A visit to a ghat of the river next to Kalindi Kunj metro station in Delhi explains why: Flowers and fruit offerings after religious services are dumped into the river at this spot. The water is frothy on the surface and pitch-black underneath. The stench is unbearable. It is hard to stand there, let alone imagine holiday makers and tourists boarding a boat.
Kahari Singh Kashyap, 48, is a diver who has worked at the ghat for 35 years. He says Yamuna water was potable 25 years ago. But as water from 156 sewage lines in the city is discharged into the river, in addition to effluents, it is hardly surprising that it is filthy.
Kashyap had no clue that a ferry service was proposed from Delhi to the Taj Mahal. Whether it was the remote hamlet of Chhainsa in Haryana or the temple town of Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh, the story is the same: The Yamuna is no cleaner than the neighbourhood drain.
Shyam Sharma runs a 75-year-old sweet shop in Vrindavan. “One could see the river bed underneath 25 years ago, so clear was the water. But now the river stinks as all the drains in the city are discharged into it,” he said.
Vrindavan is in Mathura district, and the Member of Parliament there is actor Hema Malini. Voters are angry with her because of her neglect of the constituency. The filthy Yamuna is one reason.
Built in 2003, the Gokul Barrage, or Mathura Barrage, was constructed to stabilise the flow of water from the Yamuna. The 16-year-old structure needs maintenance: The water entering Agra through the barrage is the same foamy liquid as in Delhi.
Hema Malini was recently photographed with farmers in her constituency. The locals see it as nothing except a photo-op, and they are livid that a field of wheat had to be destroyed for that picture to be taken: She landed in a helicopter.
Mathura goes to the polls on April 18.
In Agra, reactions to the river are different. Anil Gupta, a 48-year-old handloom shop-owner in the Dayal Bagh residential colony, was all praise for the efforts of former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav to clean the river.
“It was only during his tenure that one saw a visible change in river sanitation. But not anymore. It is filthy again and no one cares. International tourists throng the city but the administration couldn’t care less about a clean Yamuna,” he says.
In December 2014, Gadkari said the Netherlands government agreed to prepare a technical report for the project, which would include specifications regarding constructing barrages and two water-terminals at both ends of the Yamuna.
The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) engaged WAPCOS, a state-owned consultancy firm under the Ministry of Water Resources, to ascertain the feasibility of a Delhi-Agra ferry service and prepare a report on the project. The agency is yet to submit its report. Until then, engineers working with the central and state governments have doubts about the proposal.
A state government official says the Yamuna at Agra lacks the depth to ply a ferry. “Water must be 10 metres deep to make any kind of navigation on the river possible. A ferry cannot run in less than 10 metres,” the official said.