometres of these flow through New Delhi. It is in this short stretch during which 80 per cent of its pollution is inflicted, Swechha says.
Another 9 per cent of the pollution is attributed to the city of Agra, home to the world-famous Taj Mahal, behind which the Yamuna passes.
The river eventually spills its toxic floods into India’s holiest river, the Ganges.
Although millions of dollars have been spent in recent years to revive the river, Jha said: “We don’t know where the money has gone.
The action plans were useless. Nothing happened. The river is your witness.” Instead, he claims, the pollution is increasing because most sewage treatment plants in New Delhi are not functioning properly.
The river still constitutes the capital’s most important source of drinking water, which is simply pumped from the river before it enters New Delhi. But its toxins also contaminate groundwater, another important drinking water source for the ever-growing metropolis.
“We are just waiting for a disaster to happen,” Jha warns.
“Everyone seems to be thinking the city is run by malls and the metro. It’s not.” That disaster might happen “when people start dying in a plague-like situation” in the capital because of their toxic drinking water, he says.
Keywords: climate change, pollution, Yamuna River
We should realise that the governments have limitations and would everntually become dysfunctional if the people do not cooperate with the policy makers. Much of the sad state of our environment can be attributed to the apathy from the people living there. Many of us tend to undermine the importance of the rivers and become insensitive to the horror of pollution happening daily in front of our eyes. As responsible citizens we should take actions/volunteer to bring the natural resources back to its beautiful state. If we continue to wash our hands off the responsibilites then the misfortunes will continue to befall on us in the form of environmental hazards and distasters.
from: Aravind Parakulankara
Posted on: Mar 16, 2010 at 14:31 IST
I like the sentiment at the end of the article.
Posted on: Mar 16, 2010 at 17:29 IST
Now the extensive damage have been made to our holy river. I think it's time to take serious actions in order to prevent life's boon from transforming to curse. The root cause of the damage must be eradicated.
Basic measures that need to be implemented:-
1. Industries dumping untreated wastes must be seriously penalised.
2. Sewage treatment plants must be established and should be closely monitored.
3. River cleaning and rehabilitation plans should involve private sector companies so that corruption at a larger scale can be minimized.
4. A separate organisation should be established in order to keep a close eye on law offenders and prosecuting them to the maximum extent permitted by the law.
Lastly, Yamuna selflessly fulfils everyone's need. So, everyone must join hands to save it.
from: Avinash Nehra
Posted on: Mar 17, 2010 at 02:13 IST
Thanks for bringing the information out. So tragic and aching. I don't think a whole lot of people even know about "pollution" and problems related to it. They will admit to seeing a few things like "smoke" in the air, and "flies", "mosquitoes" in open water sources, but they don't know what to do about it. Lack of education and awareness is plaguing us. The problem doesn't stop with lack of awareness, it's the apathy towards the system which is widespread. Most people have resigned to the circumstances and don't want themselves or the system to change. Keeping hygiene and cleanliness starts from self and we all know that people treat everything outside their house as a dumping ground. Rivers are the dumping grounds for the industries. This attitude needs to change as well.
Posted on: Mar 17, 2010 at 02:24 IST
You are correct Aravind.. People have to come forward. Govt cannot and will not do unless people come forward.
Posted on: Mar 17, 2010 at 02:36 IST
It is so sad beyond words to say that most of our rivers are polluted and government is unable to save. It is guaranteed that one of these days (more so sooner than future) we are going to face disaster and millions of people will suffer.
from: Raj Chauhan
Posted on: Mar 17, 2010 at 04:33 IST
Modern polluted and corrupt India is an insult to age old dharma of Ahimsa.
Posted on: Mar 17, 2010 at 08:54 IST
Time is running out, it is payback time. All the polluters and protectors of the Yamuna and other great rivers of India, will suffer the consequences of "that catastrophe". The govenment too is still not doing enough. Where is the transparency of money alloted, plan and activity hazard analysis? Just giving tax-payers money away to some authority without accountability or check and balance is subject to the evils of corruption. Maybe the good Prime Minister or one of his trusted aides, should be nominated to take charge and ensure all the rivers in India are brought back to their old prestine conditions. Theme, "Operation Clear Water Revival"
Posted on: Mar 17, 2010 at 15:55 IST
It was rather a pleasant sight today morning, looking at the teenagers holding hoardings to save Yamuna river on the ITO bridge. Generally one can see cars and two-wheelers stopping at ITO bridge for throwing plastic bags filled with leftovers from a pooja or havan they performed, but restoration is always a rare sight when it comes to Delhi. Teenagers wearing 'save Yamuna' t-shirts were holding lots of hoardings right in front of every possible gap within the 7-8 metre high bridge-railings. These gaps usually attract people to throw garbage down in the river very conviniently. Almost at the end of the bridge as our cab zoomed towards the DDA building, I could see some thousand volenteers at the banks of the river. Suddenly, a picture of Delhi's Chief Minister flashed before my eyes when she had lifted a plastic bag from the same river, obviously for a photo-shoot some years back. Well, nothing much has changed yet people are trying hard, some for publicity and some for actual action. Although somewhere in the corner of my heart, I know that at the end all these efforts go waste while the dranages & pipes still bring in waste from the city to this river. I just wish the authorities do something fast to block the toxic drainages and save the efforts of those thousands who turn up to actually save our holy river.
from: Girish Dhulekar
Posted on: Mar 17, 2010 at 16:15 IST
I am feeling like dumb to comment on this. Eight years back, when I had been to Agra, it was impossible to get to the Yamuna river bank. I didn't see any water there. It's a black sludge with terrible stinking smell. Let our cabinet make an arrangement to visit Agra and see it, if they are not yet familiar with it.
from: Sougat Misra
Posted on: Mar 17, 2010 at 19:02 IST
Yamuna cleaning should become our daily habit. It is not a process for a week or for a few months, it has to be continuous process. And the feeling to keep Yamuna clean is very important.
Posted on: Mar 21, 2010 at 20:16 IST
Delhi shares just 2% of Yamuna's length and adds to 80% of its pollution. Its high time we realise the darkness we are heading to. Toxic ground water may lead to the outburst of an epidemic anytime.
By joining hands the civil society can lead to pressure on the government to enforce its Yamuna Saving Plans strictly. A 'Blue Revolution' is much needed now else our next generation won't forgive us for letting Yamuna die!
YOU MUST BE AWARE THAT THE
THE FLOWERS AND OTHER ITEMS GOD USED IN PRAYERS IN HOMES,
THE ORGANIZATION HAS DEVISED A PROGRAM SHALL BE ACHIEVED WITHIN A DURATION OF 7 MONTHS.
The following Persons have assured us for the help as follows :-
1 C.M. of
2 M.C.D. Assembly leader (Mr.Arya) - Help Assured - Truks for transporting the garbage from the 12 Jones of M.C.D.
3 Mahender singh Tokas - Help Assured - Truks and driver for transporting of garbage from one place to another.
4 Sunil Kumar Yadav provide land for dumping of the garbage.
YFF has devised a special “ PUSHPANJALI PRAWAHA PATRAS ’’ which will be placed in public places for the immediate disposal of these flowers.
NOTE : The Gap from where the flowers will be inserted inside the pushpanjali Prawaha Patra is at an angle of 23 degrees, like a letter box which will allow only flexible items inside.
स्वयं करने के साथ ही अपने परिवार के सदस्यों को भी इसके लिये प्रेरित करें। वर्तमान युग में जो हालत हैं उनको हम नहीं बदल सकते पर उनसे होने वाले तनाव से मुक्ति तभी संभव है जब हमारा बुद्धि पर नियंत्रण हो।