Agra: The Agra district authorities have begun an exercise to clean up the Yamuna, fearing Supreme Court action on non-implementation of its directives on the pollution threat to the 17th century Taj Mahal.
On Friday, some encroachments were removed from the Ghats along the Yamuna river bank.
"Thursday, they destroyed standing kheera and kakdi (cucumber) plus tarbooz (melon) crops to clean up the river bed near the Hathi Ghat," said Yamuna activist Ashwin Sharma.
The operation was launched after complaints by eco-activists and the Supreme Court monitoring committee members that farmers were using a huge quantity of pesticides and insecticides, which find their way to the water works pipeline used to supply water to the residents.
Agra Municipal Corporation officials indicated that the clean-up drive will continue at the Balkeshwar Ghat.
The Uttar Pradesh forest department has also launched a big drive to plant thousands of saplings along the river bank.
Divisional Forest Officer P.K. Janu told IANS, "We have taken up afforestation work along the river bank in the city area. You will see in a couple of months the whole barren patch turning green after the rains."
Janu said, "We have already planted more than 2,000 saplings of fairly big size and you will see the results immediately after a few monsoon showers."
The Supreme Court while disposing of advocate M.C. Mehta`s public interest plea on pollution around the Taj Mahal had directed that agricultural operations in the riverbed must be restricted, and the dhobis and dairies shifted out.
But much remains to be done.
The Taj Ganj crematorium has to be shifted, but every time an initiative is taken, Hindu groups start opposing it. The river police squad formed two years ago - to stop cattle from entering the river and prevent washermen from washing clothes in the river - is still to be activated.
An eco-activist said, "The transport companies on the Yamuna Kinara road have not been shifted to Transport Nagar, the open drains have not been diverted and industrial effluents plus domestic waste is directly emptying into the river without treatment."
Shravan Kumar Singh of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society said, "There is an urgent need to clear up all encroachments and rid the floodplains of the river of illegal constructions. The UP Pollution Control Board must take stern action against polluters."
Eco-activists and conservationists in the Braj region of western Uttar Pradesh have demanded recognition of the Yamuna as "a national heritage river" to save it from pollution and neglect.
`Wake Up, Agra` president Shishir Bhagat, who organised a river clean-up programme on World Heritage Day Wednesday, told IANS: "If Unesco recognised the Yamuna as a heritage asset, it would be easier for various government agencies to pool in resources and efforts to save the dying river."
Vrindavan`s eminent musicologist Acharya T. Jaimini told IANS that Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who is an environmental engineer, should take an initiative and spell out a concrete action plan for restoration of the Yamuna river`s past glory.
Originating in the Yamunotri glacier in the Himalayas, the Yamuna covers a distance of over 1,300 km before merging with the Ganga at Allahabad.
Various studies over the years have shown the adverse impact the discharge of industrial and household waste has had on the river.
"The Yamuna is not just the lifeline of half a dozen cities from Delhi to Agra, but a repository of religious beliefs, culture, history and architecture," says Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.
While flowing along Delhi, the seat of power for centuries, the Yamuna inspired the Mughals and later the British to build some of the most magnificent buildings along its banks. In Agra, the Taj Mahal was built next to it.
"If steps are not taken to save it now, we would be deprived of a great nurturer and a crucial historical tradition," warns green activist Ravi Singh.