Rajat Sharma

Chhath Pooja : Devotees forced to perform rituals in Delhi’s filthy Yamuna river

akb fullMillions of people offered Chhath Pooja prayer during sunset in Patna, Gaya, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Lucknow and other cities on Wednesday on the banks of rivers and ponds, but in Delhi, people had to perform prayers amidst tight restrictions.

The restrictions were ostensibly imposed to prevent the spread of Covid pandemic, but visuals that emerged from Yamuna bank clearly showed that the local authorities wanted to hide the froth floating on the river from public view.

Two days ago, Delhi government had claimed that the Yamuna water was clean and all the froth and dirt was at Okhla barrage controlled by UP government, but on Wednesday, officials of Delhi government were making a spectacle of themselves by trying hard to remove the froth from Yamuna.

Watching these visuals can make anybody laugh and also become sad. Till now, people were used to watching tankers collecting water from river banks, but on Wednesday it was the reverse. Delhi Jal Board tankers were deployed to spray water to remove foam from the river. Till now, people were used to watch bamboo barricades at river banks to prevent devotees from drowning, but on Wednesday, bamboo barricades were erected to hide the foam from public view. These visuals raise serious concern about the intent of local authorities.

The authorities were busy working since Wednesday morning and their sole aim was to hide the foam in Yamuna from public view. Precious drinking water that is normally supplied to people in Delhi, was being used by Delhi Jal Board officials to spray on foam floating in Yamuna. Though Delhi government had imposed restrictions on offering Chhath prayer at Kalindi Kunj bank, DJB water tankers were brought to spray water on foam. The work continued till evening, but the foam continued to float in Yamuna. The water remained dirty. Delhi government also deployed 15 motor boats along with country boats with staffers trying to disperse the foam with sticks. But both the ideas failed to click.

A third idea was implemented. Bamboo barricades were erected in the river to hide the foam from public view. These barricades stopped the flow of foam, but the froth continued to accumulate inside the barricaded area. Devotees who took bath in Yamuna on Wednesday complained that the water was blackish and full of dirt.

UP Jal Shakti minister Mahendra Singh said, the state government tries its best to keep the Yamuna water clean. He blamed Delhi government for failing to keep Yamuna clean on its 22 kilometre stretch. The Yamuna flows at least 900 km inside UP. Haryana BJP chief Om Prakash Dhankad said, Yamuna water that is supplied by Haryana to Delhi is clean, and is used for drinking purpose. He blamed Delhi government for failing to keep the Yamuna clean as several hundred drains fall into the river inside the capital.

Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said, the Centre provided Rs 3,900 crore to clean up the Yamuna from Namami Gange project, but the onus is on Delhi government which has to implement the scheme. He alleged that the intent to clean the Yamuna was lacking on part of Delhi government. Shekhawat alleged that many of the schemes to clean Yamuna in Delhi were going behind schedule, and there were several schemes which had not taken off at all. He made particular reference to Decentralized Sewerage Treatment project, which he said, was placed before National Green Tribunal, but since no land was available, the project has got stuck.

While imposing restrictions on Chhath Pooja at Yamuna river banks, Delhi government had set up nearly 800 artificial ponds for devotees to perform pooja. The local BJP leaders objected, and they led groups of devotees to perform pooja at river banks. Delhi BJP MP Parvesh Verma led devotees to ITO Yamuna bank, removed barricades and performed pooja.

Another BJP MP Manoj Tiwari led his supporters to perform pooja at Sonia Vihar bank. Both BJP leaders alleged that chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was trying to hurt the feelings of Chhath Pooja devotees. Chief Minister Kejriwal along with hundreds of devotees performed pooja at an artificial pond. He refused to reply to BJP’s charges by saying that matters relating to faith must not be politicized.

Kejriwal is right. Matters relating to faith must not be politicized, but his government must reply what it did to prevent Yamuna from becoming dirty. Kejriwal cannot deny that Yamuna has now become a filthy drain in Delhi. Neither Kejriwal, nor Manoj Tiwari or Parvesh Verma will ever dare to drink the filthy Yamuna water for ‘aachaman’ while performing pooja, leave alone taking a bath. Preventing people from performing pooja at river bank cannot be the solution. Chhath is a sacred festival of faith where cleanliness and purity are a must.

The Chhath festival begins with a devotee taking bath in fresh river water, sprinkling water inside homes, and making festive delicacies using fresh river water. Women perform ‘vrat’ (fast) for 36 hours without taking a drop of water. Chhath is a festival to celebrate nature and environment in all its glory. There can be no bigger tragedy for devotees than being forced to take bath in the dirty Yamuna and to offer prayers to the Sun God standing in filthy drain water. The sooner the Delhi government takes up the mission for cleaning the Yamuna, the better.

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