Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan: A Decade in the Service of River Yamuna

At least since 1994, ever increasing pollution of River Yamuna had ballooned into a national concern, with Supreme Court of India taking up the case of Mailee Yamuna. The authorities lacked a holistic view of a river system. Essential issues like unhindered flow and intact floodplain were seldom discussed and debated. Thus, cleaning of pollution through infrastructure and technologies had become the central theme of saving Yamuna River. As a result, the cleaning efforts got no success and Yamuna River health kept worsening.

Amid this scenario, a group of Delhi citizens in 2006 woke up to impact of a 10 days shopping event to be organized on annual basis in the floodplain of Yamuna River at Delhi- Noida, Uttar Pradesh border. The event faced criticism and was resultantly called off.

But the incident just proved a tip of iceberg for the concerned group who after sometimes came across a list of permanent and commercial structures, being proposed within ecologically valuable and sensitive floodplains of River Yamuna in Delhi as a part of Common Wealth Games 2010.

The prevailing ignorance towards importance of floodplains of River Yamuna in Delhi and blatant encroachment of it, led to formalization of the group into Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan (YJA) on 07 February 2007.

The endeavor brought seven leading Delhi’s environmental organizations, namely the Toxics Link, LIFE (Lawyers Initiative for Forest and Environment), CMS (Centre for Media Studies), Paani Morcha, Ridge Bachao Andolan, Maatu Jan Sangathan and PEACE Institute Charitable Trust together for the cause of Yamuna River. Manoj Misra a retired Indian Forest Service officer who was instrumental behind the efforts was selected as its convener.

Since then, the YJA literarily meaning Long Live Yamuna has been functioning as an advocacy campaign determined to revive River Yamuna and protection of its floodplains in a land scarce capital as its core objective.    

On this 07 February 2017, the campaign has completed 10 years of its untiring efforts dedicated for the protection of floodplains in the national capital and overall rejuvenation of the India’s widely worshipped river.

Over the last a decade YJA has simultaneously applied various methodologies which include research, studies, litigation, awareness seminars, training workshop and brainstorming summits, apart from constant monitoring and voluminous data compilation to champion the cause of River Yamuna.

Working with a missionary zeal it has also achieved several milestones making it a live, meaningful, distinct and remarkable River campaign of contemporary time.

A look at the some of achievements of the YJA campaign:

A Research and Studies

1 Sick Yamuna Sick Delhi: The 2009 study connects the impact of deteriorating river health and resultant rise in the number of water borne diseases in Delhi.  While there were several studies indicating the continued prevalence of waterborne diseases in Delhi, the correlation of these increasing incidents of diseases with the steady deterioration of River Yamuna quality were not investigated earlier.

2 The Unquiet River: It presents analyses of various laws and judicial decisions pertaining to the Yamuna and their overall effects on the river. The information shows that River Yamuna has attained the distinction of being perhaps the river attracting the most judicial attention in India, possibly after the Ganga.

3. Impact of Bridges and Barrages on River Yamuna: The study underlines the adverse impacts of structures like embankments, bridges, barrages etc. on the overall health of the rivers. The study finds that the unrestricted construction of bridges and embankments has sliced the Yamuna floodplains into pieces and affected the floods dynamics of the river.

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4. Reviving River Yamuna an Actionable Blue Print: Year round, lack of fresh water flow is the root cause of most of the problems Yamuna River is experiencing. On the other hand, demand for river water is on the rise for irrigation, industrial and human consumption. As a result, more and more water extraction has been taking place though canals and other projects. This report explores in detail the various routes and mechanisms through which the flow of water can be increased in the River Yamuna.

5. Water Governance in Yamuna Basin in Haryana: The 2010 study revealed that water situation in the Yamuna river basin in Haryana is currently threatened from poor management of surface water, over draft of ground water, water misuse, waste and pollution. The Study has also shown that the gloomy situation can be improved through better understanding, appropriate policy, regulatory measures and necessary attitudinal change in the users.

B. Important Projects to Explore and Understand River Yamuna

1. Devising of People’s River Health Index (PRHI) Through this two year 2009-11 project YJA has developed and tested a community driven River Health Index based on Yamuna River. For this purpose, it did extensive field work all along the entire length of the River right from its origin point Yamnotri till it merges in Ganga at Allahabad. For the purpose, it has also established friends of river groups locally known as Nadi Mitra Mandali (NMM) at ten different locations along the Yamuna.

2. Yamuna River Restoration Techniques Development The second phase PRHI, further strengthened the link between various NMMs and the River Yamuna. Several training workshop and exposure visit were facilitated to train the respective NMMs to address the issues which were locally impacting the River Yamuna. The groups were encouraged to practice organic farming, village based livelihood generation activities (goat rearing, bee keeping), use of renewable energy, solid and liquid waste management, rain water harvesting, water and soil testing, river biodiversity monitoring etc. Some of the groups are still active for protecting the interest of local community and River in their areas.

C. Awareness

YJA has so far made 130 presentations at public places, colleges, schools, government offices, NGOs, RWAs, etc  to create awareness for Yamuna River. It has also written 321 letters to various Government authorities at State and Central level red flagging the projects, plans and other activities leading to further damage of River Yamuna eco-system.

YJA has been a force behind Yamuna Stayagraha a campaign (2007-2009) against floodplain encroachment by Commonwealth Games Village, DTC depot and Metro station and colony. In 2011, YJA organized a month long River Vigil drive to check the rampant dumping of religious refusal during festival season. 

YJA with other leading organization Toxics Link, WWF, INTACH, Peace Institute Charitable Trust and SANDRP have been facilitating the organization of India Rivers Week, an annual environmental event dedicated to the cause of Rivers across the country.

D. Litigation

When all other efforts seemed failing, YJA has not held itself back from approaching judiciary. Over a decade it has filed petitions in Supreme Court (SC) of India, Delhi High Court (HC) and National Green Tribunal (NGT) seeking justice for Yamuna River and its flood plain.

Among key petitions has been cases against Commonwealth Games Village / Metro depot construction in Yamuna floodplain (2007); Construction of Millennium Bus depot in flood plain (2011); Dumping of construction debris in Yamuna River (2012); Covering of storm water drains (2013); pollution in river Hindon (2014); construction of elevated road over Yamuna without environmental study (2015) and unlawful holding of World Culture Festival by Art of Living in flood plain (2016).

Indeed, it is the result of persistent YJA efforts that NGT in its landmark decision on 13 January 2015 has paved way for rejuvenation of Yamuna River in a phase wise manner. In past, NGT has also made civic bodies remove the thousands of tons of construction debris from the floodplain of Yamuna River in Delhi and prohibited dumping of waste in the river as a result of YJA petitions. The SC has also recently ordered the Delhi Government to relocate its Millennium deport from the floodplain of Yamuna.

Despite all the commendable efforts, Manoj Misra, the humble YJA convener continues to worry about status of River Yamuna. In his words “The fact that even a decade long sustained advocacy has made little difference if any to the over all health of the river underscores the complexities and the challenges involved in such tasks.”

However, there is no doubt that YJA is an outstanding campaign dedicated for the revival of River Yamuna. It’s decade long journey is indeed inspiring and encouraging for other River campaigns in the country and beyond. SANDRP wishes long life for the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan campaign and hopes its undying efforts are helpful in bringing life to the river Yamuna.

Bhim Singh Rawat (we4earth@gmail.com) SANDRP

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