In about two years, a five-km stretch along the river Yamuna in Delhi will have a medicinal garden, a biodiversity park and a modern wrestling ring. The river will also have canoeing and rowing facilities. This may seem far-fetched, considering that the Yamuna is an apology of a river in Delhi, but the Delhi government has an ambitious Rs 200-crore plan to beautify about a quarter of the river’s stretch in Delhi, upstream from Wazirabad. Cycle tracks and recreational areas along the riverfront are also on the anvil.
But what about water? It is well known that the Yamuna in Delhi does not have water for nine to 10 months in a year. For all practical purposes, the river ceases to exist beyond Wazirabad. The barrage at Wazirabad fences in the river to supply drinking water to the city’s residents. What flows subsequently is only sewage and waste. For about 20 km, the river becomes a receptacle for the waste of Delhi’s residents but it does not have enough water to clean it. There have been numerous deliberations on the basic minimum flow of the river, but upstream states, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, have been extremely parsimonious about releasing water. Delhi itself is complicit for the Yamuna’s sorry state. The city accounts for less than three per cent of the river’s stretch but is culpable for more than 70 per cent of its pollution load. There have been several plans to clean up the Yamuna. The city has already spent more than Rs 1,500 crore but the plans have came to naught because they relied on sewage treatment plants to clean up the water flowing into the river and ignored that a large part of the city was not connected to the sewerage network. So untreated waste continued to pour into the river and pollute it. The Delhi government’s plan does better on this count: Its Yamuna beautification project is part of an overall turnaround plan for the river in which the city’s drains will be connected to the sewage treatment plants and wetlands will be developed to filter the muck.
The Delhi government, however, has not factored in another kind of pollution — industrial effluents. According to the Central Pollution Control Board, more than 200 million litres of industrial water flow into the river everyday. So if the Delhi government’s plans fructify, people could take a leisurely stroll or cycle along the riverfront. But will they be able to take a dip in the Yamuna? Not without risking exposure to the heavy metals that industries discharge into the river.