Thursday November 23, 2017
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Death of a river: How general apathy has killed Yamuna

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yamuna-pollution

By Shilpika Srivastava

National Green Tribunal (NGT) has asked the Delhi government, Delhi Jal Board, every municipal corporation, electricity companies and all other civic authorities to collect environment compensation from every household for spawning sewage waste in Delhi, on a Polluters Pay Principle.

The green panel’s announcement has again made the entire issue of Yamuna’s pollution a hot potato.

Who and What of NGT

The National Green Tribunal was established in 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010 for effective and prompt disposal of cases relating to environmental protection, conservation of forests and other natural resources. A specialized body outfitted with the necessary expertise, NGT handles environmental disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues.

Just a few days back, the tribunal had put a ban on disposing all kinds of waste into the Hindon canal, and termed its pollution as a ‘serious concern’. The order was issued following a petition filed by a Vasundhara Enclave resident in Delhi, who complained of municipal waste, construction waste and building trash being dumped into the canal resulting in huge water and air pollution.

Last month, NGT imposed a fine of Rs. 5,000 on openly burning waste such as garbage, leaves, plastics and crop residues.

There were many more steps taken by the tribunal to curb almost every kind of pollution, like a ban on diesel vehicles in Delhi, halt on construction activity in Noida, prohibition of plastic usage and so on. Strong measures taken by NGT have not only made it an environmental champion, but also exposed how the government has not been effective at addressing environmental concerns.

Where is Goddess Yamuna?

Every time one passes by Yamuna bridge, Goddess Yamuna is absent, but a blanket of froth, tons of flower garlands, bodies of animals, black poisonous industrial waste floating shamelessly over the river bed is visible.

Where is the scent of fresh water? Where is Yamuna’s sweet taste that the folklores of India mention?

Hitherto, India has followed a somewhat straightforward approach to clean up its rivers. It has acted on the conjecture that preventing pollution is enough to restore the river. In keeping with this approach, India has set up effluent and sewage treatment plants, which clean up waste water before it is released into the rivers. The outcome of the crores of funds spent show how this approach has failed miserably.

Indians, who bow their heads and ask for a wish when passing by a river, are the least aware or interested ones when it comes to preserving the very same rivers. Their ‘chalta hai’( casual) attitude or ‘we have it on our Shahstras (Holy books)’ are undoubtedly taking a toll on the environment.

Death of a river

Facts suggest that, as Yamuna passes through Delhi over a 48-km stretch, it is welcomed by garlands of chemical waste and toxins. A few months back, the Central Water Commission (CWC) declared that Yamuna, as it flows through Agra, is given an added burden of almost 50 times more Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) than the permissible limit. The commission also warned that water in the river, which is now polluted beyond repair, is also contaminating ground water.

Reportedly, the Okhla barrage, 22 km downstream of Wazirabad barrage, is considered the most polluted segment of River Yamuna.

Yamuna, which has an annual flow of about 10,000 cubic metres and usage of 4,400 cubic metres, accounts for more than 70% of Delhi’s water supplies. The national capital discards almost 60% of its waste into the river. The industrial effluents have worsened the problems making Yamuna a black and stinky drain.

No doubt, numerous steps were taking by the government, various NGOs and environmentalist, but all in vain. As long as the people are not involved in the process, Yamuna cannot be preserved. Neither government’s measures nor NGT imposing environment compensation on the residents can save the sacred river.

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Holy Dip in Garbage Floating Ganges River: A big Cause of Concern for Hindus

The pristine waters of the Ganges river as it gushes down the Himalayas have long turned into a toxic sludge due to garbage, untreated sewage and industrial waste dumped into it

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A pile of garbage lies on the riverbank along the Ganges riverfront known as "Har ki Pauri," the most sacred spot in the Hindu holy town of Haridwar where devotees throng. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

On a gray monsoon morning, Darshana Kapoor picks her way gingerly through the slush on the riverbank after taking a dip in the Ganges River in Haridwar town, one of the most revered spots for Hindus.

But the ritual bath that Hindus believe absolves a lifetime of sins was not an uplifting experience for her. “My faith brought me here, but when I see the garbage floating in the river, I felt so bad. I had to scrub myself,” she said.

Haridwar, India

She was not exaggerating. The Central Pollution Control Board has said that the water of the Ganges at Haridwar is not fit for bathing.

The murky condition of the mighty Ganges is a letdown for thousands of devotees who flock daily to the pilgrim town, some for a ritual dip, some to immerse the ashes of their loved ones or to take part in a colorful prayer ceremony held every evening to celebrate the Ganges, which devotees call “Maa” or mother.

Hundreds of Hindus take a ritual dip in the Ganges at Haridwar believing it absolves a lifetime of sins. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Hundreds of Hindus take a ritual dip in the Ganges at Haridwar believing it absolves a lifetime of sins. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

These devotees were hoping to see results from a flagship $3 billion initiative launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to revive the river, particularly in Hinduism’s holiest towns such as Haridwar and Varanasi.

The pristine waters of the river as it gushes down the Himalayas have long turned into a toxic sludge due to garbage, untreated sewage and industrial waste dumped into it as it courses through booming pilgrim and industrial towns along the vast, populous plains of North India. It is a huge concern because the river is a water source for some 400 million people.

After his victory in 2014, Modi had acknowledged the failure of an expensive three-decade long effort to rejuvenate the Ganges, and vowed to succeed where his predecessors did not.

But three years after the Hindu nationalist leader’s pledge, the once-mighty river is still dying, say environmental activists.

India’s top environmental court, the National Green Tribunal, slammed the government in July, saying “the status of river Ganga has not improved in terms of quality and it continues to be a serious environmental issue.”

The court prohibited dumping waste within 500 meters of the river and said that no development should be allowed within 100 meters of the river as it flows along a 500-kilometer stretch from Haridwar to the town of Unnao.

Hundreds gather to witness a colourful prayer ceremony held along the Ganges River in Haridwar every evening. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Hundreds gather to witness a colourful prayer ceremony held along the Ganges River in Haridwar every evening. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

That is crucial to revive not just the river, but also the banks or “ghats” in pilgrim towns where visitors throng.

However, in a country with abysmally poor enforcement, environmentalists point out court orders do not always translate into action on the ground.

“The basic problem in this country and this case also is compliance,” says M.C. Mehta, an environmentalist who has been leading a campaign to get rid of the pollution. “No monitoring mechanism is there, so it is very difficult to say how much directions have been complied with.”

The main challenge is the slow pace of setting up treatment plants – about three-quarters of the sewage generated in the towns and cities in the northern plains flows untreated into the Ganges.

Sewage treatment plants in Haridwar, for example, can only cope with half the sewage. New ones have been planned, but none have been built yet.

In fact, some fear the river is becoming dirtier as India’s growing population and economic boom has meant an ever growing influx into towns like Haridwar.

Shopkeeper Ganesh Singh in Haridwar says efforts are being made to educate people about not throwing plastic and other waste in the river or along its banks. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Shopkeeper Ganesh Singh in Haridwar says efforts are being made to educate people about not throwing plastic and other waste in the river or along its banks. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

Ganesh Singh owns a shop at the famed “Har ki Pauri,” the most revered spot along the riverbank where people gather to attend the evening prayer, where the poor line up for free meals offered by devotees and where pavement sellers hawk flowers.

He said there have been efforts to educate the people about not dumping waste into the river. “Many polythene bags, bottles, garbage used to be thrown into the river earlier. It is better now,” he said, gazing at the river, happy that it helps draw in more tourists who bring more business.

However just a few meters down from his shop, piles of rubbish dumped along the riverbank are getting slowly washed into the water with the rain.

That is why Mehta remains skeptical and worries the political will for the gigantic task is missing. “I am not talking about this leadership – it is for the last 32 years the same thing is going on,” he said. “It should not be just lip service that we are the sons and daughters of mother Ganga, without doing something.”

In a signal that he is aware the Ganges cleanup is flagging, Modi this month handed charge of the campaign to a senior cabinet minister, Nitin Gadkari, who has a reputation for getting the job done.

Devotees and environmentalists are hoping that will happen. (VOA)

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How Are Restaurants Operating Without Permit? Asks High Court: 19 Hauz Khas Village Eateries in Delhi Lose Licence

Restaurants in HKV lack security and fire safety mechanisms. Delhi High Court has thus ordered probe to answer how these establishments have been running without permit.

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Hauz khas village
The Delhi High Court believes unlawful construction of restaurants in HKV is a very serious issue, involving “valuable rights of the people". Wikimedia
  • Hauz Khas village has come under the scanner of the Delhi High Court for ‘unlawful existence’ and operation of restaurants without obtaining mandatory permits
  • According to PILs, restaurants cramp the narrow lanes of HKV without proper security and fire safety mechanisms in place
  • Licenses of 19 restaurants have been revoked by the SDMC 

New Delhi, August 23, 2017: With the wave of pop-culture that has come up in Delhi in the last few years, Hauz Khas village in south Delhi has emerged as the hub of ‘alternate culture’. While the ‘village’ remains comfortably filled during the weekdays, it gets crowded beyond measure over the weekends. There are usually long queues of cars and people waiting to enter HKV (as it is popularly known) that is home to a number of state-of-the art cafes, eateries and designer boutiques.

Hauz Khas village is not only famous its enviable list of establishments, but also for the number of cases that have previously been filed against the popular hub.

Hauz Khaz vilage has previously been in news for the following reasons-

September 2013: 34 restaurants were shut down for four days upon orders from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for violating environmental flaws, following which they were conditionally allowed to operate on promise of upholding the laws.

August 2016: A ‘minor fire’ in the urban hub killed an Indian businessman and injured a French woman, bringing to light the poor safety standards and remedial mechanisms in the place.

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February 2017: a 26-year old was allegedly sexually assaulted in the wee hours of the morning after a night of partying in HKV. A series of similar incidents have remained common to the area.

July 2017: The village came in news when the police decided to ban the Tuesday-Wednesday ladies’ night in the area to keep law and order in place and avoid possible cases of sexual assault or violence. While the ban was never imposed, security arrangements in the area were strengthened.

The cramped, neon-lit streets and cafes of this urbanized village have once again come under the radar of the Delhi High Court now for illegal constructions and encroachments.

Following the hearing of PILs alleging “unlawful existence” of eateries in the village, a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar made an oral observation saying the court is to protect and upload “the life and personal liberty of every person in the city.”

The bench’s observation came following the hearing of petitions filed by social activist Pankaj Sharma and advocate Anuja Kapur.

According to the petition filed by Sharma, the village is a host to 120 eateries and pubs, most of which have been illegally constructed in the absence of an approval of their building plans from the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC). Alternatively, the plea by advocate Anuja Kapur claims that these restaurants and bars are additionally violating the law as they continue to operate without a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from the required authorities including the fire department.

ALSO READ: Why do buildings collapse?

Kapur in her plea to the High Court had also raised allegations against the police claiming that no officer can be spotted in the village which gives various business owners an opportunity to indulge in ‘illegal activities’, which she believes are done with support from the local police.

Hauz Khas village is a popular commercial hub in the city and has a footfall of around 5,000 during weekdays which escalates to over 15,000 during the weekends.

Thus, the petitioners had also raised objections towards the risks to security and fire hazard in the village and asserted that the cramped location jam-packed with enormous crowd furthers the threat by making it impossible for ambulances and fire trucks to enter the area in case of emergencies.

It was revealed before the bench on August 22 that there is only one entry and exit in the village to allow the movement of fire tending vehicles.

Fire chief GC Mishra in his interview to the Indian Express in early August had asserted that the place is very congested for a city that ranks at level 4 of earthquake risk. “There is complete disregard towards the stability of the structure. Also, the access road is very narrow. How do I take my vehicles there?” he had said.

Previously, the High Court in May had issued a notice to the Centre, Delhi government, Delhi Police and SDMC to ensure strict enforcement of the law in the village and provide the court with a detailed account of the exact number of restaurants operating illegally.

Responding to the Court’s order, the Corporation revealed that they have issued notices of closure to 19 restaurant owners who do not possess the obligatory clearances. According to the report, “Nine licenses (have been revoked) for running the restaurants with more than the permitted number of seats and 10 licenses for running their trade on roads that don’t meet norms.”

The bench said during the hearing that this is a very serious issue, involving “valuable rights of the people”, according to a report by PTI.

Following the PILs the bench has asked authorities to file a status report explaining how these enterprises are running without a permit.

The SDMC has been directed to supplement the court with a detailed site-plan of the village clearly stating the location of different properties sprawled across the village along with the permissible property usage of Delhi as explained in the master plan of the city.

The bench has also asked the petitioners and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi to undertake detailed inspection of the place and inform the court about the width of the only road that runs through the area.

The bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar further asserted that any decision would be taken keeping the right of owners to undertake business activities, as guaranteed in the Indian Constitution, in mind.

However, the rights shall be considered “only if one has complied with the building bye-laws and the master plan. Violators will have to go,” the bench added.

The case is scheduled to have a further hearing on September 5.



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Swiss Researchers’ Envirobot Slithers through Waterways to Detect Pollution and Toxins

Envirobot appears as a water snake but is actually a collection of little segments, all doing different jobs

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Envirobot
Envirobot helps in detecting water pollution. Pixabay
  • Envirobot, the latest biomimetic fabrication by Swiss researchers, appears as a water snake
  • Its job when fully developed will be to guard water bodies looking for pollution and toxins
  • Envirobot is better than conventional propeller-driven underwater robots as it is less likely to get in branches and algae when they move around

Switzerland, August 6, 2017: As per the Pacific Institute, more than 2 million tons of a wide range of waste is pumped into the world’s waters each day. Researchers have become great at recognizing it, however not very great at finding the source of pollution. However, Envirobot, the latest biomimetic fabrication by Swiss researchers, provides a solution.

It appears as a water snake but is actually a collection of little segments, all doing different jobs. They are taking it on a test drive around bodies of water in search of toxins and other substances which can harm aquatic animals in order to take control of water pollution.

ALSO READ: Human hair holds the key to solving water pollution

 The segments of Envirobot are identical so that the joint can oscillate in water. The head coordinates the motion of different segments in order to create a serpentine pattern which propels the whole robot. Its job when fully developed will be to guard water bodies on its own looking for pollution and toxins.
It can also send data to computers in real time as it swims. Its tiny chambers get filled with water as the robot swims through water. Envirobot is more efficient and accurate as it can collect water from multiple spots in a lake or river. It will be used as a measure to detect metals as they can harm people and aquatic life.

Instead of having a measurement station somewhere or going out to take a sample and bringing it back to the lab, the robot will actually slither in water bodies and measure a number of water quality parameters in real time. Envirobot is better than conventional propeller-driven underwater robots as it is less likely to get in branches and algae when they move around.

Each segment of the Envirobot is unique so as to enable it to perform all kinds of water tests at the same time. For instance one segment measures very general quality parameters like temperature, conductivity, pH, oxygen level, so as to say whether water quality is good or not. Other segments carry bacteria, fish cells and even tiny water fleas that can react to toxins and insecticides in the water body.

The researchers’ ultimate goal is to create a full-time autonomous pollution sniffing robot and prevention of water pollution. What they are yet to achieve is to enable the Envirobot to by itself locate the source of the pollution. This will help to measure and decide where to go next which is a very challenging project. Given the amount of waste that is being dumped or pumped into the world’s waterways, it is a very worthy goal.

– prepared by Harsimran Kaur of NewsGram. Twitter @Hkaur1025