By the River (2017 | Issue 4)

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Yamuna: The Story of a River

India’s capital city lies on the banks of the Yamuna, so does the Taj Mahal. This tributary of the Ganga is one of India’s holiest rivers—and among the most polluted. Originating from the Yamunotri glacier in the Himalayas, the Yamuna is a source of irrigation and sustenance for millions. It supplies 70 percent of Delhi’s drinking water, and in return, gets 58 percent of the city’s sewage dumped into it! Not to mention industrial waste, which contaminates the riverbed with poisonous heavy metals. Its banks are dotted with sacred shrines, historical sites and national parks. But it is also peppered with barrages that stem its flow, increase pollution and endanger aquatic life. What’s Up, Germany? traces the Yamuna’s journey, from a pristine river to a fetid sewer in Delhi.

Pollution of the Yamuna


Yamunotri is the source of the Yamuna and an important pilgrimage site. The 172-km stretch from Yamunotri to the Hathni Kund barrage is clean. But hydropower plants, dumping of construction debris and climate change pose a huge threat.


The Yamuna’s flow is impacted. Relentless disposing of industrial waste by towns in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, illegal sand mining and water-intensive farming takes place.

Industrial waste by Towns


This stretch is the most polluted. Here, the Yamuna is a toxic mess.


After leaving Delhi, a highly polluted Yamuna flows past Mathura and Agra. Since it remains the main drinking water source, people end up ingesting unhealthy amounts of toxic pesticide residues! Once again, large quantities of domestic and industrial waste and faecal matter are discharged into the already filthy river. Aquatic life cannot survive.


The Chambal, Sindh, Ken and Betwa tributaries fall into the Yamuna and breathe new life into it, but the river’s ability to cleanse itself has been greatly reduced. You can still find dolphins, turtles and ghariyals here — for now.