Yamuna faces environmental lawlessness

March 25: World Culture Festival (WCF) organised on Yamuna
floodplains by Art of Living (AOL) remains in the news because of
administration of enzyme into Yamuna River.

All enzymes are proteins with very few exceptions but all proteins are
not enzymes. The three dimensional structure of a protein affects it
function. Therefore, those factors that denature proteins will reduce
the activity of enzymes. These include changes in pH, temperature, and
ionic strength.

Enzymes are catalysts. The catalysts act to reduce the amount of
activation energy required for a reaction to occur. Many reactions
that are thermodynamically possible don’t occur swiftly and may appear
that these reactions do not to occur at all due to the requirement of
energy to get them started. This required energy is called activation
energy. The fact to note is that enzymes increase the rate of a given
reaction by reducing the need for activation energy. The properties of
enzymes include denaturation which means disruption of the protein’s
structure. Enzymes catalyze specific reactions.

In order to set a scientific inquiry in motion in the matter of
introduction of enzymes in Yamuna, the character of enzymes used by
AOL volunteers must be disclosed. If the volunteers took samples of
water from the Yamuna before and after a few days of enzyme treatment
and have found marked difference in the quality of water, AOL should
share its documents and findings for further verification. This
scientific experiment merits attention because other researchers can
put those enzymes in stretches other than Barapullah drain to compare
the results to ascertain its authenticity. If it indeed makes a change
in the water quality without any adverse impact it can be helpful in
cleaning Yamuna and other water bodies. Such bioremediation measures
can help governments to move away from capital intensive treatment
plants and adopt such cheaper bioremediation measures that offer
possibility of destroying or rendering harmless various contaminants
using natural biological activity.

But gnawing doubts remain as to whether such measures can deal with
hazardous chemicals and heavy metals too. Caution is needed because
alien species of bacteria, fungi or plants can cause havoc in the
local ecosystem. The introduction of an alien species can have
disruptive or harmful or catastrophic outcomes. This requires
assessment prior to such trials adopting the approach of precautionary
principle. It will be deemed an unforgivable sin if AOL does not share
the chemical composition of the enzymes it has administered in the
river. It will set a very unhealthy and unacceptable precedent.

Besides the issue of introduction of enzymes in the water course of
Yamuna, the fact that the festival was planned after clearing,
compacting, dumping of earth and construction over some 1000 acres of
the flood plain of Yamuna and by clearing the reeds and grasses
underlines how it has joined the unwise assaults beginning with the
construction of samadhis, Akshardham temple, Delhi Secretariat,
Millennium Bus Depot, Delhi Metro and Common Wealth Games village that
has devastated the flood plains. Floodplain waters contain hundreds of
plant and animal species and they are dependent on floodplains. They
are ecologically very sensitive. These assaults constitute
unpardonable encroachments.

The role of National Green Tribunal (NGT) in condoning the violations
of law and its orders exposes its structural weaknesses. From its
inception NGT has been one of the weakest public institutions of the
country, its decisions in AOL matter does not appear inconsistent with
its reputation. It is a classic case demonstrating the dangers of
tribunalization of judiciary wherein judiciary has allowed its turf to
be encroached upon by the executive. It is noteworthy that the
Chairman of NGT in his role as a judge of Supreme Court had authored
the order for world’s biggest and most ecologically disastrous project
in the “Networking of Rivers” case that involves some 39 rivers of the
country including Transboundary Rivers. The next hearing in the matter
is on 4th April but its conduct so far does not inspire even an iota
of hope. A ‘technical’ body like NGT has been created in disregard of
Supreme Court’s recommendation for specialized environmental courts. A
High Court or lower Court might have done a better job.

Some environmental groups which do not desist from hunting with the
hare and running with the hound have been gesticulating before NGT
without realizing its inherent limitations.

Issues of water quality, water quantity and land use are interlinked
because one cannot deal with them as if they are separate from the
river basin but this is precisely what is being done. NGT’s approach
has been no different. There is no alternative to genuine river basin
approach.

Saving Yamuna has to be an integral component of policies, programs
and projects on urban, industrial, water, land use, agricultural and
energy. In the light of the adverse consequences ongoing amputation of
rivers from its basin, there is a compelling logic for environmental
groups to call a spade a spade only then we can ensure that the burden
on rivers will not grow beyond their carrying capacity. We should no
longer live under the illusion that pollution burden can grow to any
levels but we’ll somehow build the treatment plants to save our
rivers. The complex of policies which decide how much water will
remain in rivers, how many hazardous chemicals are being released,
what will be the increase in sewage and industrial pollution are very
important and all these issues have to be addressed through radical
structural changes. Dancing to the tunes of donors and pandering to
institutions which promote status quo has undermined environmental
movement.

One critical factor which is not being pondered over is the balance of
power between those who are responsible for causing pollution and the
communities, particularly riverside communities who can make a real
contribution to reducing river pollution. This balance of power is at
present highly biased in favour of the former. The existing system
favours polluters rather than those who want to resist and fight
pollution. This has to change and the communities who are willing to
be involved in monitoring and reducing pollution should be so
strengthened that they feel empowered to resist pollution and
polluters. Emphasis should be given to ‘community monitoring of
environmental health’.
Given the fact that rivers are considered sacred by many people, mass
mobilisation of people to reduce pollution is possible but World
Culture Festival failed like other religious and cultural initiatives.

There have been a few examples here and there to show the potential of
people’s mobilisation on this issue. For example, in Punjab one Saint
was able to mobilise people and save a sacred water source from
pollution. Kali Bein, a 160 km sacred river which was reduced to a
filthy drain by six towns and more than 40 villages through community
efforts has now been cleaned. It is interesting that he challenged
those who opposed him to show any law which gives polluters the
permission to pollute water bodies. From available facts available it
is clear that for AOL enjoys huge patronage of State’s institutions.
It does enjoy the confidence of the communities concerned about
Yamuna’s well being. Whenever there is a conflict between the interest
of Yamuna and other economic and cultural interests, sanity creates a
compelling logic for giving priority to the former. Pseudo devotees
fail to comprehend the sacredness of river and its integrity.

If someone enters our homes without our permission, it is considered
trespass which has legal remedy. Industries and religious institutions
are letting their pollutants enter our veins and arteries and cause
health hazards, gene pool contamination and even deaths but with
impunity. The administration of enzymes in Yamuna appears to be an
unscientific intervention. It’s a trespass. The relevant public
institutions face a litmus test. Their stature will diminish further
if they do not intervene in an exemplary manner to set matter right
even at this late stage. The terminal decline of public institutions
must be arrested to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

The ruling political parties that get funded and promoted by
corporate, religious and cultural organization extend mere impotent
lip-sympathy to the emotions of people about sacred rivers, but shy
away from the wider policy changes that are needed to protect rivers.
State funding for political parties for fighting elections along with
mobilization of communities alone can stop current ant-river basin
practices that threaten Yamuna’s water quality, water availability and
the flood plains along with its inhabitants.

A press note issued by ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)

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