Yamuna Frothing: Who will clean it?

The 1,400 km long Yamuna river flows only 22 km in Delhi, constituting just two per cent of its length. Sadly, those 22 km contributes 80% to its pollution like frothing.

The pictures of people performing Chhath Puja in the frothy waters of Yamuna has sent shockwaves to environmentalists and the residents of Delhi. Unfortunately, this has led to a political war between AAP and BJP than taking measures to clean and conserve the river.

The BJP leaders have alleged that the AAP government did not allow Chhath puja on the banks of the Yamuna River to hide the pathetic condition of the river. In response, AAP’s Raghav Chadda has blamed the UP and Haryana governments for releasing around 150 MGD of untreated sewage in the rivers.

Pollution in the river Yamuna is a persistent problem, and all three states have spent crores of rupees to clean the toxic waters. But the river remained the same. According to the experts, frothing is caused by releasing untreated or poorly treated effluents, including sewage and industrial waste released into the water.

Governments have spent around four thousand crores to date

Firstly, cleaning and polluting the river Yamuna is a joint responsibility and liability of three state governments — Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, Manish Sisodia, has announced a provision of 2,074 crore rupees for the Yamuna cleaning project during the 2021-22 annual budget briefing.

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According to the data furnished by Haryana and UP governments, both states have spent 549 crore rupees and 2,052 crore rupees for cleaning the river, respectively. Therefore, three states have collectively spent around 4,675 crore rupees to clean the Yamuna invisibly. The numbers include the provision in the Delhi government budget.

Alongside making provisions, the Delhi government has already spent more than 1,500 crore rupees under Yamuna Action Plan 1 and 2. Under Namami Gange Programme, the Union Jal Shakti ministry has sanctioned 24 projects for an estimated worth of 4,355 crore rupees to treat the polluted river water and create a sewage treatment capacity of 1862 MLD.

According to the government press release, Delhi has completed two of 13 projects and UP has completed only one of eight allotted projects. Haryana has completed all the projects.  The Yamuna Action Plan was implemented in 1993. But even after twenty-eight years, it is still a filthy river.

A war over the pollution location

In Monday briefing, Delhi Jal Board vice-chairman Raghav Chadha has blamed the neighbouring state for releasing 150 MGD of untreated sewage into the river. Of which, UP and Haryana have dumped 50 MGD and 105 MGD of sewage, respectively. Chadha also said that untreated waste materials fall from a height near the Okhla barrage, which led to frothing in Kalindi Kunj.  He blamed Haryana for rising toxicity levels in the Yamuna.

Chadha added that the UP government operates the Okhla barrage, and they should take the responsibility to clean the river. However, the UP government has denied the allegations and asked the Delhi government to build more STPs (Sewage Treatment Plant). The 1,400 km long Yamuna flows only 22 km in Delhi, constituting just two per cent of its length. Sadly, that 22 km contributes 80% to its pollution.

Experts blamed phosphates from Delhi-based factory

Experts have pointed out that the mixing of untreated phosphatic chemical waste reacts with the acidic river water to cause Yamuna frothing. These chemical wastes are released into the river by released by Delhi-based factories. The CPCB report mentioned that phosphates and surfactants were detected between ITO and Okhla barrage downstream. Last year, Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) report said that the highest concentration of phosphates and surfactants was found downstream of the Najafgarh drain in Khajoori Paltoon (13.42 mg/litre). The phosphate concentration at the Okhla barrage was 12.26 mg/litre. Among the drain, the highest phosphate concentration level was detected in the Najafgarh.

The Najafgarh drain, which carries waste materials from factories in Gurugram and Manesar, had a 74.5 mg/litre phosphatic concentration.  The disbanded Yamuna Monitoring Committee had recommended corrective measures for the Najafgarh drain and limited the factories from releasing untreated waste beyond the safety level. After two years, the implementation of these measures is still rare.

Role of STPs in Delhi

Delhi government has 34 STPs across 20-odd locations. Around a month ago, DPCC has said that the national capital produces around 700 MGD of sewage. The collective treating capacity of 34 STPs is 577 MGD daily. The committee also notes that sewage treatment plants do not work to optimum capacity and treat only 514 MGD of sewage against capped 577 MGD. Therefore, 206 MGD of untreated wastes directly merged with the river water. 

The state government had said that the STPs would work to their optimum capacity by 2019, but it is 2021 now.  Of 1700 colonies in Delhi, only 561 have sewer lines resulting in the rise of pollutants in solid waste by 760 times than the ‘desirable level’.

Yamuna Frothing: Who will clean it?
A decentralised STP in Delhi

Yamuna is the lifeline for Delhi

The state government website reads, “The Yamuna is the lifeline of Delhi as its water is harnessed from both of its banks for domestic, industrial and irrigation purposes.” The river is tapped at three points-Wazirabad, ITO and Okhla barrages to collect and meet the ever-growing water demand of the city.

Frothing is a recurring problem for locals. Almost every winter, between October and January, the ammonia concentration increases in the Yamuna to dangerous levels, leading to water shortages for two to three days.

Currently, the levels of biochemical oxygen and dissolved oxygen in the river are very poor. It is not fit for even bathing. During Chhath Puja, women dip in the river and take water home for cooking.

The solution to Yamuna pollution

The primary cause of the pollution is low water levels in the river. Thus, raising the water levels can help in reducing pollution. The neighbouring states of Haryana and UP should release more water as the Yamuna requires 23 cusecs of water in the lean season. But implementing this will be tough. The state already has inter-state agreements on water sharing.

More STPs should be installed in the most polluted areas. The government has already started working on installing STPs at Kondli and Okhla. They plan to increase the numbers to 42 in the coming years. The remaining colonies need immediate sewer pipe connection.

Nothing is possible without proper political and administrative engineering and drive.  Without strong administration, the river will remain polluted for the next 20 years. In these 20 years, BJP, AAP and Congress have ruled Delhi.

Both Centre and state have spent more than 5,000 crore rupees and have taken loans from Japan. But all in vain as the Yamuna is still the country’s most polluted river. Delhi planning board has now set a new deadline to clean the waters by 2026. But Yamuna waters are under three states, and they have to work in tandem to achieve the target. The recent frothing has shown the understanding between the state governments.

Feature Image Source: Twitter

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