Cleaning the Yamuna a story of missed deadlines

Synopsis: The Yamuna, as it passes through Delhi, becomes extremely polluted. Immediate steps are needed to check this sorry state of the river.

News: Recently, the draft NCR Regional Plan-2041 was prepared by the National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB). It has fixed 2026 as the new deadline to ensure ‘zero discharge of untreated sewage and industrial discharge into the Yamuna’.

About the Yamuna

The Yamuna originates in the Yamunotri glacier in the Himalayas. It is the lifeline of several urban centres located along its 1,400-kms route spanning five states – Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi before its merger with the Ganga.

Roughly, around 60 million people rely on Yamuna water for their sustenance.

For the National Capital, it is of particular avail as it meets 70% of its water requirement. Besides, it is the key tributary of the Ganga, which it joins at Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh.

What are the earlier plans to clean the Yamuna?

1st Yamuna Action Plan (YAP): The 10-year action plan was signed in 1992 with Japanese collaboration. It aims for the “improvement of water quality conservation in the river and hygiene environment in the cities in the river basin”.

This was extended further in 2003 and also supplemented with other initiatives like the interceptor sewer project (2006), Nirmal Yamuna (Revitalisation) Project (2017), and various works carried out under the flagship Namami Gange Project.

3rd YAP (YAP-III): It is presently underway.

Must Read: Cleaning Yamuna will require improving sewerage networks, cooperation between Delhi and neighboring states
What is the pollution concentration in the Yamuna?

Presently, levels of faecal coliform (microbes from human and animal excreta) is beyond the desirable levels in all points except for Palla. At some points, the concentration is 760 times the desirable level.

A committee by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) states that Delhi accounts for 76% of the pollution load on the river.

What are the major causes behind Yamuna’s pollution in Delhi?

The Yamuna’s  polluted state is attributable, indeed, to Delhi’s failure to keep it in good shape. Though hardly about 2% (22 kms) of the river’s total course passes through Delhi, it gathers close to 80% of its pollutants in this stretch.

Less water in the river in Delhi.

Inadequate sewage treatment capacity: The city’s sewage treatment capacity is grossly inadequate, aside from being incapable of the task due to the use of outmoded technology. The water coming out of the sewage treatment units is often of poor quality. It is usually unfit even for bathing.

Under YAP-III entire sewage load of Delhi is to be intercepted and treated. It is the duty of the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) to treat the city’s sewage. The city generates 720 Million gallons per day(MGD) of Sewage of which 123 MGD remains untreated.  DJB had informed NGT that it will increase its sewage plant treatment to 99%, but it still remains at 86%.

Similarly, the interceptor sewer Project, which has been in pipeline since 2006 has been delayed multiple times.

Lack of industrial effluent treatment plants: Many industries in the Capital territory do not have effluent treatment plants of their own; nor are they linked with the common effluent treatment facilities set up in some industrial clusters.

Unplanned habitations have also come up along the river and, more regrettably, in its flood plain and riverbed itself. Their waste goes directly into the river.

So, to address these issues, water flow should be increased. Also, there is a need to treat sewage waste.

What are the court and tribunal judgments on the Yamuna?

1994: SC took cognizance of a newspaper article “Quiet Flows Maily (dirty) Yamuna” and summoned the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to explain the issue. Later, various stakeholders, including the Delhi, UP and Haryana governments became part of the case.

2015: In this judgment, NGT formed the ‘Maily Se Nirmal (from dirty to clean) Yamuna Revitalisation Plan, 2017’, which was set to be completed by 2017. But that did not happen and the NGT in 2018, formed a monitoring panel to implement the 2015 judgment. The NGT dissolved the committee in January 2021 and directed the Chief Secretaries of various States to monitor the progress.

What can be done to reduce pollution in the Yamuna?

The immediate technological way forward would be Zero untreated discharge into the Yamuna.

Ecological flow: A minimum water flow called ecological flow, is needed. More water can dilute the pollutants, thereby reducing the relative pollution load. As per the study by National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), a flow of 23 cusecs is needed in the lean season for this. This flow is not easy to attain, as it is constrained by interstate river water treaties.

– This requires cooperation of all the riparian states. Ministry of Jal Shakti observed that the 1994 water-sharing agreement between Uttrakhand, HP, UP, Haryana is due for revision in 2025. This can act as an opportunity to divert more water towards the Delhi stretch of Yamuna.

Outdated technology in existing water treatment plants needs to be upgraded urgently.

Also, the treated sewage should not go back into the river but be recycled for non-domestic use.

The experts are of the view that the Yamuna can be cleaned only if the government takes it in a mission mode approach.

Source: This post is based on the article” Cleaning the Yamuna a story of missed deadlines” published in The Hindu on 13th September 2021.

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