Till a few years ago most people would sound almost apologetic when sharing their Yamuna paar or trans-Yamuna address. Not any more. The metro has linked Yamuna paar areas to Connaught Place, the heart of Delhi. Akshar Dham, is a huge attraction. The six-laned National Highway 24, the malls and multiplexes and the exponential development of the NCR in Gaziabad and Noida have made trans-Yamuna localities almost as happening as the rest of the capital.
But the same cannot be said of Yamuna, the river. In fact, for most part of the year, it looks little more than a drain, with tiny streams of water at places and filthy discharge of effluents, pollutants and toxic stuff. There are flowers, coconuts, fruits and clothes “offered” to the river by the devout! Because the Yamuna has dried up, the river bed is used by locals. They grow vegetables using the filthy water, illegally.
In December last, the Delhi Development Authority set up the Unified Centre for the Rejuvenation of River Yamuna (Restoration and Beautification) with the aim of conserving the river, among other things. The National Green Tribunal has come up with the idea of charging a fine on those caught throwing waste into the river. The tribunal asked the Delhi Jal Board to get the Sewage Treatment Plants functional and add to their numbers.
When the Delhi Metro was building its Yamuna Bank station near the riverbed, its then chairman E. Sreedharan had a suggestion for the Yamuna. “If the Yamuna is to be saved, there is only one way. Control the width of the river, not allowing the flood waters to inundate the low-lying areas of the city and allow the river to reach its own natural regime in the constricted width... Two large longitudinal sewers should be built behind the rampart walls to intercept all the sewage falling into the river, take the sewage to a far-off place, and after proper treatment, let the effluents flow into the river.... The low lying areas behind the masonry embankments should be released for high end development...leaving a corridor of 300 metres reserved adjacent to the river bank for gardens, promenades and recreation centres...” he wrote . This was in 2009.
Was he describing how the Yamuna can become the Thames of Delhi? He was. That is the way river banks in Paris, Budapest, New York and Moscow are developed to keep the river clean and ensure the city is not smelly.
There was furore all around. This is Yamunaji, not the Thames, was the general cry.
The Supreme Court, which has its eyes on the river, said in October 2014 that they were looking for a “miracle man” like E. Sreedharan, who delivered the Delhi Metro and the Konkan Railways. He had them on track ahead of their deadline and without any cost escalation. Both these feats are not rare, but rarest of rare instances in infrastructure development in the country. “An honest person with a technical brain” is how they had described the Metro Man, and thus, the kind of profile they were looking for, to rejuvenate the Yamuna.
Should we be surprised if the eventual plan for Yamuna conservation happens along the lines suggested by the Metro Man? Perhaps not. The opposition then notwithstanding.