Clean Yamuna soon? If all of Delhi Jal Board’s plans materialise, the river may yet be saved

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Published: April 24, 2019 3:26:35 PM

Like many Indian rivers, Yamuna suffers the distinction of being grossly abused and polluted. As the main water body of Delhi NCR, with its politically charged environment and scores of activists, its state has also attracted a lot of judicial scrutiny.

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Like many Indian rivers, Yamuna suffers the distinction of being grossly abused and polluted. As the main water body of Delhi NCR, with its politically charged environment and scores of activists, its state has also attracted a lot of judicial scrutiny.

Ranging from rampant mining in Uttarakhand on its river banks to its deteriorating water quality, poor environmental regulation, inadequate waste management and unregulated construction on its flood plains, a host of issues plaguing the Yamuna has had both the Supreme Court of India and the High Court of Delhi coming down heavily on the government departments charged with ensuring its health.

Based on a news item in 1994 titled ‘And quiet flows the maili Yamuna’, the Supreme Court had taken suo-motu action, emphasising that the authorities need to take effective steps to deal with the quality of water. In order to tackle this problem on a war footing, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) was set up through an Act of Delhi Legislative Assembly in April 1998.

Though it has been meeting the needs of supplying wholesome filtered water to the National Capital Territory of Delhi, whose population has spurted to more than 1.6 million now, it is the shortcomings in preventing pollution of Yamuna that has generated the maximum criticism of the DJB.

Against an estimated generation of around 720 mgd (million gallons a day) of sewage, the installed capacity for treatment by DJB is 620 mgd, of which only 490 mgd is being utilised. Or, 130 mgd of untreated effluent sewage flows into the Yamuna.

The 8,100-km-long internal, peripheral and 200-km-long main trunk sewers covering 130 urban villages, 54 villages and a whopping 266 unauthorised colonies, are able to provide sewerage facilities to only around 70% of the population of Delhi. Sewerage system needs to be laid in the remaining unauthorised colonies—though work is already in progress in 355 such colonies.

A Sewerage Master Plan 2031 envisages laying of sewer lines in all unsewered areas in a phased manner so as to meet the demands by that year. DJB has also taken up an ambitious project to rehabilitate 167 kms of existing peripheral and 21 kms of trunk sewers.

Under Yamuna Action Plan (YAP) III, in addition to rehabilitating old STPs (Sewage Treatment Plants) at Kondli and Rithala, a brand new 124 mgd capacity STP is to be built at Okhla to replace the existing smaller capacity ones.

DJB has also been striving to minimise discharge of treated effluent into Yamuna and encouraging its use for non-potable purposes. This also incidentally reduces the demand for potable water supply to the city.

However, so far it has succeeded in supplying only 89 mgd of treated effluent to Delhi-based agencies, viz. the National Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd., the Central Public Works Department, the Delhi Development Authority, Central Road Research Institute, the New Delhi Municipal Corporation, and the East and South Delhi Municipal Corporations, mostly for horticulture and air-conditioning requirements.

There is ample room for greater use of treated effluent from the STPs, in particular, for rejuvenation of Delhi’s other long neglected water bodies such as Sanjay lake, Bhalsawa, and Hauz Khas, etc. There is also scope for rejuvenation of the Jehangirpuri marshes, water bodies at Narela, Dwarka, and, of course, ground water recharge within the vast premises of STPs and Sewage Pumping Stations (SPSs).

In 2015, its new 10 mld (million litres a day) tertiary treatment plant has managed to meet the water required by Delhi Transport Corporation for washing its fleet of buses at Sukhdev Vihar. However, it has so far not succeeded in getting the water quality upto the mark for use of effluent as raw water which can further be treated and used for drinking purposes at any of its 20 locations across Delhi.

At present, three major drains—Najafgarh, Supplementary and Shahadra—carry more than 70% of Delhi NCR’s raw sewage into the Yamuna for which interceptor sewers, to trap 242 mgd of sewage, are now being built. These could become a major factor in reducing pollution levels of the Yamuna. This mega initiative has been included in KPMG’s list of 100 most innovative infrastructure projects in the world.

However, the day is not far when Yamuna, with proper river training, removal of encroachments from its banks and river front development, could become a prized recreational area with boats plying up and down its stretch.

The writer is Former member, Railway Board

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