The location could not have been better. A beautiful full-to-the brim Yamuna flowed right besides where the Yamuna Katha journey started at Wazirabad.
After what seemed to be ages, the wait was over. Yamuna Katha, the project envisaged to bridge the gap between the river and the people and to understand the river-city dyad got off to a fantastic start.
Babita and Bhola Kashyap, from the fishermen’s community, from Madanpur Khadar; Chhotu Khan, a farmer tilling land on the Yamuna banks at Jagatpur; Dwijendra Kalia, a river specialist residing in Mayur Vihar; Gayatri Chatterjee, a social scientist from Pune; Rashid Khan, a haathi wala; Urmi Chakraborty (CR Park) and Vidhu Narayanan (Mayur Vihar), both teachers at Sardar Patel Vidyalaya – these contributed to the diversity of the core group.
At the Wazirabad water works of the Delhi Jal Board (DJB), the city’s water utility, the core group and other members of the GIZ, were joined in by few students from the Sardar Patel Vidyalaya.
At the outset, DJB’s RK Garg, member (Water Supply/Drainage) gave an elaborate talk on Yamuna’s importance for Delhi and the urban sanitation scenario. As much as 40 % of Delhi’s water needs are met by Yamuna, he said adding, “The unauthorized colonies add the maximum of the untreated sewage to the river”. A sewage master plan 2031 is in the pipeline, he informed.
Arne Panesar of GIZ pointed out that experts alone are not enough to deal with the problem of river pollution. “We need people from diverse background,” he said.
Dr Ritu Priya, professor School of Social Sciences, JNU, gave the historical perspective of water distribution concepts. “There was never a place for people from class four in the British design for New Delhi. This led to inhabitation of the fringes and these unauthorized colonies increases untreated sewage,” she said.
Abhilasha Bakre, Anshula Mehta, Ananjay Sharma, Adarsh Kumar Singh, Shrishti Banzal, Khushboo Chattree and Anoushka Kopila – all class IX students of Sardar Patel Vidyalaya from plush Lodi Estate area of New Delhi too keenly took part in the activity.
Some activity by way of a project was already being done by them at their school level. Now, specially for the Yamuna Katha, these students came up with a project comprising various components, right from the stage of conception to implementation. Anshula Mehta said, “Social isolation can be mirrored by physical isolation. Access to sanitation can bring about the desired change.”
GIZ’s Regina Dube said it is for sure that there can’t be a simple and single solution. “The need is for the people from diverse background sit together and develop solutions for a clean, pollution free river,” she added.
Then there was a round of the Wazirabad water works, first such experience for almost the entire group.
Next stop was the Tibetan resettlement colony at Majnu Ka Tilla. The colony was set up in 1961 with just 18 families that had escaped from Tibet then and came down to Delhi. Today, it has the same area but as many as 361 families. The colony, with narrow yet clean congested lanes, is awaiting regularization.
Dorjee Dhomdup, the Pradhan (head) of the resident welfare association and Rinzin Wangmo from the Women’s association, took great care of the group. On the cards was another first for most of the group. A visit to the actual sandy, alluvial Yamuna bank!!!
Just across the compound wall of the Tibetan colony, started the neat geometric designed farms wherein were grown variety of vegetables. Families tilling the flood plains lived on the Yamuna plains in make shift huts. The Yamuna flow – barely half a kilometer from the Wazirabad barrage – was reduced to just a black drain, flowing far away from the bank.
After a sumptuous Tibetan lunch, was time for a small yet wonderful cultural programme by students of the Tibetan school. It was followed by a panel discussion ‘Strong ties or loose connections?’ Everyone agreed that it was high time government agencies – specially the DJB – should be blamed for the pollution and it is time for each member of the society to do something.
The final session was held when the team Yamuna returned to the hotel. After a quick round of tea and snack, the team deliberated over the events during the day and also discussed the following day’s programmes.