By Khamya Taba
I’m a native of an eastern Himalayan state where fresh, clean water and rainfall is in such abundance that we can’t help but take them for granted. When I came to Delhi for my higher studies, I was low-key aware of the alarming levels of pollution and the gloriously polluted Yamuna, whose waters have sustained this city, its people and its famous empires for centuries. Fortunately, I got admission in a North Campus college and unfortunately, had to stay in a PG in Hudson Lane on the banks of the infamous Najafgarh drain. Now, anyone familiar with this area would recognize the overpowering stink wafting throughout the surroundings, resembling the odor of rotten eggs and ten times worse than 2-day-old decaying detergent water.
You will agree that water bodies are always a great boon during the summers – because of the cool breeze that they provide – unless it is the Najafgarh drain whose stench-carrying breeze is totally not something to look forward to. I used to cross the drain every day on my way to college, the swirling water a toxic black and opaque (your sensory perceptions are enough and you don’t need a pH meter to know how toxic the waters are), carrying floating islets of solid wastes like plastic bottles, plastic bags, one or two parts of rubber tires and some chappals, and dissolved liquid wastes from industrial and domestic sources etc was an everyday sight.
Now, I’m a bit more aware of the myriad pollution issues in Delhi than I was when I first arrived here. Although I have never visited the looming landfills of Delhi, living near the Najafgarh drain is the closest I have ever been to witness the problems locals face across Delhi, when harmful, polluting practices encroach on their daily lives. Hence, as a part of my curiosity, I will briefly explain the current scenario of the Najafgarh drain and some of the issues related to it.
While only 2% of Yamuna’s length lies in Delhi, 70% of the total pollution in the river comes from the city.
The Najafgarh drain originates in the Alwar-Rewari region of Rajasthan and Haryana in the Aravalli Hills, with its sources in the Sahibi river (an offshoot of Yamuna) which has been turned into Najafgarh Lake, where sewage gets dumped from Gurugram. In 1978, this drain was channelised “with the objective of integrating it into the storm-water drainage system of the city”. It enters from Dhansa, south-west of Delhi and after a length of 40km traversing through the city, it joins the Yamuna in the north. Apart from attracting many species of birds, it also attracts sewage dumping with over 140 drains contributing to 60-70% of Yamuna’s pollution and is one of the largest of the three watersheds in Delhi (Barapulla and Shahdara). The Drain’s basin is made up of 144 wards and occupies 67% of the NCT area and houses 8.76 million people or 52% of the city’s population.
The drain contains algae and other microbes that feed on the organic load of the drain which results in the production of hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide and methane which are the most potent greenhouse gases. Not only that, but these gases also increase the rate of chemical oxidation of iron and corrosion of copper which further degrade the linings of refrigerators and air conditioners, causing frequent leakage of gases releasing CFCs and aerosols in the air. Also, due to the oxygen-deficient conditions of the drain’s water flowing into the Yamuna, these pollutants are choking the life out of the aquatic ecosystem of the river.
Amidst this, the Delhi Jal Board in 2017 has entered into a 5-year research collaboration with the University of Virginia on the Yamuna River Project “to place riverfront restoration and development at the forefront of national consciousness”. The strategies adopted starts with the cleaning of the Najafgarh drain in Phase I of the project – encompassing purification of the water, sludge removal, solid waste removal and cleaning septage. Also, over 200 drains and water bodies of the city are going to be rejuvenated. The idea behind the project is to bring people closer to the water bodies by making the drain an integral part of Delhi as its asset.
In the face of Delhi’s polluted air and water, the dying lakes and the issue of water scarcity, cleaning, and rejuvenation of the water bodies is of the utmost importance. Reviving water bodies such as lakes and ponds leads to the creation of a water recharge zone that addresses the issue of water scarcity along with providing an aesthetically pleasing environment for the citizens and home for the migratory birds. Hence, the priority for both the government and the citizens in this endeavour should be the cleaning of the Najafgarh drain as almost 60-70 per cent of the pollution in the Yamuna comes from the Najafgarh drain alone and handling that single drain could enliven the river again, stated NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar.
Khamya has a masters in Geography from JNU, and is currently interning with Chintan India.