Through the ages, the river Yamuna has been one of the most sacred rivers of India. It is mentioned in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Be it historical, religious or mythological, the river finds a prominent mention and it has been revered all along and is still one of the major pilgrimage hubs. Geographical landmarks (that dot mythologies and spiritual texts), like Kurukshetra, Mathura, Vrindaban, Chitrakoot, Udaipur, Jaipur, Jhansi, Indore, Gwalior, Agra, Panipat and Delhi, then known as Indraprastha, all lie in the basin of river Yamuna. The source of river Yamuna is the glacial lake of Saptarishi Kund,near Yamunotri which is towards the base of Kalinda Parbat in Banderpunch range. The Yamuna joins the sacred Ganga, at Allahabad, after traversing 1375 km. Though the Yamuna is the largest tributary of the revered Ganga, yet in long stretches, she flows like a small rivulet.

The flow of the Yamuna cannot be termed as continuous. It has four distinct flow patterns. Its first phase is from Yamunotri to the Tajewala barrage, 172 km. The second phase is from the Tajewala barrage to the Wazirabad barrage, 224 km. And the third phase is through Delhi, from the Wazirabad barrage to the Okhla barrage, 22 km. The final phase of the river is from the Okhla barrage till it converges into the Ganga, 958 km away at Allahabad.

The river water maintains a reasonably good quality from its origin to Wazirabad in Delhi (a stretch of about 396 km). But, 80 percent of the pollution in Yamuna's 1375 km stretch enters and is prevalent in its 22 km of the river (1.6 percent stretch) while it flows through sadda Delhi. This is because of the domestic and industrial wastewater that drains into the Yamuna, when it flows through Delhi. Thus, in its 22 km stretch through Delhi, discharge of wastewater through 16 drains between the Wazirabad barrage and the Okhla barrage, renders the mighty and sacred river into a sewage drain.

I am not an environmentalist but this is the gist of what I could grasp after interviewing eminent professionals in this field (town planners, environmentalists, sociologist, activists). So here it goes:

Research analysis proves that in Yamuna's entire journey through Delhi, the BOD (Bio-chemical Oxygen Demand) values range from 30 to 35mg/1. Thus the BOD level is ten times over the acceptable level. The faecal coliform is in the range of 10 lac per 100 ml. That makes the faecal coliform around 400 times more than the acceptable level. In normal English that would mean, that the river Yamuna, is more like a sewage drain when it flows through Delhi.

Delhi generates anywhere between 3400 to 3600 million liters (mld) of wastewater, everyday. The treatment capacity available is only for about 2330 million liters.

One must keep in mind that virtually half of the colonies in Delhi are illegal, unregularized or unauthorized. I am not talking about slums, I am talking about the fancy affluent and middle-class residential/commercial colonies. As 50 percent of the sewage that enters the Yamuna in Delhi, is from these illegal, unregularized or unauthorized sources, thus 50 percent of the sewage that enters the Yamuna is untreated. To make matters murkier, sewage water all over the world is treated through three stages (it's called treatment through tertiary levels), but in India, for sure in Delhi, the sewage water is treated only up to its secondary level.

So, in the primary treatment, one manages to settle physical pollutants in the water. In the secondary level, the biological waste is treated but it is the third and tertiary level that chemically removes the remaining pollutants. In India, according to experts and environmentalists for some odd reason we stop treatment at the secondary level.

Further, one must keep in mind, that the sewage generated by these illegal, unregularized or unauthorized colonies is not trated at all. Which means, 50 percent of the water, is untreated. This would imply, that either, we in Delhi are surviving out of sheer goodwill of some benevolent providence or we have the metabolism and the digestive tracts, of sturdy pigs.

Everybody keeps talking about making the Yamuna as clean and as beautiful as the Thames. Thames, which is one-fourth the length of the Yamuna, took nearly a hundred years be cleaned.

What experts bemoan, is that though the construction of Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) and sewering of legal colonies and relocation of slum dwellers sounds very good, unauthorized and unregularized colonies that contribute to around 50 percent of the city's population, still will not be part of the plan; thus making all the changes only cosmetic.

If you want more detailed information, the web is filled with a lot of information on the subject.

From the book "Yamuna Gently Weeps" by Ruzbeh N. Bharucha