It is the lifeline of Delhi that is getting choked due to over extraction of water and disposal of wastes. Now experts say the proposed Commonwealth Games Village on the Yamuna's floodplains might be the last nail in its coffin. A mass movement - Jai Satyagraha - might be the only way to save the river.
'The problem of the Yamuna dying and the various construction activities on the river bed are further adding to the river's woes. It is an issue everyone should take up,' said Manoj Misra of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan (Save the Yamuna), a campaign to save the river.
'Till now our voices have not been heard enough but now we plan to get the masses involved so that the issue gets highlighted,' he said.
A group of environmentalists, civil society workers and concerned citizens are getting together to launch the Jal Satyagraha in August - the month when the country celebrates its 60th independence.
Campaigns, distribution of pamphlets and using different media to get the issue to the common man are part of the satyagraha's agenda.
In a meeting organised by the group and spearheaded by Misra at the Gandhi Peace Foundation here Monday, one of the main issues the group discussed was the site of the 2010 Commonwealth Games Village. It is proposed on the flood plain of the river near the Akshardham temple in East Delhi and has been criticised as being extremely harmful to the already vulnerable Yamuna.
'The floodplains of the river Yamuna lie on an earthquake fault line (zone 4). Hence any construction there will be vulnerable to earthquake. The floodplains are also a big water reservoir and very important for ground water recharge.
'Hence any construction on the floodplain is very harmful,' said Misra.
The group plans to submit an appeal to the prime minister with four important demands - change the site of the Games Village; stop all activity on the river bed till the concerned zonal plan (Zone 0 for Yamuna) is in place; an independent expert committee to review all structures on the river bed, and a national policy on rivers.
Misra said there should be an expert committee to look at the issue of saving the Yamuna, just like there was an independent expert committee to look at the issue of disappearing tigers.
The group has suggested that the Commonwealth Village site could be shifted to Dwarka in southwest Delhi. This, they said, would be close to the airport and also be well connected because of the Delhi Metro.
The group is also unhappy with Delhi Tourism's latest initiative, the Signature Bridge in Wazirabad, northeast Delhi. A mammoth project, the bridge is planned as an architectural marvel that will attract tourists.
'Instead of spending so much on the Signature Bridge, the government should first look at cleaning the river. How are tourists supposed to cross the bridge when it stinks so much?' asked Rajiv Kaul, one of the supporters of the campaign.
One of the holiest rivers in India - running 1,376 km from the Yamunotri glacier in the Himalayas to its confluence with the Gana in Allahabad - the Yamuna traverses 396 km before it reaches Delhi. But its 22 km stretch in Delhi has been identified as the most polluted river in India, and many experts call it the most threatened stretch of river in the world.
India's Central Pollution Control Board says there should be no more than 500 faecal coliform bacteria in 100 millilitres of water if it is to be considered fit for even bathing. The Yamuna carries 1.5 million faecal coliform bacteria per 100 ml of water as it passes through Delhi.