By Brij Khandelwal
Agra, Sep 4 (IANS) Agra river activists on Friday urged Union Minister Nitin Gadkari to take action on the Yamuna barrage project, downstream of the Taj Mahal, to start tourist ferry services between Delhi and Agra.
Members of the ‘River Connect’ campaign who met at the Etmauddaula Viewpoint Park on Friday afternoon, asked the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh to take measures to save the dying Yamuna, the lifeline of Agra with three world heritage monuments and several other architectural marvels.
They expressed concern and anger at the continued dilly-dallying on the need for restoring the Yamuna, one of the sacred rivers of India, to its original glory.
Both Union Minister Nitin Gadkari and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised before and after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to take concrete steps to save the Yamuna, but till now nothing had been done to save the river, Dr Devashish Bhattacharya, an environmentalist, said.
“Gadkari had promised to start a ferry service to bring tourists to Agra from Delhi. But now he has developed cold feet for reasons unexplained,” Bhattacharya added.
River cleaning, de-silting, and dredging had also been promised but the agencies concerned had not shown any interest. As a result, huge piles of garbage and sewage, including industrial effluents, have increased the pollution in the river impacting the monuments along its banks, said activist Dr Harendra Gupta.
Green activists expressed dissatisfaction with the working of the Taj Trapezium Zone Authority which had failed to address the problem of river pollution. The meeting blamed the river police for failing to stop encroachers who had built houses on the flood plains of the river in Vrindavan, Mathura and Agra.
The National Green Tribunal has taken more than five years to act against encroachers on the Yamuna flood plains. Only periodic surveys were being conducted, said activist Rahul Raj.
Despite the success of the ODF programme, people can still be seen defecating on the river bed, said activist Ranjan Sharma.
Goswami Nandan Shrotriya recalled there was a time “When people in Agra would flock to the banks of the Yamuna during the monsoon to watch the river dance in whirlpools or the muddy water form ripples and loops and kids coming to watch tortoises floating lazily. Now the heavy pollution level in the water is keeping everyone away.”
The river right now is in spate, flowing full after rains during the past two months, offering a fascinating spectacle against the background of the Taj Mahal.
This year’s annual Tairaki Mela (swimming in the river from Kailash Ghat to Hathi Ghat with banners and flags) attracted very few swimmers due to reports of heavy pollution caused by the discharge of effluents and sewer waste. People do not want to catch fish from the river anymore, fearing the pollution could damage their health, activist Padmini Iyer added.
For the tourists, however, watching the Yamuna in spate at the rear of the Taj Mahal was an unforgettable experience. Right till the Mehtab Bagh across the river where Shah Jahan, according to guides, planned to construct a black replica of the Taj, there was only water and dense green cover beyond. Though the river offers a pretty sight nowadays, the people of Agra have long forgotten its beauty and look at it merely as a sewer that brings disease and pollution.
“What should have been a protected heritage of the country has been reduced to a river if one can call it that, of sorrow and misery, and unfortunately no government agency, commission, Pollution Board, department or NGO has been able to arrest the rot,” lamented activist Shravan Kumar Singh.
The river activists said the Union government should draw up a comprehensive National Rivers’ Policy and constitute a Central Rivers Authority.