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.


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 travels through Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi before its merger with the Ganga.

What are the earlier plans to clean the Yamuna?

1st Yamuna Action Plan (YAP): It was signed in 1992. It aims for the “improvement of water quality conservation in the river and hygiene environment in the cities in the river basin”.

3rd YAP (YAP-III): It is presently underway. But the present condition of Yamuna does not even fit for bathing in the Delhi stretch, except for Palla. It is the point where the river enters Delhi.

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 of pollution in Delhi?

Less water in the river in Delhi.

Sewage: Drains dumping sewage and industrial effluents into the Yamuna.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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