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Issue 38
, 2012
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Dredged silt drips back into Yamuna

Source: Times of India, Date: , 2012

The recent dredging exercise at the Okhla barrage to deepen the Okhla pond was welcomed by environmentalists till they figured out that all the silt pulled out was being dumped along the banks and allowed to flow downstream with the river. "For one thing, it is a complete waste of money and time to desilt the river and then allow the silt to flow back into it. For another, the silt would have contained high levels of toxins considering how polluted the river is, so it was the government's responsibility to ensure that it was dumped at a safe location," said Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan.

Uttar Pradesh irrigation department officials say the original plan was to leave the silt along the banks since transporting it would have increased the cost of the project. "The project cost, which is about Rs 12 crore right now, would have gone up to about Rs 17 crore if it was decided to move the silt. Also, it would have been impractical as there is a lot of traffic on the Noida road from where the trucks would have moved. A technical committee comprising chief engineers took this call based on financial and technical aspects," said an official. He added, "In any case, where else could we have left the silt if not in the river? We could have disposed it of downstream but to cut costs left it from where it was taken out."

The argument failed to convince environmentalists who are now asking for an environment impact assessment of such activities. "This is no way to carry out desilting. Allowing silt to flow downstream would make sense only in case of rivers that have a good flow. Yamuna is a completely sluggish river and the reason these silt islands formed in the first place is because the water flow is not sufficient to carry the silt further down. Heavy monsoon flows in the river are still a few months away and either the silt will get deposited downstream or dissolve right here again," said Ravi Agarwal, director, Toxics Link.

Mishra, who visited the site last week, added: "If the silt is clean, then it can be used like ordinary mud. If not, then it has to be disposed of safely or used for construction. In order to know how toxic it is and what possible impact it can have, it is imperative to carry out an EIA. By allowing the silt to flow downstream, the UP government has put several people in potential danger. The most likely scenario is that it will get deposited downstream where farming takes place, the toxins will find their way into vegetables and subsequently into the food chain. And all through this neither the government nor the farmers will even realize what is happening. How can the government free so much toxic material and let it loose?"