Yamuna river is one of the important all-weather rivers of India originating from Himalayas. In India rivers are seen with great respect and draw ethical values. Regular fares and community baths are organised on important occasions on the riverbanks. The river Yamuna covers 345,850 sq km of area while traversing from Himalayas to the plains of Uttar Pradesh at Allahabad and there it loses its identity. It serves as lifeline to the people while flowing through its path. It provides drinking water, irrigation to a vast area and helps in generating electric power.
However rapid industrialization, deforestation and urbanization led to large discharge of industrial waste and sewage system to this, otherwise clean river. This has resulted in condition when water has become unfit for drinking. It is not safe for even animals, birds, fishes etc. The level of total coliform is twice the permissible limit at the time when Yamuna enters Delhi, becomes 25 times till it leaves Delhi. This all happens in a short span of traversing 21 km of so called ‘Delhi segment’.
With the awareness created recently, steps are being taken to plant trees along the catchment area to prevent flow of loose soil to river. Initiatives have also been taken to control flow of untreated industrial waste and raw sewage to the river.
India is herited with plenty of all weather rivers. These rivers traverse most part of country. Most of the rivers are seen with interest by beneficiary population of India and thus have a great mythological significance. A near Goddess status has been given to rivers like Ganga. Yamuna being one of the major tributaries of Ganga also gets same credentials. According to a sacred myth, all sins are washed away by bathing seven times in the Yamuna. Yamuna, more colloquially known as Jamuna, rises from the Bundar Poonch glaciers in Uttarkashi, which is also known as Jamunotri. It is joined by Tons river, which is the largest tributary of Yamuna along the border of Himachal Pradesh. When it reaches the North Indian plains it is met with its other tributaries like Chambal,Betwa and Ken. The river covers as many as seven states and it flows almost entirely through Delhi, where it is also exploited the most. Such is the Impact of Yamuna and other North Indian rivers that the entire region is regarded as most fertile land in the Indian subcontinent. The total area it covers before merging to majestic Ganga is 345,850 square km.
Pollution problem of Yamuna
In the past the river used to be the main source of life for drinking water, communication and irrigation. Thus serving as the lifeline for the human kind. The pollutants were limited to storm water drains. But with the post world war II in general and post independence in particular, India witnessed massive deforestation leading to soil erosion and related problems. Simultaneously industrialization and emphasis of modern living gained momentum. All the major industries are on the bank of one or the other river. Yamuna outnumbers any other river in the number of industries on its banks. This is because it passes through many major (post independence) industrial cities. But real problem of Yamuna pollution starts when it passes through state of Delhi. Research shows that before it passes through Delhi, the water quality is very much under control (see Fig.1). The stretch between Wazirabad and Okhla barrage in Delhi is only 2% of its catchment area, but it contributes about 80% of the river’s total pollution load. More than 57 million people depend on the Yamuna River for drinking water, but at least 720 mld (190 mgd) of wastewater entering the river is untreated, according to the National River Conservation Directorate (NRCD; New Delhi), the federal agency responsible for cleanup efforts in India. Organic pollutants and pathogens in wastewater make up approximately 75% to 80% of the river’s pollution load, while most other pollution comes from industrial discharges. About 2000 million litres of sewage is pumped into the river from Delhi every day, and its water is now unfit to support any life. Among the first causalities is aquatic flora and fauna, which support many birds and mammals, which are involuntary sufferers. Many exotic bird and fish species are thus either become locally extinct or are on the brink of extinction. There are 16 major drains along the stretch that discharge treated and untreated wastewater from industries and sewage of Delhi and Haryana. The Hindon Canal also discharges waste from Uttar Pradesh in this stretch. The 22 km between the Wazirabad and Okhla barrages is called Delhi segment, while the 490 km stretch between Okhla barrage and the confluence with the Chambal River is known as the eutrophicated segment because of the quality of its water.
Average value of typical physico-chemical parameters in three locations in Delhi along the Yamuna is depicted in Fig.1. According to Fig.1(b) the value of total coliform upstream of Delhi is twice the standard value that means the pollution level is already twice before Yamuna enters Delhi. After it passes through Delhi, the pollution level goes 25 times the maximum allowable!
Though the point sources like industrial waste and sewage are the first order contamination sources in our rivers, the non-point sources are also major contributor to the Yamuna pollution. Non-point source pollution means water pollution other than that caused by a discharge pipe from a factory or municipal sewage treatment plant. Even though animals also contribute to non-point pollution, most of non-point pollution is due to human activities. Construction related erosion, sedimentation, agricultural storm water runoff, outdated urban septic systems, fertilizers and pesticides are some of the resultant contaminants in Yamuna due to non-point sources. Levels of such contaminants in both surface and ground water is disturbing. Once the contaminants enter the water source, there is a difficult and expensive procedure to remove them.
As a result to the growing water pollution, mineral water market is growing with a tremendous pace. Earlier it used to be the luxury only suitable for rich, now it has become popular in lower middle class also. There is a great scope of this industry in India with a current turnover of 300 crore and a staggering growth rate of 50% per annum. But in India as the quality consciousness is always lacking, there are increasing number of reports of harmful liquids being sold on the name of mineral water.
The CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) monitors the water quality of the Yamuna in Delhi, and it is graded in the severely polluted category, fit only for recreation, aesthetics, and industrial cooling. According to the CPCB, 70% of the pollution in rivers is from untreated sewage. The remaining 30% is from industrial source, agricultural run-off, garbage, etc. Delhi’s population, which stood at 9.37 million in 1991, is now estimated to be around 13 million, and is projected to rise to 20 million by 2010. The Yamuna is the source of 70 per cent of Delhi’s water supplies; and raw water required in 2010 would approximately be 4,030mld, with generated sewage at around 3,920mld. Currently, though, Delhi has the capacity to treat only 1,153mld sewage, while its sewerage network is capable of delivering only 885.3mld to the STPs. Although raw water requirements for Delhi are likely to be met by water stored in the Tehri dam, sewage treatment remains a sore point. “2,083mld of wastewater is generated within the sewered areas of Delhi,” notes a recent Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report. “Even in the sewered areas, all sources of wastewater (including households) are not connected to the sewerage system. As a result, a significant volume of wastewater generated remains untapped and finds its way into open drains.” It comes as no surprise, then, that Delhi treats only 35 per cent of its sewage.