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A drain called Yamuna

Deccan Herald, New Delhi, 21th April, 2013

Household waste contributes 80 per cent of sewage in Delhi. As sewage systems are not provided in unplanned areas, waste water generated there is discharged into drains. Non-utilisation of installed capacity of sewage treatment plants is another major issue.

Yamuna is in a dismal state – and concern for the dying and dirty river is voiced everywhere.
The civil society is certainly concerned. Over the past 18 years, the government has spent Rs 12,000 crore to get the Yamuna cleaned. Yet, the river remains dirty and is getting dirtier by the day. The situation is so grim now, forget human consumption or bathing, Yamuna water is not fit even to support aquatic life.

According to the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), which conducts monthly water quality monitoring of the Yamuna at nine locations and major drains — numbering 24 — discharging into the river, the river is grossly polluted.

However, water quality downstream of Wazirabad barrage, after the confluence of highly polluting Nazafgarh drain, is not meeting the prescribed norms. The annual average DO ranges from 0.7 mg/l (milligram per litre) in Shahadra (downstream) to 7.6mg/l in Palla, where the Yamuna enters the city. The annual average BOD ranges from 2.07 mg/l in Palla to 54.25 mg/l at Khajuri pantoon bridge.

“The water quality standards for DO and BOD as per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) norms are 4 mg/l and 3mg/l respectively for class C of river water. Class A water is fit for drinking, class B for bathing and class C for aquatic life,” says a senior Delhi government environment department official.

“The water quality monitoring results in the Delhi stretch of the Yamuna clearly indicate that river water is not fit for human consumption,” says the official.

He adds that even the water quality monitoring results of the drains indicate that most drains are not meeting standards with respect to BOD, chemical oxygen demand (COD) and total suspended solids (TSS).

The 22-km Wazirabad to Okhla stretch of the river in Delhi is highly polluted due to the flow of untreated sewage, and discharge of inadequately treated industrial effluents.

Household waste contributes 80 per cent of sewage in Delhi. As sewage systems are not provided in unplanned areas such as unauthorised colonies, waste water generated there is discharged into drains. Non-utilisation of the installed capacity of sewage treatment plants (STPs) is another important issue.

One of the main sources of water pollution is waste material discharged by industrial units. Waste material like acids, alkalis, toxic metals, oil, grease, dyes, pesticides and even radioactive material are poured into drains by industrial units.

The Union government had framed two Yamuna Action Plans, and now the third Yamuna Action Plan has been approved with an allocation of Rs 1,656 crore and Japanese assistance. Under these plans, many STPs, common effluent treatment plants (CETP), electronic crematorium and toilet complexes were built along with laying sewage lines and creating awareness. The very fact that despite all this, Yamuna is as dirty, says it all. Is another strategy required?

Bharat Lal Seth of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) questions the government’s intentions. “What makes the government think that the third plan will work when the previous two have failed? After all these years and spending so much money, Delhi today has the capacity to treat only half of 4,500 MLD (million litres per day) sewage that it produces – that is around 2,500 MLD of sewage,” says Seth.

“Of this capacity of 2,500 MLD, only 1,600 MLD sewage is being treated, and the rest of the capacity goes underutilised. So, clearly, building of sewage treatment plants is not working,” adds Seth.

To drive home his point, he says as per the Master Plan 2030, even after spending Rs 25,000 crore on STPs, Delhi will be able to increase its sewage treatment capacity only up to 3,300 MLD while sewage generation will reach some 10,000 MLD. “The gap will only widen,” he says.
What is the way out? Seth says people need to put value on water, and it should be used intelligently. According to scientists, 80 per cent of water supplied turns into sewage. “If a household gets 100 litres of water, then 80 litres will come back in the environment as waste. So water efficiency and consumption should be done with consideration, and awareness raised about it,” says Seth, and adds that small measures like using two or three litres flush instead of 10 litres can go a long way in conserving water.

But Manoj Mishra of NGO Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan says clean Yamuna in Delhi is an oxymoron. “You talk of cleaning it, but I want to know where Yamuna in Delhi is after Wazirabad?” He asks whether the drain water flowing in the riverbed can be called the Yamuna.

The Yamuna needs water first, Mishra insists. “Yamuna water is stolen by the UP and Haryana governments much before it reaches Delhi. The cause of all problems is the 1994 MoU between the different governments sharing water from the Yamuna,” says Mishra.

“After UP and Haryana take away their share, hardly anything is left for Delhi. Whatever little we get is used for drinking (70 per cent of Delhi’s drinking water comes from Yamuna) and nothing is left in the river,” adds Mishra.

A fresh agreement should be reached and water allocation should be made only after deciding how much is required to sustain the river itself, he adds.

How to clean the mess

You know it when you go around asking government officials as to explain in simplest of words why the Yamuna could not be cleaned in so many years. No one has the answer.
“I came to the environment department only last year. Earlier, I was in education. I am as ignorant as you are,” says one official, while another says the Union government decides and frames the Yamuna Action Plans and the city government doesn’t have much say in the matter.

Yet another would blame politicians. “Dikshit is in charge of the Delhi Jal Board, and she can tell you better”.

But politicians would not know the technicalities and will go with what experts tell them.
“Then maybe engineers are not doing their work,” comes another reply.

The bottom line is this — no team of officials has ever been formed and assigned the task with complete freedom, funds and accountability to clean the Yamuna.

The dying river needs a task force, perhaps on the lines of Delhi Metro under an engineer, to deliver within a timeframe.

Unless that is done, there may come a time in the near future when people will reminisce fondly and tell their children that a great river flowed through the city, once upon a time.


* Strict measures: Enforcement of stringent norms for treated sewage and effluent water qualities backed by foolproof monitoring

* Better technology: Installation of advanced and efficient sewage
treatment plants

* Other systems: Installation of special effluent treatment plants and common effluent treatment plants

* Systematic approach: Yamuna Action Plans comprising three phases. Though the plans have come under criticism for not being effective, there seems to be no other way of solving the problem

* People’s involvement: Environment awareness campaigns launched by the government and NGOs