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January 16, 2013

A dip in Yamuna is dangerous

On Sankranti, city gives Yamuna a miss

Extremely Contaminated Water An Invitation To Infections And Allergies, Say Doctors


New Delhi: Time was when the Yamuna was a revered river and people from far and near gathered to take a dip in its waters, in Delhi, on every celestial event and festival. The French traveller, Francois Bernier, who witnessed a solar eclipse here in 1666, notes: “I took my station on the terrace of my house, situated on the banks of the Gemna, when I saw both shores of the river, for nearly a league (5.6 km) in length, covered with gentiles or idolaters, who stood in the water up to the waist”. 
    Such scenes were witnessed on the banks of all major rivers across north India on Monday, barring the Yamuna in Delhi. The polluted river was bereft of devotees taking a holy dip to mark the beginning of the harvest season. Even the administration made no arrangements for devotees, not expecting any to turn up to bathe in the dirty waters. 
    The 22km stretch of the river through Delhi is practically a sewer. Excluding the monsoon months, the river is completely deprived of a fresh water flow and creeps towards Uttar Pradesh carrying only Delhi’s waste. 
    Doctors warn that the river’s water has chemicals and microbes that can cause serious skin troubles. Dermatologist Dr Kabir Sardana says 
pollutants in the Yamuna pose a serious threat to immune-compromised patients. “They can get skin infections. Bathing in the river can also cause flaring of eczema, irritation, dryness and increased fragility of hair, among other issues. One should avoid bathing in the river water. Even if one does so for religious reasons, precautions like washing the body with normal water immediately thereafter and not drinking the water must be taken.” 
    So far, Rs 4,439 crore has been spent on cleaning the river but other than its worsening water quality, nothing has changed. The New Delhi Municipal Committee and the erstwhile Municipal Corporation of Delhi have spent an additional Rs 315 crore for river cleaning work that includes creation of toilets and cleaning of drains. UP and Delhi have also recently been pulled up by the Supreme Court on their ineffective work. 
    Central Pollution Control Board has been monitoring the water quality of the river, including the working of sewage treatment plants and effluent treatment plants in Delhi. In court, it revealed that the installed sewage treatment capacity in Delhi is 2,460 million litres per day against sewage generation of 3,800 mld. Only about 63% of the installed capacity is being used as several areas lack a sewer network, many drains are 
blocked and some STPs do not function to capacity. With 1,360 mld of sewage flowing into the river untreated, the effort to treat the remaining sewage has come to naught. 
    Delhi Jal Board has launched an ambitious project to solve the problem. The interceptor sewage system entails laying of parallel drains along Delhi’s three main drains, Shahdara, Supplementary and Najafgarh. 
These drains will trap all sewage falling into the drains, take it to STPs and carry treated sewage back to the drain. Work on these will take another two to three years. However, even this will not be able to bring the pollution down to levels where the water can be categorized as ‘bathing quality’. 
    CPCB officials say dissolved oxygen (DO), a measure of the “amount of oxygen available in dissolved form in water” is necessary to support aquatic life. If it drops below a certain level, life forms, specifically fish, are unable to continue living. Downstream of Khajoori Paltoon Pul, the point where the Najafgarh drain meets the river, DO is down to zero. Microbial levels are also very high by the time the water reaches Okhla Bridge.

Source: TOI (15 Jan, pg. 2)

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