Friday, June 6, 2014

A River Runs Through Yamuna Riverbed - A powerful and inspiring story of Young India

Chronicling the death of the Yamuna as it winds its way through the apathy and selfishness of the capital city 

I have always wondered why mankind has chosen to live by the banks of rivers. It was this question that 
led me to the Yamuna too. What is this river? Who are the people who live along its banks? What are their many stories?

Today, by its waters we see fields of what are perhaps toxic vegetables, and thatched-roof huts crowned by Tata Sky dish antennae.

Walking along the banks of the Yamuna, trying to understand and photograph its various avatars, my attention was once drawn to a hand-pump in Soniya Vihar. That people living right on the waterfront do not dare use the water for drinking, hit me hard. It was then that I realised that there was not a single drop of clean water left in this once mighty river.

I started documenting the Yamuna last April. The river, which originates 375 Km north of the Capital at the Yamunotri Glacier in Uttarakhand, is relatively unpolluted until it enters Delhi. Eighty per cent of all the pollutants are dumped into it along a stretch that accounts for a mere two per cent of its total length — the 22 Km segment that flows through the city. The river is broad and swift when it reaches the Capital, yet it can’t be used for domestic purposes. Yamuna is polluted not only by people worshipping here and immersing idols, but by the colossal effluents of factories which empty their toxic waste into it

Death metals. Wastewater, poisonous chemicals, and toxic metals from major sewers and industries are discharged into the river every day at the Okhla Barrage. The government has invested about Rs 1,600 crore in the latest ‘Yamuna Action Plan’ devised to clean up the river.

Bubble bath. A man takes a ‘holy dip’ in the river at Kalindi Kunj, Okhla. The river here is particularly polluted with white chemical foam from neighbouring factories.

Final rites. Relatives prepare for a cremation on the banks of the river at Nigam Bodh Ghat at Kashmere Gate
Pipe dreams. A child bathes in the Yamuna with water drawn from a government pipeline passing overhead at Nizamuddin Bridge.
Work in progress. A welder at the Signature Bridge construction site on the dried-up Yamuna riverbed near Majnu ka Tilla
While chronicling it, I bore witness to the various activities that it supports on its banks. People eke out a living by the riverside, children play in its dark waters, others come at times of festivals or bereavement. In 
summer it flows slow and sluggish, in the monsoons it turns into a torrent, threatening to engulf the settlements along its shifting margins.
One can only hope that the committee formed this month by the city’s Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung won’t disappoint like others before it, and would set the river and those that depend on it on a new course.

Says... Surender Solanki is a Delhi-based photographer.

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