March to Delhi to save Yamuna called off

The Save Yamuna Padyatra forum, in an attempt to save face over several activists and farmers pulling out of the agitation, decided today to celebrate what they have been calling a betrayal till yesterday.

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The protestors, mostly owing allegiance to the Bharatiya Kisan Union and the Yamuna Rakshak Dal, were jubilant today after the Centre’s announcement to release additional water into river Yamuna even when their main demand to release additional water from Hathnikund Barrage was not met.
While a group of protestors waited at the water resources minister’s office to get Centre’s reply to their demands in written, the core committee of the protestors met late at night to chalk out the future of the protest and how it should be concluded. At 10:30 pm, minister for water resources, Harish Rawat, met the protestors camping at Ali Gaon and promised them to release additional water into the river.

“85 per cent of our demands have been met. We demanded water from Hathnikund barrage but the minister pleaded that there is no water in Hathnikund. So, the centre has agreed to release additional 250 cusec water into the Yamuna River from other canals to maintain the flow of the river,” said Mahesh baba, media coordinator of Yamuna Rakshak Dal, said today.
However, the minister’s announcement was just a reiteration of what he had promised the protestors on Tuesday. On Wednesday, before the core committee meeting, Mahesh baba had come down heavily on the Centre’s inaction and informed that the Centre has promised them that extra water would be released but not from Hathnikund.

Before the core committee meet, Radha Krishna Shastri, a prominent member of the group, had said that the government is trying to fool them by reiterating stale promises. “We would not settle for anything less than water released from Hathinikund. If they do not accept our demands, we would continue to protest and move towards Hathinikund,” he said.

A delegation had met ministry officials on Tuesday in New Delhi where their Padyatra from Vrindavan culminated. They put forth two primary demands. First was construction of two canals parallel to Yamuna which would collect and treat waste water from industries and sewage outlets and divert it to fields to meet irrigational needs. The main demand of the campaigners was release of 50 per cent of all the water impounded at HathniKund barrage so that the Yamuna has its natural flow.

The team of ministers the delegation negotiated with consisted Union minister of environment and forest Jayanti Natarajan and minister of water resources Harish Rawat. Even after the late night dialogues on Tuesday, groups of ministers and protestors failed to reach a consensus. The ministry was asked to provide 25,000 copies of the written reply which would be distributed among the people participating in the padyatra and rest to the media persons.

Though the ministry had agreed to the demand for plugging wastewater flow into the river and constructing canals to treat the water, it has sought two years time to fulfill this promise. A time long enough, the protestors fear, to fizzle out the protests. Moreover, they felt there is nothing new in the offer made to construct a canal to intercept the drains in Delhi. There is already a deadline set by Supreme Court for the project.

The Centre had also refused to release water from Hathnikund and instead promised to releaser water from Hasanpur Canal, which, the protestors felt, would not be adequate.
Uncertainty loomed over fate of the movement launched to save Yamuna from pollution with the Centre failing to provide the protestors any concrete assurance. Dissatisfied, the agitators had started mulling return to their home states. The future of the movement was to be decided on Wednesday night after the Centre gives them a written reply to their demands. A member of the forum confided that with the lukewarm response of the ministry, the protestors are losing direction and thinking of calling off the Padyatra.

Meanwhile, the Haryana government had informed the centre and the protestors that the Yamuna water shared by the three states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan is in accordance with the agreement signed in 1994. The agreed quantity of water was already being released into the Yamuna.
The possibility of Haryana agreeing to release any more water into the river seems remote as farmers in Haryana depend on river water heavily for irrigation. The vast expanses of felids survive on canals that divert water from Hathnikund. If the state agrees to release more water into the river, it could lead to widespread confrontation between the farmers and the state.

Mahesh said that though the protest has been called off, 10 people would camp at Jantar Mantar for two months, which is the time the Centre has sought to prepare the project proposal, and sing kirtans. Two of their members would be in the team formed to prepare the proposal for the construction of the canal and also to start the release of additional water.

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