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The Polluted Yamuna River in New Delhi

Photographer: Harish Tyagi


The Yamuna River, like all other holy rivers in India, has been massively polluted for decades now. The river that originates in a glacier in the pristine and unpolluted Himalayas, and flows through Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh before merging with the Ganges River in Allahabad, once used to be the lifeline of the Indian capital. Currently, it is no more than a large, open sewer that is choking with industrial and domestic discharge that includes plastic, flowers and debris from an annual Hindu festival, Durga Puja, during which hundreds of idols are immersed in the river.


The river has virtually no aquatic life thanks to over 20 drains that pour untreated sewage and other waste into its waters. Dumping of solid waste and garbage is also a major problem for the beleaguered river, whose condition is the worst along a 22 kilometer stretch between Warirabad and Okhla that contributes to almost 74 percent of its pollution load.


According to a study published in the International Journal of Engineering Sciences and Research Technology, the river’s toxicity levels are so high that its waters remain untreatable in some of the most technologically advanced water treatment plants. India’s Central Pollution Control Board, too, has certified the river’s water to be unfit for any purpose other than industrial cooling and recreation.


The river has been declared ‘dead’, with its water not suitable for bathing at most places but in November 2017 thousands of people visited the banks of the Yamuna River to celebrate the Chhath festival and brave the waterbody’s pollution in the name of faith and took the event’s traditional holy bath.


The Indian government has been trying to contain the pollution of two of its major holy rivers, Ganga and Yamuna, and had earmarked 291 million USD under an initiative called the Clean Ganga Project. By mid-2016, it spent 567 million USD to try and clean up the rivers, although the ground situation remained unchanged.