In its fight to clean the Yamuna River, the Delhi government has resorted to deploying boats, putting up makeshift barricades and sprinkling high speed water at various locations to dissipate the toxic foam. According to sources from the Delhi government, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) in collaboration with the Irrigation and Flood Control Department and the Revenue Department has deployed a total of 15 boats so far with 30 to 40 people to beat the foam with sticks and disperse it.
A senior official of the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) said that the intention behind the exercise was to “break up” the foam particles and make them dissolve into water. “We’re aware that long term measures need to be implemented. But the optics associated with Chhath Puja and the river meant that we had to resort to such things,” said the official citing visuals of a person taking a dip in the foaming water of the Yamuna near Kalindi Kunj.
With the rise in the toxic foam in the river coinciding with the festivities of the Chhath Puja, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) has released an order to keep the Yamuna out of bounds for now and has set up Chhath Puja venues at 800 venues in the city.
In its pursuit to reduce the foam, the Delhi government has also raised a temporary bamboo barricade near Kalindi Kunj to restrict the foam from floating further downstream. The government has also restricted the release of water from the Okhra barrage by the Uttar Pradesh government till the completion of festivities. The DJB is expected to meet with the DPCC to find a long-term resolution for the 150 million gallons per day (MGD) polluted waters of the Yamuna River.
Speaking at the Times Now Summit 2021, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal said that cleaning the Yamuna is his responsibility and asserted that the Delhi government will clean the river in the next five years. “The problem has been created over 70 years. It cannot be solved in a few days. I will not pass the buck to other states. It is my responsibility to clean the Yamuna and I will do it,” said Kejriwal.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Raghav Chadha had earlier blamed the governments of UP and Haryana for the toxic foam in the river. Chadha, who is also the vice-chairperson of the Delhi Jal Board noted that 150 million gallons of water from the Yamuna and 50 million gallons of wastewater from the Ganga merges into the Okhla barrage from Haryana and UP, respectively. He mentioned that these waters have industrial waste, untreated detergents and ammonia, and the foam in the Yamuna in Delhi is formed in the Okhla barrage. Chadha also claimed that the AAP government had been writing to the government of UP and Haryana to use irrigation technology and biocultural methods to address the issue, however, these requests have not been heeded.
Layers of toxic froth floating in the Yamuna is not a unique occurrence. According to experts, release of untreated and poorly treated effluents like sewage from parts of the city that are not connected to the sewage network and toxic industrial waste can be a primary cause behind the frothing. Surfactants and phosphates from household detergents and industrial laundry merging in the waters of the river has been cited as another reason.
The Delhi government has prohibited devotees from performing the Chhath Puja on the banks of the Yamuna. The Delhi High Court, on Wednesday, dismissed a petition challenging the Delhi government’s order. Responding to the petition filed by Advocate Kamal Kant Jha, Justice Rekha Palli observed, “Your prayer is that you want to do it in the Yamuna. It’s not the scope of the Court. Even otherwise, there is no reason. It doesn’t show that you have to go to Yamuna. You can stand wherever you want. Please perform your rituals. I am not coming in your way.”
Obeying the court order, the president of the Chhath Puja Samiti in Kalindi Kunj confirmed, “Chhath celebrations are not allowed at Yamuna ghats. Few devotees who came here have been asked to leave by the police.” However, there have been instances where not only the common people but also leaders have flouted the curb. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Parvesh Sahib Singh of West Delhi trespassed the barricading and poured water in the river at ITO. Urging others to visit the ghats, he said, “MCD, DDA have given permission to celebrate Chhath.” He questioned, “Why is Delhi government not permitting to celebrate Chhath at ITO, which is the oldest ghat in Delhi? Why are we being stopped?”