The Agony of Yamuna River

BY JOGINDER SINGH

THERE are some schemes of the government, which are bottomless pits, where any amount of money spent, is easily siphoned off, with nothing to show as results.

In October, 2012, the Supreme Court of India posed a question on cleaning Yamuna and other rivers. It asked as to what fruitful purpose has been achieved after putting in so much money.

Where has all this money gone? We don’t see any improvement in the water of the river. Nearly `12,000 crore had been spent in the last 18 years by the Centre, Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh governments and their civic bodies on the river cleansing project.

Affidavits filed by the governments of Delhi and UP revealed that they had spent `4,124 crore on making the river’s water potable. New Delhi municipal council and Municipal Corporation of Delhi spent an additional `315 crore on cleaning the Yamuna. The Delhi Jal Board said it had spent approximately `2,072 crore. Together, the two states and the two civic bodies spent `4,439 crore in the last 18 years.

The affidavit by the Union government has disclosed that it had spent more than
`1,540 crore on different phases of Yamuna Action Plan and JNNURM till June 2012. The DDA spent around `30 crore for development of land along the river.

Effluent Discharged into Yamuna

The real reason for unhappiness and dismay of the court was that as many as 18 drains from Delhi discharged untreated or semi-treated waste and other effluent into the Yamuna. The government sought to wash off its hands by saying that a prime reason for the problem was the existence of unauthorised and irregular colonies in Delhi, which indiscriminately dumped waste into the river directly or into drains that released water into the Yamuna. After all, it is for the government to handle and solve the problems of illegal colonies.

With no quantification of the work done, the cleaning of the rivers remains a chimera. Since the work is done by the government agencies, where responsibility is diffused and accountability is almost nil, nothing except the wastage of money can be expected

First step in getting anything done is to check up whether it is quantifiable. Measurement is the first step that leads to control and improvement. If you can not measure something, you can not understand it. If you can not understand it, you can not control it. If you can not control it, you cannot implement it.

Unfortunately rivers in our country are choked up with dead bodies, rubbish, refuse and weeds. The government has been more than liberal with funds for river cleaning projects for Ganges and Yamuna. But, there is no single overriding authority to ensure that several agencies work at cross-purposes and waste the money.

Compartmentalisation for a project is like a double whammy because you no where know as to which aspect of the work is to be completed first.

A multiplicity of agencies doing their bit of work without coordinating with others is a waste of resources. It leads to neither here and neither there.

The first step that the government should consider is to make one agency accountable and responsible for completing the work as per a time schedule.

It should not mean to be expanding Inspector Raj. At least in the cities on or near the river, there should be compulsory septic tanks, before the waste water or other waste is moved to the discharging pipes. It goes without saying it in many words that somewhere waste has to be discharged or collected and then suitably disposed of.

In the matter of hygiene, whether it is the public toilettes or sanitation, nothing can be done unless the infrastructure is provided.

Even in the metropolitan towns or smaller cities, forget about the toilettes, it is almost next to impossible to find even the dustbins where one can throw the waste of either food or other items. Ultimately they are thrown into the drains, which either clog it or end up in the river.

Biological Oxygen Demand in milligram/litre at Okhla in Delhi, load on Yamuna was in 2011. In 1983 it stood at 117 tonne per day. National standard for quality of water is 3 milligrams per litre. Higher the BOD, the worse is the quality of water. The length of Yamuna in Delhi is 48 Km and 22 drains of waste material empty into Yamuna at Delhi Wazirabad barrage.

In other words, the river is almost dead and non existent at Wazirabad. Presenting the report to a bench of Supreme Court, Central Pollution Control Board said on November 10, 2012 that "‘Yamuna is a drain. Fresh water does not flow in the river".

Almost 17 per cent of the sewage flowing through Dellu’s drains is escaping into the river Yamuna untreated, posing serious concern to the river’s health.

Sewage Treatment Capacity

On an assessment of the sewage treatment capacity of Dellu, the CPCB found that at optimum utilisation level 17 sewage treatment plants were capable of treating 2,460 million litres per day although the city generated sewage at average of about 3,800 MID. To make matters worse, even the expected capacity of 2,460 MID was not being met.

The sewerage treatment plants were able to treat only 1,558 MLD sewage (63 per cent of installed capacity), leaving the untreated effluent to directly flow into river Yamuna, which has been reduced to a dead drain.

It is time to turn the laws the other way, that an accused is guilty until proved innocent, and the onus lies on him to prove that whatever assets have been acquired by him are not the spoils of the schemes with which he or she was associated.

If this is the condition of river abutting the capital, one shudders to think of what will be the state of affairs in the country. The government should take up the following words of Thomas Carlyle as a wake up call.

"Fool! The ideal is in thyself, the impediment too is in thyself: thy condition is but the stuff thou art to shape that same ideal out of: what matters whether such stuff be of this sort or that, so the form thou give it be heroic, be poetic? 0 thou that pinest in the imprisonment of the actual, and criest bitterly to the gods for a kingdom wherein to rule and create, know this of a truth: the thing thou seekest is already with thee, ‘here or nowhere,’ couldst thou only see!" - PTI Feature