Fifty Shades of Yamuna: Toxic Pink

As I recall attending the clean-up drive by There Is No Earth B almost 2 years ago — in August 2019 we were at the fag end of the drive when we witnessed a mountain of froth emerging from the Yamuna river at Kalindi Kunj. This froth kept building up and disrupting the passage, way out of the river bed. Everyone was warned to quickly finish up the clean-up drive and move to a safer location. For a moment, it felt like we were at a hill station surrounded by snow — what a sight it was! It seemed as if we were a ‘fortunate’ bunch who witnessed snowfall at the banks of Yamuna in Delhi on a warm August Sunday. But to imagine something like this in the national capital was obviously an impossible dream.

9 There Is No Earth B volunteers stand at Yamuna river bank with 11 bags of collected waste placed in front of them
There Is No Earth B volunteers at a clean-up at Yamuna Bank

People will wonder what a stupid article this is, about snowfall in Delhi. But it is — we at There Is No Earth B witnessed it first-hand!

As There Is No Earth B carried out its 228th clean-up drive at Yamuna Bank on 3rd April, 2021, the volunteers noticed the pinkish colour of the river water. We were witnesses to the fact that our own species has the power to destroy something so beautiful so easily while fixing our own mess seems almost impossible. All we could do was scour the internet for answers. Turns out the pink colour was a result of the toxic chemical dyes used in cloth manufacturing units. 19 drains in the capital flow into the river contributing to 96 percent of the total pollutants in the river. A mere five per cent of the sewage, that is discharged into the river is treated, posing a serious health hazard.

People will say ‘We have seen it earlier’. But WAIT! Do we really wish to normalize seeing a pink river? A pink river which is not a wonder of nature but an anomaly caused by environmental degradation?

An ecosystem destroyed

One might argue — what better way to add some colour and candy floss to the drama of destroying one’s own home?

Let’s go in flashback like our movies, 31.03.2003 was the deadline set up by the Supreme Court of India to clean up the Yamuna. The year is 2003 and not 2021. The following excerpt is from a 20-year-old news piece:

‘April 10, 2001: The SC had asked the state to ensure that Yamuna should be clean by March 2003. This order was passed following reports by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) about the deteriorating quality of the river’s water. Yet in November 2002, the total coliform content of the river water at Madanpur Khadar was 11.8 crore per 100 millilitres (ml). The apex court had ordered the coliform content of the river water to brought up to 5,000 per 100 ml. Coliform bacterium are found in sewage.’

The then Delhi Government barely bothered to implement the court order. It sought an extension of the Yamuna clean-up deadline of 2005. The great response of the Paryavaran Mantralay then: ‘When asked if the authorities would be able to adhere to even this time-frame, the MOEF official was pessimistic: Yamuna cannot be cleaned by 2005. It would take a minimum of 10 years.’

Humans are stubborn creatures and think they are an entity separate from nature. But the Yamuna is resilient with an unfathomable level of patience; she watches the very millions she nurtures, kill her every day.

It is beyond ‘High time’ we open the curtains of the candy floss and pinkish river. I am glad Yamuna could breathe for one whole year without the sight of humans near her banks and equally sad that they are back to kill her again. It is no surprise that when I tried to find about the present state of Yamuna, there were no reports available or even any local media reports covering it.

It is evident that we take our rivers for granted and there will be a day when Yamuna will do her Tandav and the harsh truth is that vulnerable communities will suffer the most. It is imperative that we act at an individual level, while parallelly pushing for institutional action, to save Yamuna before the candy floss reaches its climax.

Bit-by-bit There Is No Earth B has diverted tonnes of waste from landfills

There Is No Earth B is on a mission to make at least a 1-km stretch of Yamuna Bank clean enough to have a picnic with one’s family, in the span of a year! Come be a part of this passionate team! or Support us here: https://milaap.org/fundraisers/thereisnoearthb

Other sources: https://thereisnoearthb.com/Yamuna/Yamuna%20suo-motu-pollution-388933.pdf

https://thereisnoearthb.com/Yamuna/NGT%20judgement%2013.01.15.pdf

Author: Advocate Rama Sitaraman

Decentralized Climate Action:Cleanups in Parks, Forests, River banks / Climate Rallies & Workshops / Waste-to-art / Regeneration. Donate: tinyurl.com/297trvz7