New Delhi: Days after almost all countries on earth went into lockdown, unexpected visuals of cleaner rivers, blue skies and snow-capped peaks of mountains seen from various points became viral on the internet, highlighting the effect of human activity on the environment.
In yet another story, a few months of the Coronavirus lockdown have done what successive governments could not do in 25 years with over Rs 5,000 crore at their disposal to clean up the Yamuna, an Indian river many Hindus consider holy.
The sparkle has returned to the Yamuna river flowing through India’s capital of New Delhi, residents say, after decades of filthy and stinking waters, matted with garbage and polluted with toxic effluent from the industry.
Sanjay Gir, a 55-year-old Hindu monk who spends his time on the riverbank, said he could not remember when he had last seen the river so clean.
“Ever since the lockdown, we can take Mother Yamuna’s water in our hands and offer it for prayer, as well as drink it,” said Mr. Gir.
From its source among Himalayan peaks, the river meanders 1,376km through a clutch of northern states to join the river Ganges in the city of Allahabad, where Hindu tradition says the two merge with a third, the mythical Saraswati.
Almost 1,400 km in length, Yamuna flows through seven states where industrial units discharge their effluents, mostly untreated, into it. Between Haryana’s Panipat and Delhi alone, over 300 units of industrial discharge are released into the Yamuna, making it the country’s most polluted river. The river picks up 80 percent of its pollutants in Delhi, Agra, and Mathura.
“I have been associated with the Yamuna Action Plan since the year 2000 and I have never seen the river this clean. The level of pollution reduces further and its water becomes clearer near Etawah; here the water from the Chambal river further dilutes the pollution. I am amazed at the effect the lockdown has had on all rivers,” said Dr. Rajeev Chauhan, a conservation officer with the Wildlife Institute of India-Dehradun, who has been studying the Yamuna river for the past 30 years.
One of the world’s toughest lockdowns against the coronavirus kept out most of the industrial waste that normally clogs the Yamuna. That was the key reason for the better water quality, said Anshuman Jaiswal of the city research body the Energy and Resources Institute.
“The industrial discharge which was going into the Yamuna actually stopped and that, for sure, has reduced the pollution load,” he added.
But the waters will deteriorate again, Jaiswal warned, as the lockdown lifts and industries reopen.
Nevertheless, while it lasts, a clean, revitalized Yamuna also augurs well for the environmental condition of the Taj Mahal, India’s famed monument to love that stands on the riverbank in the northern city of Agra.
Yamuna river cleaned itself, allowing numerous Indian and migratory birds to flock to its waters. One can now see Indian and migratory birds, such as Grey Heron, Ibis, and Storks feasting on fish, which too can be seen swimming in the river’s clearer waters.
A finding by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee shows that in Delhi, compared to the pre-lockdown days, the river is now cleaner by around 33%. Additionally, the committee found that the water improved further downstream near Mathura.
“The river has cleaned itself using its own biological capacity. Now, state governments need to ensure that industrial waste is not dumped into it again,” said Diwan Singh, an environmental conservationist who has been working for the revival of water bodies in Delhi, especially the Yamuna river.