OPINION | Save the people of Delhi: Rejuvenate and cleanse the Yamuna at the earliest

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Save the people of Delhi: Rejuvenate and cleanse the Yamuna at the earliest. 

The air in Delhi is not fit for breathing, and the water in the blackish Yamuna river is not even fit for touching. Looking at the efforts being made by the government, it appears as if only a fresh wave of clean air, expected in the next three days, may drive away the poisonous air that has engulfed the capital for nearly a fortnight. For a clean Yamuna, we may have to wait for another three years.

 
On Thursday, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal unveiled a six-point action plan to cleanse the Yamuna by February, 2025. The plan includes setting up of new sewage treatment plants (STPs), increasing the capacity of existing STPs, use of new technology to ensure pollutants do not enter the river,  in-situ treatment of major drains that fall into Yamuna and diverting all industrial waste to treatment plants. He promised connecting the drains of public toilets in all slums to the larger sewer network and completely stop stormwater drains from being polluted.
 
Kejriwal promised he would himself take a dip in Yamuna before the next assembly elections. At present, the Yamuna is a dirty river full of filth with 22 drains dropping sewage into it across the 23 km stretch of the river in the capital. Kejriwal knows, cleansing the Yamuna in Delhi is not an impossible task, though very difficult. In the past, Kejriwal had promised to cleanse the Yamuna at least five times. On Thursday, he gave a new deadline.
 
Kejriwal says, the Yamuna has become filthy over a period of 70 years and it cannot be cleansed in two days. “We have started work on a war footing, and I shall monitor each point of the six-point plan. I have fixed deadlines for each point. By next Delhi assembly elections in 2025, people in the capital will be able to take dip in the clean Yamuna.”
 
What is the present condition of Yamuna in Delhi? If you stand near its banks, you will be overpowered by a strong foul smell emanating from the river. You can get skin diseases if you touch its blackish water. You may not need any scientific study to find out why the Yamuna in Delhi is filthy. 18 big and 24 small drains spew sewage into this river daily.  
 
The Yamuna that flows from Haryana into Delhi is clean till the Wazirabad barrage, where most of the water is collected to provide drinking water supply. The biggest Najafgarh drain that carries industrial effluent and sewage joins the river, and converts Yamuna into a drain. 17 other big drains, including Shahdara drain and Barapullah nullah, also fall into this river. 

Most of the 34 sewage treatment plants in Delhi work at only 60 per cent capacity. In other words, only 500 million gallons per day of sewage out of a total of 720 MGD sewage is treated, and the rest fall into the Yamuna, untreated. Sewers from the huge number of slums fall into Yamuna directly, untreated.
 
Earlier, when the Yamuna was comparatively clean, 52 different species of fish were found in the river. Now only one specie of fish is found and that too, is dwindling fast. This is because the oxygen level in the river has dropped to zero.
 
Normally, the potable water of a river has 7.4 pH (potential of hydrogen), but Yamuna water in Delhi has 11.4 pH. In layman’s language, the water can cause damage to your skin, if touched. Normally, potable RO water in homes is supposed to be lower than 100 TDS(total dissolved solids), but you will be surprised to know that the Yamuna water in Delhi has 1100 TDS.
 
The main culprits are the drains that fall into the Yamuna. The most worrisome fact is that there are people who grow vegetables on the Yamuna river bed, and sell them in markets. Most of these vegetables contain toxic substances due to the filthy Yamuna water.  Yamuna water in Delhi can not only cause severe skin ailments, but can also damage your liver, kidneys and other organs. It can cause cancer and genetic disorders.
 
Experts say, rivers normally have self-cleansing capacity, but this can happen only if there is proper flow in the river. The filthy Yamuna in Delhi, becomes comparatively clean near Auraiya in UP, when it goes downstream due to proper flow. In Delhi, it is the opposite. Most of the water is collected for water supply, and the river is left dry for most of the months, except monsoon. On the other hand, huge drains disgorge millions of gallons of sewage into Yamuna daily. On one hand, drinking water supply is essential for Delhiites, but what is the alternative?  
 
First, stop the flow of sewage drains into Yamuna, install more sewage treatment plants, and also rejuvenate all old sources of ground water in and around Delhi. Instead of politicizing the issue, let good policies (neeti) and sincere intent (neeyat) prevail. A clean Yamuna can invigorate the life of every resident in Delhi. I, therefore, pray that Arvind Kejriwal should succeed in his aim to cleanse the Yamuna by 2025.

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