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The shadow cast by toxicity

Neha Das, April 4, 2013: 21:57 IST

The Yamuna is polluting vegetables. Its time to act

Stop. Wait. Watch out... The fresh, green spinach that you must add to your daily salad or meal may not be all that healthy. Is that spinach, normally laden with nutrients, hazardous now? Is our very own Yamuna river so polluted that it is polluting spinach and vegetables. Has this river with spiritual connotations for Delhiites now a drain?

That Yamuna water is no longer safe for consumption is common knowledge now. For Delhi’s citizens, the river has always been the single largest water source. Today, the Yamuna contributes over 724 million cubic metres which is a substantial part of the surface water requirement of Delhi.

While the river is turning dark and dirty, the number of life forms too are dropping. And the flip side is that the vegetables continue to be grown on the banks of
Yamuna. It’s time to stand up and be counted. It’s time to do something. What do the
experts say?

Metrolife spoke to few environmentalists for their stand on the river’s harmful effects. Govind Singh, Director, Delhi Greens, an NGO studying the Yamuna imbroglio, said, “It is no longer a river now, it is a drain. The water has many metals, and is high in lead and iron; the vegetables grown on the banks also contain these metals. What is terrible is that these toxic substances get accumulated in the body. The bones weaken, digestion is affected and there are low metabolism problems.”

A river is dying before our very eyes. It is getting more polluted by the day. And efforts to clean it have been in vain. Over the years, a large amount of public money has been spent on cleaning the river and raising people’s awareness about the river’s fallout. The end result: No positive results.

Spinach, turnip, cauliflower, cabbage and onions are grown on the banks – these directly go to the vegetable mandi which is linked to suppliers, and then bought by consumers. Manoj Mishra, convenor of Yamuna Jiyo Abhiyaan, agrees with Govind. “There are two types of toxic substances which find their way into these vegetables.

One is through the soil and the other is through Yamuna’s water with which the vegetables are washed. This water contains arsenic, lead and chromium which accumulate in the body, and become carcinogenic which can cause cancer. Then there is another problem – the use of pesticides. Although pesticides need not be used, it’s fashionable to do so. Pesticides are called dawai but the term should be ‘poison’.”

Bharat Lal Seth, Deputy Programme Manager (Water), Centre for Science and Environment, said, “There’s no regular testing of the soil, surface, ground and soil water. There should be a periodic examination of the soil samples to check the amount of toxic substances in the vegetables because it’s a fact that Yamuna is poison-ridden.”

There are facts – health facts – like the rise in the incidence of waterborne and water-related diseases in Delhi. A grim fallout – diarrhoea, typhoid and jaundice. The big question remains: What is the fate of the Yamuna, and how much of the money has helped to clean up the river?

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