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Why Is The Yamuna Still Polluted, Despite The Efforts Of Multiple Committees?

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As we trace real-time initiatives, we find that a reasonable amount of work has been done for the rejuvenation of river Yamuna by various governments, the public and private organisations. The Yamuna Action Plan (Phase 1 and 2), a bilateral tie between the Indian and Japanese government via JICA, has invested more than Rs 800 crore for cleaning the river in the states of Delhi, UP and Haryana.

Furthermore, an amount of more than Rs 2,500 crore has been invested in Delhi for eliminating the debris that reaches the river consequently, providing Delhi with a capacity to treat approximately 512 million gallons per day (MGD) sewage, which can be accredited as more than 40% of the total wastewater treatment capacity of the entire nation.

The National Green Tribunal, the apex judicial body solely devoted to environmental welfare, has itself been effectively monitoring the advancements made towards the cleaning of the river since its inception in 2010. With evidence of incompetency amongst the departments made for the revival of the dead river,  the tribunal penalises them for missing deadlines of the assigned agendas and asserts on drafting (and submitting) a sustainable action plan for a pollution-free Yamuna. Let’s take a glance over the governmental institutions working for the resurrection of the river.

Upper Yamuna River Board (UYRB)

Established by the Ministry of Water Resources in 1994 and currently a subordinate body under the ministry of Jal Shakti, Upper Yamuna River Board regulates the flow of water in river Yamuna till (including) Okhla Barrage. The Board additionally keeps a record of withdrawal and returns of the river water, and checks the quality of water for safe public consumption. The following are some of the key functions of UYRB:

Representational Image
  • Maintenance of minimum volumetric flow of water in the river for the sustainability of aquatic life. Keeping an annual check on the volume of water flowing through every state under its jurisdiction
  • Monitoring return flows of water withdrawn by Delhi for consumption
  • Providing water of the CPCB-prescribed quality standard for safe consumption
  • Monitoring return flows from Haryana and UP on the water withdrawn for silt extraction
  • Keeping records of water withdrawn for municipal, domestic, irrigation and industrial purposes, and supervising its returns in the Yamuna.
  • Monitoring the volume of water discharged downstream of Okhla Barrage

The UYRB  controls the allocation of the Yamuna water resource for fulfilling the consumption requirement from Hathnikund to Okhla barrage. The Delhi Jal Board is a member of the UYRB and hence manages the water requirements of the NCR region. Providing potable water to the population of Delhi, maintaining a required downstream for sustainability of life, and a pollution-free Yamuna is thence DJB’s responsibility.

Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) And Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)

Established in 1991, DPCC is a self-regulatory body working with the Delhi government under the supervision of the Central Pollution Control Board. Under section 4 (4) of the Water Act, DPCC monitors the amount and types of waste dumped into river Yamuna from the metropolis. The Committee has been repeatedly providing the Central Board with the texture and quality of the Yamuna water on various scientific parameters.

It has been identifying the major industrial pollutant in its nine water-monitoring stations and reporting those to the NGT. DPCC also monitors the work of the STPs under DJB and reports them to CPCB. In November 2019, DPCC reported that 19 out of the 33 functional STPs dis not meet the water quality criteria of CPCB.

It is a major executive body in Delhi for identifying the source and carriers of pollution. The committee reports (and penalises) the polluters, and gives sustainable development and waste management guidelines to industries, governments and households. Moreover, it issues advisories on maintaining quality status to fellow executive bodies DJB, MCD and DDA.

National Mission For Clean Ganga

Representational image

The flagship mission of the current government to clean and rejuvenate the Ganges river system lends assistance to clean its largest tributary Yamuna. Under the Namami Gange mission, the NMCG has granted  Rs 2,000 crores to establish 11 sewage treatment plants in the Delhi-NCR region to reduce the level of pollution in the river. The inclusion of the Yamuna in this project would largely help the Yamuna Action Plan III.

Maili Se Nirmal Revitalisation of River Yamuna Project, 2017

Often described as phase three of the Yamuna Action Plan, ‘Maili se Nirmal Yamuna is an effort to revitalise the river Yamuna. The NGT brought all the institutions functioning for cleaning river Yamuna under one umbrella for cleaning the river by 2023 with the help of the Central and State-level governments.

The project’s principal committee consists of representatives from the involved state governments and the Central government from MoEF and Jal Shakti Ministry, DJB, DDA MCD, DPCC and CPCB. The committee has been guided to report its developments consistently to the tribunal. Under this mission, action plans, roles of committees and targets are decided.

These are some of the targets for the project:

  • Provision for an environmental flow in river Yamuna throughout its course
  • Restoration of floodplains in the NCR region
  • Restoration of stormwater drainage system in Delhi
  • Implementation of an action plan barring sewage into stormwater drains

Stringent deadlines have been assigned by the NGT to governmental organisations for proposing and fulfilling their action plans for the sustainability of a healthy water body. With major actions being taken on maintenance and creation of STPs, removal of the remaining debris, cleaning of drains, regulation of wastes produced and environment-friendly disposal, the principal committee is aiming for cleaning the river and barring further contaminants simultaneously.

Haridwar - Ganges
Representational image. 

The advancements made in the direction of the project are as follows:

  • Demarcation of the flood plain has been completed and an action plan has been laid to set up biodiversity parks in these plains. The NGT has asserted DDA to move the slums in these floodplains and has penalised it for Rs 5 lakhs per month for the delay.
  • UYRB drafted an action plan for maintaining 1,000 cusecs upstream Delhi and DJB adopted Seechewal Model for maintaining 500 cusecs downstream from Okhla barrage.
  • Polluters are penalised with Rs 5,000 for throwing waste in river Yamuna and Rs 50,000 for dumping debris (industrial, municipal waste).
  • DDA has been asked to shift/shut the industrial units from near the drains or connect them with the ETPs.
  • In 2017, CPCB conducted a quality check of river Yamuna on various parameters such as pH, DO, BOD, Cod, Coliform test, Nitrates, nitrites, etc.
  • Toilets have been constructed in Delhi under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to reduce the faecal coliform level in the river.
  • Many households have been connected with adequate sewer systems in East Delhi region to minimise household waste.
  • Maintenance of 33 functional STPs and ETPs and development of 11 new STPs has been planned to increase Delhi’s sewage treatment capacity to upto 945 MGD.
  • The Forest Department of the Delhi government has pledged to plant 60,000 trees near the banks of river Yamuna of which more than 20,000 have been planted already.

Though the framework of this project is meticulously befitting to procure a clean river, the ground report says otherwise. The Tribunal has been continuously issuing notices to DDA, DJB and MCD against hiding ground reports, failing in the fulfilment of the agendas assigned, missing deadlines, and even contaminating the water body themselves.

A major question that arises is if pollutants prevail in the river despite the development of such front-running missions due to the negligence of public organisations, can a lack of public involvement in policy-making hamper its implementations too? Maybe not. Incorporating decentralisation in YAP causes major developments only on papers and not on the field. In any case, some targets are being missed as a result of which river Yamuna remains polluted even today.

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