In an age when scams of even a few lakhs of rupees arouse passion and threaten downfall of governments, it is shocking that an apparent wastage of Rs 6500 crore of public funds has hardly caused a ripple. It is about the money reportedly spent on the project to clean the river Yamuna which meets about 60% of the drinking water need of Delhi. The Yamuna cleaning project has been criticized by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), an authority that set the ball rolling against the downhill journey of the present government. The CAG report is alleged to have criticised the choice of the public sector Engineers India Ltd as consultant-and at a very high fee which allegedly violated the established norms. The Japanese who had given money for the Yamuna Action Plan would have been greatly disappointed by the shoddy performance of the clean-up project. Environmental agencies and courts have often decried the half-hearted attempts made by authorities in Delhi to clean and rid the river of pollution. Even outcries by some public-spirited people and court directives on cleaning the river in the capital go unattended.
It is difficult to believe that just four years ago, on March 16, 2010, thousands of people, officials, VIPs, artists and the like had taken a pledge to actively support the call for 'Meri Dilli, Meri Yamuna' (My Delhi, My Yamuna). If that kind of public and official support was continued by now the river might have appeared in a better and healthier shape. There seems to be a peculiar indifference towards the urgency for cleaning the main source of drinking water in the national capital. The task of cleaning the entire 1300 km plus stretch of the Yamuna began two decades ago but it has hardly met even a moderate success. It is believed that Delhi contributes over 70% towards the pollution of the Yamuna. In Delhi, the Yamuna stretch is about 22 km, from Wazirabad in the north to Okhla in the south. The latest to join the lament against the heavily polluted Yamuna is a parliamentary panel which finds it 'alarming' that the condition of the river is worsening. The standing committee of the ministry of urban development has said that nearly two decades after initiating a clean-up project that has so far cost Rs 6500 crore, the Yamuna looks dirtier today than it was ever before.
The Yamuna in Delhi is a sorry sight. For about nine months in a year it is almost dry. The pollutant levels in the river water are very high; it is overloaded with various chemicals, plastics and other forms of non-degradable pollutants. The pollutants cannot be diluted if the water flow in the river is negligible or nil for the better part of the year. The neighbouring states of Haryana and UP are not willing to spare more Yamuna water for the capital. The sight of the dirty, drying Yamuna is revolting, though this might offend the millions who consider it sacred and have a dip in it on certain religious occasions. One of the major causes for the deplorable state of the Yamuna is the incomplete work on the interceptors sewers along three of the 22 drains of Delhi-Najafgarh, Shahdara and Supplementary. These are the three big drains that account for nearly 75% of pollution in the Yamuna, discharging untreated sewage flows into the river.
An interceptor sewer carries the polluted water to a treatment plant where the pollutants are removed before the water is discharged into the river. The government of India had approved the interceptor scheme in May 2010 to achieve zero sewage flow into the river in Delhi. The initial allocation for the project was Rs 1357.71 crore with a commitment of an additional assistance of Rs 475.20 crore. Work on the interceptors is supposed to be completed by March 2014. Will it be completed even a year after this deadline? According to the parliamentary panel, till January last year only about 35% of the work on the interceptor project, being carried out by the Dal Jal Board, was completed, using Rs 136 crore of the funds. The Delhi Jal Board maintains that over half the work has been completed. Whatever the fact, dirty, polluted water continues to reach the river. The parliamentary panel has expressed its anguish that the Yamuna river front resembles a 'garbage dump', very different from the common concept that the river front is a clean recreational front. It has observed: 'By now, the Yamuna water, polluted and black-should have been cleaner.'
Various studies have been carried out on the level of pollution in the Yamuna waters and the harm that it causes. The quality of water in about 18 drains in Delhi was recently analysed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute. The report was published in the International Journal of Recent Scientific Research. It urged the need to have planned sewage treatment plants along every drain before its water flows into the river. On a plea before it seeking direction to maintain a minimum flow of water in the Ganga and Yamuna rivers to ensure adequate drinking water for the national capital region, the Supreme Court has issued notices to the governments of Haryana and UP as well as the central government. The petitioner had filed the plea to expedite the completion of the water treatment projects. Pleading for reducing wastage of water to conserve it for public use, the petitioner, Sureshwar D. Sinha, has sought early completion of the Munak Link Canal and the water treatment plants at Okhla, Bawana and Dwarka.
The petitioner recalled that on August 17, 1999, the apex court had ordered that a minimum flow of 352 cusecs be maintained in the Yamuna. That does not seem to be the case because the river continues to look dead, in Delhi at least, for the better part of the year. After a Raj Kapoor film, 'Maili Ganga' (dirty Ganga) became a proverb; a sequel about 'Maili Yamuna' is overdue.