Rivers are crucial for human life. Their water is used in irrigation and for drinking, and they maintain the moisture of the earth. Rivers have been contributing a lot to transportation as well. Even till mid-19th century, people would take a ship or boat if they were to go to Kolkata from Kanpur, Banaras or Patna. Perhaps this is one of the reasons big cities are situated on the banks of rivers.

Ironically, today the same cities have become a bane for the rivers. The population in these cities is increasing exponentially. As a corollary, the cities are generating large heaps of garbage and filth, which are dumped into the rivers through sewers. Rivers have a system to purge themselves. When the filth crosses a certain limit, the self-purification mechanism fails. Here begins the problem. Today, a number of big rivers meandering along cities have become a sort of sewage canal.

Recently, following a rigorous research Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has come out with a book titled Sewage Canal: How to Clean the Yamuna . The book discusses government’s plan to clean 34 rivers, yet its focal point is Yamuna. As much as 80 percent of the budget for the cleaning programme is allocated for ten rivers, while only 12 percent is left for the rest 24.

The rivers getting most of the budget pie are the Ganga, the Yamuna, the Adiyar, the Kum, the Moosi, the Gomti, the Cauveri, the Satlaj, the Godawari, the Wagad and the Sabarmati. The authors of the reports complain they were not able to fathom as to why these rivers got preferential treatment from the government. Efforts to clean rivers are being undertaken under National River Conservation Plan. Officials associated with this plan claim that they have completed the "cleaning" of 34 out of the 160 rivers in 20 states. However, if we go and see those rivers, they tell us a different tale. According to the report, terms like cleaning and pollution are yet to be defined with clarity. We use river water in bathing, washing clothes, and for cooking. Some of us utilise it in industries. Then, the water reaches the river loaded with all the sludge. This is the way, we extract water out of rivers and in return fill them with waste.

According to this report the data about cleaning are also dubious. This is why the authors say they cannot vouch for government’s tall claims about cleaning rivers until they get the calculation about the water pumped out of them, and the waste sent to them.

In 2005, Delhi Jal Board (DJB) said the previous year 2,947.80 MLD sewage was produced in the city, while according to the report of Central Pollution Control Board it was 3,684 MLD. The DJB estimated the quantity keeping in view the water supplied by it. But the fact is a large number of people depend on water extracted from hand pumps or tube wells, which was ignored by the DJB.

The estimation of those who work out cleaning plans is exclusively based on the water supplied by the government. They do not take note of the water available through private means. In the course of the research, the CSE found that only half or a quarter of the sewage is cleaned. At some places the cleaning machines are left idle.

The report says as much as 40 percent of the cleaning budget is spent on Delhi, which has only five percent of the target population. However, the Yamuna flowing past Delhi is ailing. The book advocates giving a second thought to sewer management and water treatment.

(Adapted from the Hindi)

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