Yamuna Cleaning: Current Projects, and What More Needs to Be Done

Yamuna river

Yamuna riverIn 1909, when the water quality of both the two important rivers of the country, Ganga and Yamuna, was tested, the Yamuna river water was considered as “clear blue”, compared to the water of river Ganga, which was considered silt-laden yellow. A century later, Yamuna river is rated to be the dirtiest and most polluted river of the country, especially around New Delhi, the Capital of India. Rapid industrialisation, urbanisation and population growth have all contributed to the increased level of pollution in the Yamuna river in Delhi, which dumps around 58% of its waste into the river.

Major projects undertaken for cleaning Yamuna

Yamuna Action Plan: Yamuna Action Plan (YAP) to clean the dirtiest river of the country was formally launched in 1993. The YAP has so far completed two phases as YAP-I and YAP-II. The YAP-I covered Delhi, eight towns in Uttar Pradesh and six towns in Haryana. Under YAP II, emphasis was on the 22-km stretch of Yamuna in Delhi. Now we have YAP-III, phase III of Yamuna Action Plan for Delhi, at an estimated cost of Rs 1,656 crore. In 2013, the YAP-III was initiated and is supposed to be completed by 2015.

Background of Yamuna Action Plan

The Yamuna Action Plan (YAP), one of the largest river restoration projects in the country, is a bilateral project between the Government of India and Japan. The Japanese Government has provided financial grant of 17.7 billion yen to carry out the project, under the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), and this project is being executed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, National River Conservation Directorate and the Government of India. Under the Yamuna Action Plan Phase III, the Delhi stretch is given prime emphasis as it is the most critical stretches of Yamuna, where most of the city’s sewage is dumped.

Success rate

Under the YAP-I and YAP-II, the cleaning of polluted Yamuna was carried out in line with the level of the biological oxygen demand of Yamuna. Under these two phases, 286 schemes, which also included 39 sewage treatment plants (STPs), were completed in 21 towns of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana at a cost of Rs 1,453.17 crore and sewage treatment capacity of 767.25 million litres per day has been created.

A recent report by the Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) has stated that in order to support aquatic life and day-to-day activities of the people living on the banks of the river Yamuna, it needs almost 3.46 billion litres per day (BLD) of fresh flow of water. This amount is equal to the amount of drinking water that Delhi needs on a daily basis. However, there has been no reports of addition of fresh water to the river as most of it is sewage. This has been reported based on an analysis for the last 10 years. The Teri report also states that the YAPs may not be 100% successful in improving water quality but it is true that the water quality has not deteriorated after its implementation.

More new projects in pipeline

Talks are also going on regarding implementation of more new projects for cleaning Yamuna. To check pollution levels in the river, the Delhi Government in June 2014 undertook an elaborate interceptor sewer project so that all water from the drains is treated before being thrown into the Yamuna.

Along with this, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has created a Sewerage Master Plan 2031, according to which, there are plans of laying sewerage systems in those locations which do not have sewer lines. It will set up a 59-km-long interceptor sewer along the three major drains of Delhi: supplementary, Shahdara and Najafgarh, which  will treat sewage from around 190 subsidiary small drains and take it to the nearest sewage treatment plant (STP). This will lead to treated effluents being discharged into the drains.

According to DJB officials, some new STPs are being constructed at Nilothi, Delhi Gate, Pappankalan, Chilla and Kapashera which are of high standards to treat effluents.

What else can be done?

Conservation of Yamuna is an ongoing process and requires the collective effort of the Central and State Governments. The timelines and goals of cleaning river Yamuna are based on river conservation projects and also the civic infrastructure creation for sewage management and disposal. Around 800 million gallons of sewage is generated every day in Delhi but it has a capacity to treat around 512.4 MGD of waste only. There are 22 major sewage drains that dump waste into the river. It is necessary to install more sewage and effluent treatment plants and the discharge of untreated waste water should be restricted.

  • It is necessary to reduce the quantity of water being drawn from the river for irrigation. The ecology of the river is being destroyed by doing this.
  • Environmentalists also suggest that treatment of effluents is very essential before dumping into the river.
  • It is time now to learn from foreign countries on how they are scientifically recycling wastes and making use of the wastes to construct new roads, buildings etc. For example, Singapore recycles 98 % of its construction and demolition waste. The existing STPs and ETPs of our country should be improved.
  • Steps must be taken to relocate the existing settlements and encroachments near the floodplains and no further encroachments should be allowed.
  • There should be a ban on construction of new barrages, roads, metro and railway bridges, embankments near Yamuna.
  • Since there is shortage of landfill sites in Delhi, most wastes are dumped in the river. Keeping this in mind, immediate action needs to be taken to identify more landfill sites in Delhi.
  • Last but not the least, it is high time now the Government took necessary steps to enhance public awareness.