The black waters of the Yamuna river on its Delhi stretch have been declared unfit for drinking and bathing purposes, but that did not deter 65-year-old 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 ‘ghat’ (steps) of the river near ITO 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.
Before setting up the ‘Maa Shri Yamuna Seva Samiti’ group of volunteers in October last year, who are also referred to as Friends of Yamuna, Upadhyay, while on his way to the newspaper centre every morning, used to go alone to pick up the trash on the riverside. He also planted saplings near the banks to make it look greener.
Some of his family members and friends started joining him in the cleanliness drive and as the group grew bigger, they decided to devote at least three hours (between 8-11 a.m.) on the last Sunday of every month to the cause. “After the death of my mother, I was broken up from the inside. One day I realised that Yamuna Ji is also our Goddess (‘Ma’) and I must take care of it and it is our duty to clean the river,” Upadhyay told IANS.
“I felt that my late parents would be happy to see me serving Ma Yamuna. So I started doing the cleaning job at my level. I felt that the river, which we consider our Goddess needs to be saved,” he said. “We bring tools such as brooms and gloves from our own houses. We also do not want any monetary help from people or from any government. What we actually need is manpower and pure dedication towards cleaning the river,” he added.
After collecting all the waste from the river banks, they dump the collected garbage in the dumpers provided by the East Delhi Municipal Corporation. “We have plans to expand the drive once more people join us. The work on Chhath ghat is just the start and bigger things are coming. It is in our capable hands to make this change,” said B.N. Singh, a member of the group.
According to Asha Chaubey, another member who has joined the cleanliness drive, it is very important for people to come forward and do their bit for the environment. “It really saddens me to see the conditions of our rivers. People have mistaken our water bodies as garbage dumping areas,” Chaubey lamented. “With the groundwater depletion in various parts of the country, keeping our rivers clean is the need of the hour and people should start taking it seriously before it is too late,” Chaubey told IANS.
The newspaper hawkers are now planning to plant more trees on the banks of the Yamuna and their only appeal to people is not to throw any garbage into the river. Although the Yamuna river flows only for 54 km through Delhi, from Palla to Badarpur, the 22-km stretch from Wazirabad to Okhla, which is less than 2 per cent of the river length of 1,370 kilometres from Yamunotri to Prayagraj, accounts for about 76 per cent of the pollution level in the river, according to the findings of a committee.
Though thousands of crores have been spent to clean the river, the pollution levels have shown no serious signs of decline. The total expenditure incurred on river conservation under the Yamuna Action Plan (YAP) alone, introduced in 1993, has surpassed Rs 1,500 crore.