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Onerous task of cleaning river which runs through Delhi

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By Sidharth Mishra

The first archaeological evidences of Delhi emerging as a capital of a kingdom are of around 12th century. The first citadel-city being Mehrauli built by the Slave dynasty. The dynasties which followed them too built their own fort cities and each of them moved a few kilometres east, getting farther from the Arvalli hills and closer to river Yamuna.

Getting closer to Yamuna meant not only overcoming paucity of water but also integrating the Sultanate with the Ganga-Yamuna river valley system for the purposes of both trade and territory expansion. The first citadel city along the river was built by Firoz Shah Tughlaq, which is today known as Kotla Firoz Shah and houses a world famous cricket stadium.

The next bastion along the river was built by Sher Shah Suri, who had usurped the Mughal rule for a while. This refuge is today known to the world as Purana Qila. After the Mughal Empire had found its firm footing, they too shifted their capital to Delhi, with Shahjahan building the Red Fort and the adjoining city, today together known as the walled city.

The British too built their first habitats close to the river, the Civil Lines and the Delhi University area. It was much later that the site of the new capital was shifted to the Raisina Hill, the area today known as New Delhi. This short narrative is an essential recall of the role which the Yamuna has played in the evolution of Delhi, not only as an administrative but also cultural and trade hub.

Come 20th century, the rise of Delhi as a modern metropolis came with the necessary evils of urbanisation – pollution of air and water. Worse, the need for drinking water for the ever burgeoning population ensured that the river was sucked into till the last drop to meet the ever increasing demand. Today not a drop of Yamunotri glacier flows into the city, and what we witness flowing in the river is the sewage water.

In the midst of the ongoing war of words between the elected government and the Raj Niwas, Lieutenant Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena has taken the onerous task of cleaning the Yamuna. Cleaning of the river is something one has been hearing about for almost four decades now and Yamuna has continued to remain polluted, sometimes a degree higher and sometimes a degree lower.

Saxena’s attempt is two-pronged, one clean the river bed of municipal waste and second focus on cleaning the Najafgarh drain, which contributes to almost 68 percent of the sewage water flowing into the river during its course in Delhi. He has set a deadline for June 30 for the river bed cleaning.

The Raj Niwas officials claim that a clean riverbed would ensure that during the rains no waste is carried into the river. Also when the river would overflow its banks onto the beds, a clean bed would ensure that water seeps in and recharges the ground water along the river course.

The Najafgarh drain, which originally was a river called Sahibi, is a storm water drain. However, it has become one of the biggest carriers of sewage from overflowing sewer pipes of Delhi Jal Board. While its responsibility of the Jal Board to carry sewage to the treatment plants and then release water into the river, most of its sewer lines are overflowing in the absence of proper maintenance.

Saxena’s plans look workable especially since he has stuck his neck out taking the full responsibility to execute the project. This he has done knowing full well that failure to deliver would bring him into direct fire from the elected government led by Arvind Kejriwal. 

(The writer is Author and President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice)  


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