India: The Yamuna, a sacred river, in a state of 'ecological death'

While the Yamuna is one of the most sacred rivers in India, it is also one of the most polluted in the world.
While the Yamuna is one of the most sacred rivers in India, it is also one of the most polluted in the world. © Observers

In late March, Hindu worshippers in New Delhi, India bathed in the sacred Yamuna River for the festival of Chhath Puja. But the river was covered in toxic foam. While the Yamuna is among the most sacred rivers in India, it's also one of the most polluted in the world. 


During the festival of Chhath Puja, Hindus pay tribute to the sun god Surya by bathing in the river Yamuna. The Yamuna is a tributary of the Ganges, another highly polluted river that is sacred in India.

'The Yamuna is considered dead'

Pankaj Kumar is an environmental activist known as "Earth Warrior" on social media. 

The Yamuna river is considered dead from the Wazirabad dam to Etawah. There is no river water. There is only drain water. If you go to the Yamuna after Delhi, there is no aquatic life in the water. Nothing can survive. 

Recently, news came that the ammonia level in Yamuna is too high. The acceptable ammonia level in the water is 0.5 ppm (parts per million). Right now the Yamuna's ammonia level in Delhi is more than 5 ppm. 

The toxic, sometimes colourful, foam floating on the river can be traced back to household wastewater discharged into the Yamuna. The detergent for laundering clothes contains phosphate, which can create foam when there is turbulence in the water. A 2019 Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report found that 90% of domestic wastewater in New Delhi flows into the Yamuna. 

Factories, particularly those in the textile and dyeing industries, also release untreated water into the river. 

The pollution has major effects on the population of New Delhi, which depends on the river's water. In late March 2023, several neighbourhoods suffered from water shortages due to high levels of ammonia.

People who are economically well-established do not face problems. But people who are economically unwell suffer because they rely on water tanks for their water. The Yamuna is polluted so the water tanks are not coming.

People who live near the Yamuna River, their skin is burned. They suffer from a number of diseases.

People are so devoted toward the Yamuna and Ganges that they risk their lives to go and bathe in the Yamuna and Ganges. Because we pray to the river. That's why we go into it. 

That is also polluting our land, because the farmers who rely on water for their irrigation, they use that water.