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  • The Yamuna

    Quiet flows the Yamuna but if you could listen to her hushed murmur, she would tell you a thousand tales of how Delhi was settled, destroyed and rebuilt and how Yamuna herself – once a sparklingly brilliant river – came to be so polluted. This lovely river, beloved of all the rulers of Delhi, rises from the mighty Himalayas (see The Land for details) and flows southward till it reaches Delhi via Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. From Delhi it meanders on to embrace India’s most sacred river, the Ganges. Hindus consider the confluence point of the two rivers, Prayag near Allahabad, a holy city. (Check Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh for details.) The entire course of the river is about 1,376 km.

    Till about 350 years ago, when Shahjahanabad (see > History for details) was built, Yamuna followed a different course. It skirted the walls of the awesome Red Fort (see Sightseeing for details) surging happily into its moats to keep enemies away. Now the river is over one km to the east of the fort and the moat remains sadly empty. It seems as if the river wanted nothing to do with Delhi once the curtain fell on its Mughal patrons (see History for details).

    The water of the river has been diverted to many canals to facilitate irrigation. The Eastern and Western Yamuna canals are fed from the river along the Uttar Pradesh-Haryana border and the Agra Canal is made richer at Delhi. Near Mathura the river turns southeastward and passes Agra, Firozabad and Etawah. Below Etawah it receives a number of southern tributaries, the largest of which are the Chambal, the Sindh, the Betwa, and the Ken. If you visit the Taj Mahal (see Agra in Uttar Pradesh for details) in summer you’ll find the majestic Yamuna reduced to a mere trickle thanks to the amount of water siphoned of to the canals.

    In fact this is the major factor that has led to the large-scale pollution of the Yamuna. According to environmentalist Iqbal Malik, "All rivers are capable of healing themselves but only if they have the minimum required water flowing in them, The Yamuna has a flow of just five cusec whereas the minimum requirement is 353 cusec. When the flow is weak, algae, shrubs and other water plants that cure the river die. Today, what we have in the Yamuna are catfish which are found only in sewers, red worms which inhabit only filthy water and disease-causing bacteria." Apart from this, the floating population of the river also consists of fly-ash, plastic, hospital waste and parts of half-burnt bodies from Nigam Bodh Ghat (Delhi’s biggest cremation ground).

    But all is not lost yet. Chances of rescuing the river are bright – other water systems around the world have been revived under worse conditions.

    A popular adage in India runs Der hai, andher nahin! which roughly means that justice may be delayed but is never denied or that things may move slowly but they eventually get done. The Yamuna Action Plan is a classic example of neglect reaching a critical point till the Delhi Government and the Central Pollution Control Board were forced to sit up and take notice. Launched in 1994 with a budget of Rs 340 crore, the Yamuna Action Plan, if executed carefully and dedicatedly, will surely get results. No deadline has yet been set for the project but here are some of its salient features
    Construction of 16 sewage-treatment plants to treat domestic sewage.
    15 common-effluent plants to treat industry-effluents from the more than 1,000 industries in the city. Right now only six are operational.
    Toilets for Delhi’s slums and squatter settlements which are responsible for 40% of the sewage.

    10 cumec (cubic meter per second) of water to be released into the river. This is an order that has come straight from the Supreme Court and is not strictly a part of the Yamuna Action Plan. and neither is it as simple as it sounds. The estimated cost of this exercise alone is Rs 20,000 crore.

    Blocking the sewage water flowing into the river, treating it and then releasing it into the Agra Canal for irrigation. In exchange the Yamuna would get 10 cumec of bathing-quality fresh water from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

  • Yamuna to be cleaned before Commonwealth Games 2010
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