Today's News

Today's News [JUNE 2, 2003]

10 years on, Yamuna still toxic


NEW DELHI: Even as the state government gears up for another three-day 'symbolic' clean-up as a run-up to the World environment day on June 5 the Yamuna river is as polluted as ever. A ten-year clean up effort, started in 1993, seems to have literally flowed down the drain.

The river is dead after it crosses Delhi," says R C Trivedi, additional director in CPCB, an expert on Yamuna's pollution monitoring.

Trivedi's remarks are not baseless. A look at the two broad parameters of river pollution bear testimony to his comments.

Consider this. The biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) levels have been hovering between 15 and 30 micrograms per litre, while the normal BOD level should be just 3 mgs per litre. Higher BOD levels mean lesser chances of survival for plants, fish and other aquatic life in the river.

Aquatic life has perished in the Yamuna river as the oxygen supply for organic matter has reduced," said an environment department official, who assesses the river pollution.

Another indicator of a highly polluted river is the high level of coliform bacteria, which thrives on human waste. The coliform count varies between 1 lakh and 10 lakh, while the normal count should be at 5,000.

Higher levels of coliform means more risk of water-borne diseases. "The pathogens in the river water kill the organic life in it," Kapil Narula, Tata Energy Research Institute's area convener, who has studied Yamuna river pollution.

Experts say the pollution levels have remained the same for the past one decade. The reason is the large amounts of waste let out into the river by the city residents. "The city generates about 2,700 million litres of sewage from households every day. Another 300 million litres are discharged into the river by the industries," said Manoj Nadkarni, a river pollution expert at Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

"There is no clear water that joins Yamuna when it flows 22 kms along Delhi. So there is no dilution of the densely polluted sewage in the river," said Trivedi.

He said only half of the sewage generated by the river is treated by the inadequate mini sewage treatment plants, planned in the first phase of Yamuna action plan.

Narula says that there are 50 sub-drains which pollute the river the most. "A TERI study says that even if one controlled the pollution in 10 of them, half of the pollution will be curtailed," he said.

But the first phase of the plan has gone haywire with little planning and even lesser clean-up action.

CSE's director Sunita Narain says,"Nobody had ever thought of cleaning the river by attacking the problem at the roots. Only symbolic shramdaans won't do. A planning with a bigger picture in mind is the key."