River Yamuna

Author: Jigyasa Trivedi

Water pollution in river Yamuna

Yamuna is the second largest tributary of River Ganga and the longest tributary of India, it originates
from Yamunotri glacier in Uttarakhand and flows across seven states and merges with the river Ganga
at Sangam in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh.
Religious Significance: Yamuna is worshipped in Hinduism as the ‘Goddess Yamuna’ and as per
Hindu mythology is the daughter of the Sun and sister of the Yama the ‘God of Death’. It is common
practice for people to bathe in the sacred waters to rid oneself of sins and the last rites of the dead are
also performed at its banks.
Socioeconomic Significance: It helps create the highly fertile alluvial Yamuna- in the Indo-Gangetic
plain. Nearly 57 million people depend on the Yamuna’s waters. With an annual flow of about 10,000
cubic billion metres, the river accounts for more than 70% of Delhi’s water supply.

Devotee for traditional bath in river Yumuna

The river Yamuna is also one of the most polluted rivers of India. Some of the sources of pollution of river Yamuna are:

1.Domestic Sources

According to a report submitted by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to the Yamuna Pollution Control Committee, at least 90% of domestic wastewater in the city flows into the Yamuna. The wastewater mainly comes from household activities hence the presence of high content of detergent, laundry chemicals, and phosphate compounds.

Devotees went for a traditional bath to mark the Karthik Purnima religious ceremony (Hindu Human Rights)

Samples collected were found to have phosphate concentration of 0.51 mg/litre, which is higher than the normal range of 0.005 to 0.05mg/litres. This abundance of phosphate formed layers of toxic froth covering the rivers.

2. Industrial heavy metal contamination

The catchment area of River Yamuna in Delhi is highly urbanized and is networked with several drains. Najafgarh and Shahdara drains are the major drains that discharge a heavy load of pollutants into the river.

Rapid urbanization and population growth results in industrialization pose a major threat of heavy metal pollution for nearby water bodies. The water quality monitoring of River Yamuna has indicated a significant presence of several heavy metals in its water.

Heavy metals investigated in the River Yamuna water

Among the heavy metals investigated in the River Yamuna water, Iron (Fe) was found to be most abundant and even exceeding the limit. High amounts of heavy metals in water can cause several health effects such as reduced growth and development, cancer, organ damage, nervous system damage, etc.

3. Untreated Sewage

More than 800 million litres of largely untreated sewage is pumped in the Yamuna each day. Another 44 million litres of industrial effluents are also discharged daily into the river.

Sewage that is treated before being released into the river accounts for only 35% of the total estimated sewage discharge.According to the Central Pollution Board, the water contains a concentration of 1.1 billion fecal coliform bacteria per 100 milliliters of water. The standard for bathing is 500 coliform bacteria per 100 milliliters.

Black water of Yamuna River (David Gilkey/NPR)

Although Sewage treatment plants (STPs) have been constructed in various parts of Delhi, the treated, or partially treated sewage from these STPs is continuously being discharged directly or through the carrier drains into the river.

Many times untreated sewage goes directly into the river at few locations due to non-operational STPs caused by power failures, mechanical problems or maintenance issues, which further deteriorate water quality issues.

4. Idol Immersion leading to increased toxicity

Immersion of idols during festivals with cheap lead and chrome paints and plaster of paris and puja articles such as polythene bags, foam cut-outs, flowers, food offerings, decorations, metal polish, plastic sheets, cosmetic items all are a cause for concern for the river’s quality.

Idol immersion in River Yamuna (Hindustan Times)

5. Plastic Pollution

In Agra, the Yamuna has been choked by intense plastic pollution. After the 2017 ban on single-use plastics, there has still been rampant use of plastics which is evident by the production of plastic. According to records, Delhi produces 2,51,674 tonnes of plastic each year — 50% of which is single-use. That’s roughly 63,000 elephants worth of plastic.

Plastic waste spread next to River Yamuna near Sonia Vihar in New Delhi (Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)

Along the river, anything from flip-flops to paper products lay in piles every few feet and a lot of plastic bags, even recyclable ones, end up in the river.

About 85 percent of the pollution is caused by domestic and industrial sources. The quality of the river is severely affected by the discharge of untreated domestic and industrial effluents. The Yamuna is particularly polluted downstream of New Delhi, the capital of India, which dumps about 58% of its waste into the river.

The Yamuna is particularly polluted downstream of New Delhi, the capital of India, which dumps about 58% of its waste into the river.

About 57 million people depend on Yamuna waters as it accounts for more than 70% of Delhi’s water supplies, but today it is also referred to as  ‘Delhi’s dying holy river’.

Thus, its safe to say that main reason for the pollution are humans in fact its very well proven by the before and after pandemic pictures of Yamuna below :


  • Over the years Government is taking all sort of initiatives to further prevent and reverse the pollution of the river Yamuna. One of the largest river restoration projects in India.


About the Yamuna Action Plan

  • It is a bilateral project between the Government of India and Japan, introduced in 1993. It is one of the largest river restoration projects in India.
  • YAP was entrusted under the National River Conservation Directorate (NRCD) in Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
  • Along with NRCD other Project Implementing Agencies (PIAs) were Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam (UPJN), the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) in Haryana, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) in Delhi.
  • TheJapan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), has provided financial aid of ¥17.7 billion to carry out the project, which is being executed by the National River Conservation Directorate, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, and the Government of India.


Yamuna Action Plan (further divided into 3 parts)

Phases of Yamuna Action Plan

Yamuna Action Plan Phase I:

  • Phase I, which began in 1993, marked its end in 2003, even though it was expected to be completed by 2000.

Yamuna Action Plan Phase II:

  • Phase II began in 2003, is regarded as the core project under the National River Conservation Plan of the Government of India.
  • YAP-II was extended in 2003 to cover Uttar Pradesh and Haryana along with Delhi.
  • The project addresses the abatement of severe pollution of the River Yamuna by raising sewage treatment capacity, caused by rapid population growth, industrialization and urbanization in the towns of the river basin, which includes Delhi, the capital of India.
  • Building new and expanding capacity of old sewage treatment plants and laying and rehabilitating sewers was done to enhance the treatment capacity particularly in Delhi and Agra.

Yamuna Action Plan Phase III

  • The YAP Phase III project for Delhi was approved by the ministry at an estimated cost of Rs 1,656 crore
  • It includes setting up sewage treatment plants at Rithala, Kondli and Okhla, and developing the Coronation Pillar STP, which accounts for a treatment capacity of 279 million gallons per day (MGD) or “30% of the total sewage generated in Delhi.
  • The project has got integrated as a component of Namami Gange Mission. Delhi Jal Board is the executing agency for all the projects.

Along with it 11 Projects under National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) have been planned to conserve River Yamuna in Delhi including rehabilitation of sewers, rehabilitation of Rising mains, Tertiary Treatment Plants and Sewerage projects in four packages of Kondli (K1, K2, K3, K4), three packages of Rithala (R1, R2, R3) and Okhla Zone (O), Yamuna Purification Drive, 2018.

A very well praised action for saving Yamuna was taken on 7th Dec 2020, the AAP Delhi government came up with a comprehensive        Yamuna Cleaning Action Plan. Its main components were upgradation of sewage treatment plants (STPs), connecting every household to the sewage system and in-situ treatment of untreated water.


On 7th Dec 2020, the AAP Delhi government came up with a comprehensive Yamuna Cleaning Action Plan. Its main components were upgradation of sewage treatment plants (STPs), connecting every household to the sewage system and in-situ treatment of untreated water.

As per this ambitious plan, no dirty water will be flowing into the Yamuna by December 2022 as all drains carrying sewage into the river will be tapped. 34 WTPs will treat 577 million gallons of waste water per day with a sewage network of above 9000 kms across.


The first action point is increasing the city’s sewage treatment capacity and improving the quality of treatment. At present, Kejriwal said, Delhi has the capacity to treat only about 600 MGD of sewage because of which a lot of it is left untreated and released directly into the Yamuna. “The city actually needs sewage treatment plants (STPs) with a total capacity of 800-850 MGD. We are doing three things on this front: 1) Setting up new sewage treatment plants such as the coronation plant and the ones being built at Okhla, Kondli, Rithala and so on; 2) Increasing the capacity of the existing plants; 3) Existing plants are operating with old technology because of which even treated water is dirty and not up to the mark. We will upgrade the technology to ensure the released treated water is of 10/10 purity as per the normal standards,” he said.


The second action point is in-situ cleaning of the city’s major drains. Kejriwal said the Najafgarh drain, Badshahpur drain, supplementary drain and Ghazipur drain will be cleaned on the spot with a new technology without diverting its waste to another plant. The remaining drains, he said, will be diverted to the city’s STPs.


The third action point, Kejriwal said, would be to properly treat industrial waste and take action against units that do not adhere to the set norms. “A lot of industries on paper show that all their waste is being released only after proper treatment. But, the reality is that industrial waste treatment is practically not happening at present. All the effluent treatment plants that are not operating properly will be repaired and upgraded. The industries which fail to send their waste to effluent treatment plants will be shut down,” he said.


The fourth focus point will be community toilets built in different slum clusters and jhuggis of Delhi. “At present, the waste from all the community toilets in jhuggis is released into storm water drains as a result of which their sewage is released directly into the river. These will be diverted and linked to sewage lines instead, so that the waste is treated properly,” the chief minister said.


The fifth action point will be to increase household sewage connections in the city. “Many people still haven’t taken sewer connections in the city. Many households release their sewage directly into the local nullahs. We have decided that the Delhi government, on its own, will put sewer connections in people’s houses. They will not have to apply or seek permission from us. We will charge a nominal rate which will be adjusted in their water bills,” Kejriwal said.


The sixth point will be de-silting and rehabilitation of the city’s entire existing sewer network. “I am personally monitoring this project. We have set specific milestones for each action point and I will ensure that the deadlines are not missed,” Kejriwal said.



Inspired with these efforts people built a community to take up initiatives on a larger scale. Two of the several actions taken were Yamuna Foundation for Blue Water Inc. , ‘Maa Shri Yamuna Seva Samiti’ or Friends of Yamuna.

1.Yamuna Foundation for Blue Water Inc.

Started in 2000 and the objective is to clean the pollution in the Yamuna River throughout its course and to create a better ecosystem in New Delhi. On World Water Day, 2010, local team members, students, and activists in Agra, Hyderabad, and Delhi, India, along with Wuhan, China led several watershed cleanup projects.

2. ‘Maa Shri Yamuna Seva Samiti’ or Friends of Yamuna

Volunteer group started by newspaper hawker Ashok Upadhyay to do his bit in protecting the river from further pollution.

On the last Sunday of every month, Upadhyay comes to the Chhath steps of the river near to clear the waste accumulated on the banks. He is joined by about 100 other newspaper hawkers of the city who have taken upon themselves to be the change that they want to see.

NGO’s and NPO’s working for the same cause:

The Earth5R team

The Earth5R team went to Delhi on March 11, 2018, for various events including meeting the president of France and cleaning up the Yamuna River. Little did they know the extent of the impact they would leave on this community.

After founder of Earth5R, Saurabh Gupta, met with President Macron to discuss strategies for sustainable development, the team gathered 15-20 volunteers and went to the Yamuna River. There, they were shocked to find how utterly lifeless the river looked due to the pollution. The water was dark and there was trash everywhere. It was clear that their waste management strategies (or lack thereof) have not been successful.




Rivers of the World (ROW) Foundation

In order to restore the aforementioned Yamuna River, Rivers of the World (ROW) Foundation was founded in 2009, and is working to control environmental pollution and preserving the natural environment of the river. Moved by the plight of those dwelling along the banks of Yamuna, the team looks to treat the wastes that are discharged into the river. The organisation cleans up highly polluted Rivers in the US, India, SE Asia, South America, Africa, Europe, and Other Parts of the World. They did testing of water of river yamuna at diff banks in order to take effective measurements.




Meherban India Foundation NGO

Clean Yamuna Drive by Meherban India Foundation NGO

Meherban India foundation has taken a step forward on the occasion of the 152nd birth anniversary of Gandhi ji to clean river Yamuna in New Delhi, in order to pay real tribute to a social movement started by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 ‘clean India. The organizers of the event were Meherban India Foundation team (Aleena Rehman, Mansha Rehman, Mohd Suhail, Azher Rehman) and volunteers.





Begins Clean Yamuna Campaign From 7 Ghats in Delhi NMCG, DJB, MCD, NGOs, Schools & Colleges Participate in The Campaign Clean Yamuna Campaign Activities to Be Organized On 4th Saturday Every Month The cleaning of tributaries of River Ganga, especially, Yamuna, is one of the focus areas of Namami Gange Programme. While 318 MLD STP at Coronation Pillar constructed under Namami Gange Programme was commissioned in March, 3 others main STPs on Yamuna funded by NMCG are targeted to be completed by December 2022. These include Rithala, Kondli and Okhla, which is one of the biggest STPs in Asia. This will help in preventing sewage from drains falling into Yamuna. A total of 12 projects for the treatment of 1385 MLD sewage have been taken up at a cost of about Rs. 2354 crore under Namami Gange Program in Delhi, to abate the pollution in River Yamuna.

The NGOs which were part of the cleanliness drives include Bharatiyam, Rotary Manthan, Lahar Foundation, Tree Craze Foundation, Earth Warriors, SYA, FOY, SDNH, HYSS, YPF and Chhat Puja Samiti. Students from IMS, Noida also participated in the cleanliness drive.



Despite all these efforts Yamuna remains polluted, very less change is seen over the years in water quality. Advancing the deadline for the cleaning Yamuna in Delhi, Water Minister Satyendra Jain said the river will be completely cleaned by December 2023.




{ Yamuna river intro, pollution source , community initiatives, earth 5r}


{before and after picture of Yamuna during pandemic}


{ Yamuna action plan}


{ Yamuna 6 point plan}



meherban foundation


row foundation

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *