It isn’t just the unabated mushrooming of industries on or near its shores, and the associated issue of effluent disposal that have all but killed the river. Sheer neglect on the part of that section of the Indian population that has been relying on it for sustenance is equally, if not more, responsible for its demise.
Consider this. The Yamuna experiences massive pollution load by Delhi, with huge quantities of untreated sewage and industrial effluents flowing into it. Says Ajay Mahajan, of Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group: ”The river does not have any flow.
As soon as the river reaches Delhi, most of its water is taken away for drinking and other purposes.
”By doing this, we are not allowing the river to oxygenate, purify itself. We are killing it,” Mahajan adds.
According to the Central Pollution Control Board, 22 industrial units in Haryana, 42 in Delhi and 17 in Uttar Pradesh were found to be directly discharging effluents into and polluting the Yamuna in the year 2000. The industries these units belonged to include paper, sugar, chemical, leather, distillery, pharmaceuticals and power.
Many were also dumping untreated waste, and the power stations around the river were pumping hot water into it as well.
The areas of the riverbed in the flood plains are being given away by the government to construction companies and other agencies. These flood plains are important as they help maintain Delhi’s ground water levels.
“Every summer the water situation in Delhi and NCR goes for a toss. Supply is highly unreliable,” says Sushree Sarayu, a resident.
“The 22km stretch of river in Delhi is perhaps the most threatened riverine stretch anywhere in the world and certainly the most polluted in the country today,” says Manoj Mishra, convener of Yamuna Jiye Aviyan.
Mishra further asserts that channelization of the river in the Delhi stretch should not be carried out, as it will not only lead to reduction of ground water reserves, but will also completely stop the ground water recharge occuring from the flood plains. In the light of acute scarcity of fresh water in Delhi, reduction of the ground water reserve will further aggravate the water problem.
The river has no notable tributaries for a distance of around 250km in the plains except for a seasonal stream called Som Nadi (which joins it near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh) and the heavily polluted Hindon (south of Greater NOIDA, also in UP). The river Chambal meets the Yamuna much further, near Etawah (UP).
So most of the water in the river south of the Hathnikund Barrage is either from ground water accrual or the waste water drains joining it from towns such Yamuna Nagar, Karnal, Panipat and Sonepat in Haryana and Saharanpur, Muzzafarnagar and Baghpat in UP.
In Delhi the water is brought into the river by the 22 waste water drains that empty into it.
Come to think of it, we depend on a river that cannot support life.