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'Be It AAP or BJP, No One Cares for Us,' Say Delhi Residents Along Yamuna River

As the Yamuna River remains a political issue between BJP and AAP, residents along the river wished to opt for NOTA.

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In July 2023, when the Yamuna River overflowed its banks – leading to Delhi's worst floods in over four decades – Om Prakash and his family, residing in the low-lying Yamuna plains near Mayur Vihar, had to be evacuated to higher ground.

A vegetable vendor, Prakash lost his weekly earnings of Rs 2,000 for almost three months as he, along with his wife Gayathri Devi and 16-year-old son Kumar, moved to a makeshift tent on the national capital's highway.

As the Yamuna River remains a political issue between BJP and AAP, residents along the river wished to opt for NOTA.

Om Prakash, 45-year-old a vegetable vendor, who lives near the Yamuna floodplains in Mayur Vihar.

(Photo: Varsha Sriram/The Quint)

Barring some important documents, most of their belongings were washed away in the floods, resulting in a cumulative loss of nearly Rs 30,000, Om Prakash lamented.

"When the floods hit, we lost our clothes, utensils, my son's books and our mattresses... we had no clothes to wear after we were rescued. It's been a year and I have not been able to recover the losses."
Om Prakash to The Quint

"We are either suffering due to floods or the depleting water quality of the river. But we are the least cared for," the 45-year-old said.

It's hard to challenge Om Prakash's allegations.

The Yamuna River continues to be polluted – but the only times it gets attention is when a political war of words erupts between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or during the Chhath Puja rituals when a blanket of toxic foam covers its surface.

As Delhi votes on 25 May in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, The Quint visited five areas situated along the river to find out what the voters hope and expect to change for them.

As the Yamuna River remains a political issue between BJP and AAP, residents along the river wished to opt for NOTA.

Ahead of the 25 May elections, The Quint visited five areas situated along the Yamuna river.

(Photo: Aroop Mishra/The Quint)

While in East Delhi, the fight is between the AAP's Kuldeep Kumar and the BJP's Harsh Malhotra, two-time BJP MP Manoj Tiwari is looking to retain his seat from Northeast Delhi.

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'The River Is Dying... But No One Cares'

"Sab party ek jaisi hai. Woh bade, bade vaade karte hai, aur usko todhte hai. Toh vote karne ka kya fayda? Humari zindagi badal nahi rahi hai" (All parties are the same. They make big promises only to break them. So, what's the point of voting? Our lives aren't changing.")

This was the larger sentiment shared by several residents The Quint spoke to. With sewage, domestic, and industrial waste making its water toxic and unfit for consumption, the 22-km stretch of the Yamuna River in Delhi is the most polluted in the country.

Studies show that though the stretch is only two percent of the length of the entire length of river, it accounts for over 75 percent of the total pollution load.
As the Yamuna River remains a political issue between BJP and AAP, residents along the river wished to opt for NOTA.

With sewage, domestic and industrial waste making its water toxic and unfit for consumption, the 22-km stretch of the Yamuna River in Delhi is one of the most polluted in the country.

(Photo: Varsha Sriram/The Quint)

Not only is it the main source of water for the Delhi, but the farming and fishing communities have lived along the banks of the river for generations.

Khiman Singh, 67, once a floodplain farmer, reminisced about his childhood days spent near the Yamuna.

"When we were young, we used to swim in the river. The water used to be so clean that we used to not just take a bath, but also drink it without filtering it," Singh, a resident of Northeast Delhi's Old Garhi Mandu village, told The Quint.

As the Yamuna River remains a political issue between BJP and AAP, residents along the river wished to opt for NOTA.

Khiman Singh, 67, once a floodplain farmer, reminisced about his childhood days spent near the Yamuna.

(Photo: Varsha Sriram/The Quint)

The clear blue waters in which, as Singh recalled, one would be able to see a coin if dropped inside, are now covered with toxic foam.

Though the river is located 400 meters away from his shop, it is filled with the stench of the river. "See, this is what we have to live with every day," he exclaimed.

Singh spoke about how living near the contaminated water leads to increase in mosquitoes around their area, making residents in his village prone to waterborne infections.

Three kilometres from Singh's shop is where this reporter met Rambharan Kashyap, a fisherman near the Wazirabad barrage under the Signature Bridge in North Delhi.

As Kashyap, along with a few other fishermen got out of the river, they cleaned up with fresh water and broke for lunch. Speaking about the thriving marine life in the river 15 years ago, Kashyap said:

"My entire family belongs to the fishermen community. Back then, we were able to catch 6-7 types of fishes. On an average, we would catch around 20 kgs and sell them. Now, we hardly get 4 kg of fish, so naturally our livelihood has drastically reduced. There isn't enough to make money."
Rambharan Kashyap

Kashyap, too, spoke about the adverse health effects of the polluted river water. "Look at my hands, this is because of the bad water quality. We fall sick often. Sometimes our skin burns when we stay inside the water for long," he told The Quint, showing rash marks along his arms.

"We stay inside the river for 4-5 hours a day. The river is dying – and it is killing us too," he added, as he finished lunch and prepared to go inside the water again to catch fish to sell in a nearby market.

As the Yamuna River remains a political issue between BJP and AAP, residents along the river wished to opt for NOTA.

Rambharan Kashyap spoke about the adverse health effects of the polluted river water.

(Photo: Varsha Sriram/The Quint)

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'Is This Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas?' Ask Locals

On 9 July 2023, Delhi recorded 153 mm of rainfall in just 24 hours, the highest single-day rainfall since 25 July 1982, leaving the floodplains inundated not just in low-lying areas, but also reaching the power corridors in the heart of the capital – the Supreme Court, the Delhi Secretariat, Red Fort, and ITO.

According to Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the 2023 floods resulted in the evacuation and displacement of around 27,000 people in the national capital.

The flooding also set off a blame game between the BJP-led Central government and the AAP, which governs Delhi.

On one side, the Delhi government blamed the neighbouring state of Haryana (ruled by the BJP) for the release of water from the Hathni Kund barrage "only towards Delhi" – and not to neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. On the other, the BJP hit back, blaming the Delhi government for not desilting the Yamuna effectively.

The residents The Quint said they are caught in between this political blame game.

As the Yamuna River remains a political issue between BJP and AAP, residents along the river wished to opt for NOTA.

The Yamuna River near Wazirabad barrage under Signature Bridge in New Delhi.

(Photo: Varsha Sriram/The Quint)

"Both parties blame each other for the condition of the river, and because of this, we are the ones stuck. Had the BJP-led government in Haryana let the water out from the barrage in parts, we would not have had such floods. Because of politics, we suffered badly," said Om Prakash.

In addition to the floods, many highlighted the poor living conditions in the area and the neglect by various political parties, leaders, and governments alike.

For Mala, 45, who grew up in the Yamuna Khadar area, the question is of lack of water and electricity connections in her area for years. "There are no water connections here, we rely on tankers and pumps... we are struggling to get an electricity connection, too. This problem has been there for years now, and yet there is no solution."
As the Yamuna River remains a political issue between BJP and AAP, residents along the river wished to opt for NOTA.

For Mala (right), a resident of the Yamuna Khadar area, the question is of water and electricity connections.

(Photo: Varsha Sriram/The Quint)

Echoing similar sentiments, Khiman Singh, who resides in Old Garhi Mandu village, told The Quint:

"They say that we stay in the floodplain or 'Zone O' area (where construction is banned). They say we can't get new connections because of NGT (National Green Tribunal) and Delhi government rules. Day by day, our situation is getting worse."

Singh was referring to the government's Master Plan for Delhi 2041, which states that 'Zone O' comprises the entire floodplain along the 22-km-long stretch of the Yamuna. A total of 76 unauthorised colonies come under this zone – and no new construction is allowed in this area.

But when asked if this would be an election issue for him, he was quick to respond: "Of course not. Our living conditions may be bad, but (Prime Minister Narendra) Modiji has overall done well for the country."

As the Yamuna River remains a political issue between BJP and AAP, residents along the river wished to opt for NOTA.

At the Old Garhi Mandu village, which is 500 metres from the Yamuna River.

(Photo: Varsha Sriram/The Quint)

Apart from the fact that the river is no longer the one they grew up around, displacement of communities due to eviction drives is a major cause of concern.

Since March 2023, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), which comes under the BJP-ruled Union government, has been carrying out demolition drives along the Yamuna floodplains in areas such as Bela Estate (near Rajghat) to make way for a riverfront project.

The riverfront project aims to "beautify" and "rejuvenate" the floodplains by developing it for "recreational" activities and biodiversity parks.

Speaking to The Quint, Randheer, 46, who had a farm on the floodplain in Bela Estate, said:

"They demolished our houses stating that they wanted to make Yamuna a cleaner, greener river. The BJP government and PM Modi are talking about Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. Is demolishing our houses in the name of building a park 'vikas'? Is robbing us of our homes and our livelihood 'vikas'?" he asked.
As the Yamuna River remains a political issue between BJP and AAP, residents along the river wished to opt for NOTA.

Randheer (46), a former floodplain farmer in Bela Estate.

(Photo: Varsha Sriram/The Quint)

Both East Delhi BJP candidate Harsh Malhotra and Northeast Delhi MP Manoj Tiwari have outlined Yamuna cleanliness and riverfront development as part of their roadmap. The Quint has reached out to Malhotra and AAP candidate Kuldeep Kumar's team for their plans for the Yamuna River. This story will be updated as and when they respond.

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'Can't Trust Anyone... We Are Forgotten'

For those who live along the river in Northeast Delhi's New Usmanpur village, does the river matter when they vote this month?

"I don't think it does. Why would it? We are voting for the next Prime Minister... MPs cannot solve this issue alone. It is a collective effort between both state and Centre," said 82-year-old Yogesh, a former floodplain farmer, who now resides with his family a kilometre from the river.

As the Yamuna River remains a political issue between BJP and AAP, residents along the river wished to opt for NOTA.

The river near the Yamuna Khadar area, next to Delhi's Mayur Vihar.

(Photo: Varsha Sriram/The Quint)

But, for Kamal, a teacher from Bela Estate, the pollution of the Yamuna River and the displacement of his community are important issues based on which he will cast his vote on 25 May.

"People of Delhi are being fooled in the name of Ram Mandir and religion. When, in fact, issues like this should be brought up more even if it's national elections because we elect a party not to build us temples, but to improve our lives. Unless they realise this, real progress will not take place," Kamal said.
As the Yamuna River remains a political issue between BJP and AAP, residents along the river wished to opt for NOTA.

For Kamal, a teacher from Bela Estate, the pollution of the Yamuna River and the displacement of his community are important issues based on which he will cast his vote on 25 May.

(Photo: Varsha Sriram/The Quint)

Kamal, Randheer, and several other residents of Bela Estate told The Quint that they plan to opt for NOTA to show their displeasure with both parties.

"We sent multiple letters (copies of which were accessed by The Quint) to PM Modi, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, L-G Vinay Kumar Saxena over the last year, but we received no response. So, now when BJP, AAP or Congress leaders approach us, why should we vote for them?" they asked.

As the Yamuna River remains a political issue between BJP and AAP, residents along the river wished to opt for NOTA.

The dried-up Yamuna River near New Usmanpur Village.

(Photo: Varsha Sriram/The Quint)

However, several people The Quint interviewed said that they will step out to vote on 25 May despite "knowing that there will be no change in our lives."

"Only the poor stay here, but where else can we go? We don't have money or jobs. If we go out, we need to pay rent. It's better to just live and die like this," said Om Prakash.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  AAP   BJP   Yamuna 

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