Pollution fears rock Yamuna water taxi plan

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NEW DELHI: The plan to operate water taxis in Yamuna under the national waterways project has hit a hurdle as the Delhi government fears that the diesel water taxis will pollute the source of drinking water supply to the national capital.

The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) under the Union Ministry of Shipping headed by Nitin Gadkari has already floated tenders for dredging, the construction of jetties and the acquisition of three-passenger vessels.

The Palla-Wazirabad section of the project was scheduled to be operational after monsoon. The service would cut the travelling time between the two places from the present 3.5 hours by road to just 45 minutes. There were also plans to open this section for water sports and other recreational activities. The total cost of the project is around Rs 28 crore, which covers vessels, building terminals and dredging.

The Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has written to the waterways authority, flagging the issues related to diesel-operated water taxis on the section from where Delhi draws its drinking water supply.

Gadkari has been taking keen interest in the section and has held meetings with Delhi government officials. The last-minute objection from the DJB has caught the authority by surprise as a team of board officials led by chairman Kapil Mishra had undertaken a tour of the entire section and was part of the planning process.

Jal Board is now suggesting that the waterways authority choose some other section to operate the water taxis. “We have no objection with water taxis or ferries but the drinking water should not get polluted because of diesel. What we have suggested is that they can take some other part of the section,” said a DJB official.

The Palla-Wazirabad-Okhla section is part of the Delhi-Agra National Waterways 110. Barring the Palla-Wazirabad sections, the rest of the stretch till Agra is heavily polluted and doesn’t have enough water to operate any mode of transport.  Loads of polluting substances and sewage fall into the river after Wazirabad and the water almost turns black with heavy stench when it reaches Okhla.

The water authority says it is in the process of replying to DJB that the operation of water taxis will not impact the quality of potable water.

“There are two things–the place of embarkation and disembarkation is nearly 2.5 km from the Wazirabad barrage so there are no chances of water getting polluted and secondly we plan to operate only three water taxis initially to gauge the response. So, there will not be any impact on Delhi’s drinking water,” said an IWAI official.

The Delhi-Agra water connectivity is part of over 110 waterways planned by the government. The National Waterway 1 from Varanasi to Haldia near Kolkata was made operational last year with Maruti shipping a car consignment. In 2016, the IWAI had moved the National Green Tribunal seeking approval for water taxi service in Yamuna. The NGT had issued a notice to Delhi and Central government seeking their views.

According to IWAI, the idea to have water transport was based on a pre-feasibility study for integrated development of the Yamuna to enable navigation and develop water transport facilities in the city. They found that ferries, water taxis, and recreation activities are the most feasible and environmentally sustainable options.

Source: The New Indian Express

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