In an unprecedented move, the convenor of the Yamuna (removal of encroachments) Monitoring Committee has sought demolition of all permanent structures erected in the Yamuna riverbed by the Delhi Development Authority and the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.
In a report submitted to the High Court, retired additional district and sessions judge S.M. Aggarwal, the convenor of the committee, has also sought that DDA and DMRC should be penalised for damaging the river's eco-system by undertaking construction of the massive Metro rail yard, a residential complex in 1.85 acres of the river bed, a huge Games Village Metro station along with a mall by Parsvanath Developers and the Commonwealth Games Village.
The report has also recommended exemplary action against the Vice Chairman of DDA for deliberate and willful violation of Delhi High Court order directing that the river bed be maintained as a water body or wetland by the DDA and all other authorities.
The Yamuna Monitoring Committee headed by retired High Court Judge Justice Usha Mehra, was set up on December 8, 2005 to monitor the removal of all unauthorised structures, jhuggis, places of worship and or any other structure, which are unauthorisedly put in Yamuna bed and its embankments.
The committee submitted the report in the court of Justice A.K. Sikri and Justice Rekha Sharma on 30th October when they were hearing a public interest petition.The environmental activists have sought immediate stay on construction in the Yamuna river bed and arguments on this count will be heard on November 20.
The enormity of achieving 100% treatment of sewage that flows into rivers can be gauged by the fact that in Delhi alone, 3 billion litres of waste water is generated each day which flows into the Yamuna. Despite spending more than Rs 550 crore since July 1993 on cleaning the river, the pollution load in Yamuna has almost doubled over the period.
Yamunotri, which is north of Haridwar in the Himalayan Mountains, is the source of the Yamuna. The river Yamuna, a major tributary of river Ganges, originates from the Yamunotri glacier near Banderpoonch peaks in the Mussourie range of the lower Himalayas at an elevation of about 6387 meters above mean sea level in district Uttarkashi (Uttranchal). Its total length is 1,370 km spread over Uttranchal, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi. Its tributaries are Chambal, Betwa, Sind & Ken. In its first 170 km stretch, the tributaries Rishi Ganga Kunta, Hanuman Ganga, Tons and Giri join the main river.
One of the main causes of pollution of the river is discharge of untreated domestic wastewater and other wastes into the river from the towns located along its banks.The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) initiated a study in 1977-78 to assess the status of pollution of Yamuna river over its 1200 km course. This study examined the topography of the drainage basin, base flow, population, land use pattern, industries, agriculture practices in the basin and wastewater produced by such activities in the basin. Study conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board indicated that a major cause of pollution was discharge of domestic wastewater into the river from nearby towns and habitations which contribute about two-thirds of the pollution load, the remaining one-third being contributed by industries and agriculture activities.
Based on this study the Government of India decided to take up pollution control measures for Yamuna river in continuation of Ganga Action Plan under Phase–II and requested the Government of Japan in December-1990 for a loan assistance for implementation of the Yamuna Action Plan.
Accordingly the Government of Japan sent a fact finding mission in April-1991 to assess the contents of the YAP proposal and its suitability vis-à-vis the actual site conditions. Based on the suggestions of that mission for further inputs in the formulation of the plan, (Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund) OECF of Japan now called the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and decided to arrange for a feasibility study to be conducted through consultants appointed by OECF before agreeing to the request for loan. The feasibility study was conducted by the consultants for about two months from the middle of December 1991 to the middle of February 1992, and the final SAPROF (Special Assistance for Project Formulation) report was produced in March, 1992.
With the objective of improving the Water Quality of River and restoring it to the Desired Bathing Class Yamuna Action Plan was launched in 1993.
To arrest river pollution, certain measures of cleaning river have been taken by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) of the Government of India (GOI) in 12 towns of Haryana, 8 towns of Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi under an action plan (Yamuna Action Plan-YAP) which is being implemented since 1993 by the National River Conservation Directorate (NRCD) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) is participating in the Yamuna Action Plan in 15 of the above 21 towns (excluding 6 towns of Haryana included later on the direction of the honorable Supreme Court of India) with soft loan assistance of 17.773 billion Japanese Yen (equivalent to about Rs. 700 crore INR) while GOI is providing the funds for the remaining 6 towns added later.
At the request of GOI, Government of Japan agreed to extend the validity period of the loan by two years w.e.f. April 25, 2000. The expiry date of the loan now stands at April 19, 2002. During the extended period, ongoing works will be completed along with some remedial* works to enhance the effectiveness of the project.
The major schemes under Yamuna Action Plan are as follows:
# Interception & Diversion Works including Intermediate Pumping Stations
# Main Pumping Station & Rising-Mains
# Sewage Treatment Plant (STP)
Non Sewerage Component
# Low Cost Sanitation (LCS).
# Improved wood based & Electric Crematoria.
# Bathing ghats / River front Developments
# Public Participation
All these works are being implemented by the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam (UPJN) in U.P, Haryana Public Health Engineering Department (HPHED) in Haryana, Delhi Jal Board (DJB) and Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) in Delhi under the coordination of National River Conservation Directorate (NRCD). The TEC-DCL Consortium (Indo-Japanese consultants) have been appointed as project consultants to monitor the progress of the schemes on a day-to-day basis.
The main objective of Yamuna Action Plan is to improve the water quality of river and restore it to the desired bathing class.
Pollution from domestic sewage is tackled under Yamuna Action Plan, where as pollution of industries is monitored and controlled under the existing environmental laws. The main focus under YAP is on :
* Laying of trunk & Intercepting sewers, for diversion of sewage outfalling into the river.
* Construction of Sewage Treatment Plants to treat the captured sewage.
* Non point sources of pollution have also been addressed by :
(i) Providing electric / improved wood based crematoria to minimize the river pollution on account of disposal of unburnt dead bodies.
(ii) Constructing low cost toilets so that public resist from resorting to open defaecation.
In addition - activities such as river front development, plantation along the river and public participation and awareness works have been taken up under the programme.
Yamuna Action Plan initially included (a) construction of sewerage systems for interception, diversion and treatment of sewage in the larger towns; (b) provision of public latrines (c) provision of crematoria and improvement of bathing ghats alongside the river; (d) some plantation and beautification works; and (e) education and public awareness in sustaining cleanness of the river. Control of pollution from industrial effluents was to be addressed under the environmental laws. Later in May 2001, an extended phase of YAP was approved which covered major facilities of toilets in Delhi and some left over works of initial phase in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
India consumes about 86,311 tonnes (t) of technical-grade insecticides annually to cover 182.5 million hectare of its land. Most Indian rivers pass through agricultural areas that use pesticides. This makes leaching from agricultural fields the most serious non-point — unspecified, and therefore, not measurable accurately — source of pollution to the aquatic environment. And now there’s a 1995 study that’s found traces of isomers (a carcinogenic organochlorine) in Indian rivers, including the Yamuna.
About 57 million people depend on Yamuna waters. With an annual flow of about 10,000 cubic metres (cum) and usage of 4,400 cum (of which irrigation constitutes 96 per cent), the river accounts for more than 70 per cent of Delhi’s water supplies. Available water treatment facilities are not capable of removing the pesticide traces. Waterworks laboratories cannot even detect them. Worse, Yamuna leaves Delhi as a sewer, laden with the city’s biological and chemical wastes. Downstream, at Agra, this becomes the main municipal drinking water source. Here too, existing treatment facilities are no match for the poisons. Thus, consumers in Delhi and Agra ingest unknown amounts of toxic pesticide residues each time they drink water.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), on its part, had found endosulphan residues — alpha and beta isomers — in the Yamuna in 1991. An earlier study by H C Agarwal (Delhi University) had traced ddt residues amounting to 3,400 nanogram per litre (ng/l). However, later cpcb studies showed reduced ddt levels. To gauge the immensity of the threat, it is necessary to trace the river’s flow — divided in five segments on the basis of hydro-geomorphological and ecological characteristics — down to its final reaches.
HARYANA FACTOR: Yamuna’s pollution starts from Tajewala in the upper segment. Here two canals, the Western Yamuna Canal (WYC) and the Eastern Yamuna Canal (EYC), divert river waters — save in the three monsoon months — into Haryana and Uttar Pradesh (UP). The WYC crosses Yamuna Nagar, Karnal and Panipat before reaching the Haiderpur treatment plant (which supplies part of Delhi’s water), receiving wastewater from Yamuna Nagar and Panipat.
Drain Nos ii and viii branch off the WYC augment the water in the river. Another augmentation canal branches out of the WYC at Yamuna Nagar, and rejoins the canal about 80 km downstream at Karnal. All domestic and industrial discharges from Yamuna Nagar are let out into this canal. Water from the augmentation canal is used for irrigation. However, when excess water from the wyc is let into it, pollutants are flushed into the wyc downstream at Karnal. Thus, a few times a year, there is a sudden and massive increase in pollution loads when the water reaches Haiderpur.
Furthermore, at Panipat, discharges from the Panipat sugar mill and distillery are let out into a disused canal, which has a kutcha dam across it. Sometimes, when the effluents cross the dam, it results in a major increase in biological oxygen demand (BOD) loads in the WYC. A CPCB inspection report estimated that there were 1,00,000 cum of effluents in the disused canal, having a bod level of 1,380 mg/l. According to the report, when this water enters the WYC, it carries with it a total of 125 t of BOD and the BOD levels reach 17 mg/l at Haiderpur; the acceptable bod levels for raw water meant for treatment are three mg/l.
Haryana’s vast agricultural fields are also significant contributors to pollution. The consumption of pesticides in Haryana in the years 1995-96 was to the tune of 5,100 t. Out of this, benzene hexachlorides (BHC) accounted for 600.24 t, malathion 831.48 t and endosulphan, 263.16 t. The state department of agriculture estimates that 12.5 per cent of the Yamuna basin has forest cover, 27.5 is wastelands, 53 per cent is agricultural land; the rest are villages, towns, cities and roads. There are plans to bring 27.5 per cent more under agriculture: this means more abstraction from the river and also greater use and subsequent runoff of fertilisers and pesticides.
Delhi : Biggest Culprit
Yamuna enters Delhi at Palla village 15 km upstream of Wazirabad barrage, which acts as a reservoir for Delhi. Delhi generates 1,900 million litre per day (mld) of sewage, against an installed wastewater treatment capacity of 1,270 mld. Thus, 630 mld of untreated and a significant amount of partially treated sewage enter the river every day. The Wazirabad barrage lets out very little water into the river. In summer months especially, the only flow downstream of Wazirabad is of industrial and sewage effluents. Lesser discharge means lesser river flow and thus, greater levels of pollution. From the Okhla barrage, which is the exit point for the river in Delhi, the Agra canal branches out from Yamuna. During the dry months, almost no water is released from this barrage to downstream Yamuna. Instead, discharges from the Shahadara drain join the river downstream of the barrage, bringing effluents from east Delhi and Noida into the river. This is the second largest polluter of the river after the Najafgarh drain.
The main problem lies in undetected and untreated pesticide residues. Waterworks officials in Delhi and Agra point out that pesticide traces cannot be removed with conventional treatment. "Organic substances can be assimilated in freshwater, provided there is enough freshwater in the river," states R Dalwani, scientist, ministry of environment and forests (MEF). "But for micropollutants such as pesticides, only more freshwater can reduce the percentage of traces in water. These cannot be dissolved or assimilated, but certainly can be diluted to an extent." The river has a dilution requirement of 75 per cent, which implies that for every 100 litres of wastewater, 75 litres of freshwater is required. Scientists state that with the flow of water, pollutants (especially organic pollutants) degrade to a large extent. But at every step, this purified water is abstracted, and ever larger loads of pollution make their way into the river.
Treatment technologies : Not Cheap
Water treatment technologies in practice in the West are expensive, something which India can ill-afford. Besides, it is now widely acknowledged that conventional water treatment processes, based on chemical coagulation and filtration or biological slow sand filtration, have little capacity to remove water-soluble pesticides.
Western researchers are coming to the conclusion that protecting the catchment from chemical contamination — by switching to organic or biological farming methods and curtailing the use of pesticides and fertilisers — is possibly the best way to deal with the problem. According to Centre for Science and Environment researcher Sangeeta Agarwal, who spoke to officials of the Sacramento department of utilities, at California, US, which faced problems with pesticide contamination from rice fields upstream: "The problem was resolved by persuading polluting farmers to use pesticides in such a manner that it does not enter surface water."
In India, public opinion over the issue is growing. Numerous public interest litigations have forced the MEF into an alien arena: that of accountability. This has made the CPCB, the Haryana SPCB and other agencies take note of what is getting into the river and the ways and means of lessening such entry. Several polluting units which discharge into the river, and the canals and drains that lead to it, have been forced to instal water treatment facilities. However, cpcb officials admit that high operational and maintenance costs of the facilities and the apathy of individual units limit their usage.
Another issue is that of appropriate property rights. Maybe things will change when the people of Delhi get the right to sue Haryana for polluting their drinking water and the people of Agra get the right to sue both Haryana and Delhi together.
Perhaps much-needed and urgent change will come if the one who consumes the dread water — Delhi’s citizens or indeed Agra’s — refuses to ingest such deadly poisons, and demands the legitimate right to clean drinking water. Who does the Yamuna belong to, after all?
On March 3, 2003, the Delhi High Court had observed: "Yamuna river has been polluted not only on account of dumping of waste, including medical waste as well as discharge of unhygienic material, but the Yamuna bed and its embankment have been unauthorisedly and illegally encroached by construction of pucca house, jhuggies and places for religious worship, which cannot be permitted any more... We, therefore, direct all the authorities concerned, that is, DDA, MCD, PWD, DJB as well the Central Government to forthwith remove all the unauthorised structures, jhuggi es, places of worship and/or any other structure which are unauthorisedly put in Yamuna bed and its embankment within two months from today."
This order was flouted for over two years by the concerned authorities, provoking a Division Bench, headed by the then Chief Justice, to rule that the river bed was a water body (wet land) and had to be preserved as such. Here is the relevant excerpt.
"...it is required to be maintained as a water body by the DDA and all other authorities. If the water body is not maintained as such and construction illegally goes on unhindered, then it is high time to take the officers of the DDA to task." As per the court directive, all encroachments on the river bed were to be removed by the DDA and other empowered agencies. But, the follow-up remained tardy.
On December 8, 2005, the court appointed a committee, headed by retired Justice Usha Mehra, to enforce the orders passed in this regard by the High Court since 2003. The Yamuna -- Removal of Encroachments Monitoring Committee, as it came to be known, was meant to monitor the removal of encroachments on the river bed and flood plains, specifically within 300 metres of the river banks. Acting on this order, the committee got slum clusters removed expeditiously. But Government-authorised structures were left intact.
So far as the Games Village is concerned, the original plan was to erect temporary structures, in keeping with the recommendation of the Environment Ministry. This was based on the 'Environmental Management Plan for Rejuvenation of River Yamuna in NCT', submitted to the DDA by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute in October 2005. It was prepared at the DDA's behest. The section, 'General Guidelines for Development of Riverbed', stated that "no residential or industrial facilities requiring permanent structures should be provided on the river bed".
Yet, in contravention of court orders and the NEERI report, the DDA bought 31,542 acre from the Uttar Pradesh irrigation department for Rs 61.5 lakh per acre for its own use. Some of it (110 acre) was meant to build the Games Village. The pre-condition for the deal was that half the profits would be paid to the Uttar Pradesh Government in the event that this land was exploited commercially after change of land use. The Environment Ministry cleared the permanent Games Village.
Meanwhile, the convener of the Yamuna Monitoring Committee, Mr SM Aggarwal, retired additional district and sessions judge, has sought the removal of all structures on the river bed, built by the DDA and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation. The committee's report, submitted to the division bench hearing the Yamuna case, also seeks to penalise the DDA and its Vice-Chairman, and DMRC for their lapses such as sanctioning a proposed residential project, Games Village, Metro rail yard and Games Village station, and a privately built mall.
Mathura oil refinery blamed for Yamuna pollution
The Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board and the Central Pollution Control Board have blamed the release of petroleum waste from the Mathura oil refinery into the Yamuna for the death of fish in the river.
The Yamuna's water was tested for pollutants after thousands of fish were found dead in the river on Nov 5, creating near panic among fishermen and those living close to the riverbanks in Mathura and Agra.
The death of the fish despite the fact that dissolved oxygen level was found to be normal persuaded environmentalists and government officials to look for other causes.
Releasing a report by the pollution control boards, Agra district magistrate Mukesh Meshram Wednesday said petroleum by-products were found in the Barari drain which flows from the Indian Oil Corporation's oil refinery to the Yamuna. Large-scale growth of water hyacinth was also found in the river at the Gokul barrage in Mathura.
N. Shiv Kumar, Mathura oil refinery's corporate media manager, Wednesday denied the charges that harmful pollutants were being released into the Yamuna.
"All effluents and wastes are treated within the refinery before release," he told reporters.
Earlier reports by several other organisations, including the US-based Yamuna Foundation for Blue Water, have also mentioned finding traces of petroleum hydrocarbons, which are believed to be carcinogenic, in the Yamuna water.
Local environmentalists say the pollution level in the Yamuna has crossed all safety parameters and the water is unfit for bathing, let alone drinking.
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