-by Shruti Syal
You’d think we were used to the smells of Delhi’s nullahs by now. Turns out we hadn’t had a whiff of horse dung yet.
The first sense you get walking along the narrow alleyway of the start of the JJC at Shastri Nagar is the relatively more organized state of the built up area. It’s small, literally two rows of houses along a single pathway facing each other. We walk between sheets strewn with the same white trapezoidal plastic caps and sticker sheets covered in blue. About 2 dozen people are sticking those labels on the caps. They watch us as we watch them, each of us going about our business.
The first hint of a clearing within the settlement, from where to see the drain, and I rush in. We chat up a few locals doing some paint work on metal bars, and then move on further to get a better look at possible access points for the drain from within the settlement. Hovering a good 7-8 feet above the water, we find none of those, but the inhabitants suggest throwing in a wide-mouthed bottle made heavy with stones, and then transferring the water into the sample containers. We have the usual chat about who we are and what we’re doing there, and then make our way further downstream to see the next settlement along the Ghazipur drain that empties out into the highly-polluting Najafgarh drain.
We walk past pretty clearings being used by kids for cricket, as the teenage boys gawk at us taking pictures. These kids are very chatty, all of them, but you start to see how shy they actually are when the cameras are trained onto their faces. They don’t particularly make a run for it but some shy away, and most faces just get soft, conscious perhaps.
We cross the road, our heads wrapped in feeble cotton chunnis much like the women taking the same route out of the JJC. We cross the main road and make our way to the nurseries near the District Park.
It’s a little haven of green, with chickens jostling for space in between the pots. The owner, an inhabitant of the JJC we just visited, talks about the vagaries of life with Salomi, while I take a staircase down to the drain. In all the sites I have visited, I have never found a more perfect access point for the water. Honestly, the kinds of things we’ve come to romanticize!
He takes us for a mini tour of the drain to the edges of his property. For a drain barely 3 feet deep at its deepest point, and given the lack of rains in over 3 weeks, the water is flowing pretty fast. It makes us question the use of floating island wetlands at this site, which seemed like an otherwise-fantastic option given the length of the drain, lovely slopes along the edges, and relatively FAR lower quantities of solid waste accumulation along the edges.
The drain runs through the park, which we were cautioned against entering by ourselves by about half a dozen strangers we met along the way since we started near the Shastri Nagar metro station resplendent with the smells of horse dung. So we take the curving main road for a good 10 minutes, and painfully conscious of having lost sight of a significant length of the drain- just shy of a kilometre. We finally hit the bridge where the Ghazipur drain empties into the Najafgarh drain (featured image), which itself looks no smaller than the Yamuna in terms of width. That either says a lot about how big this fouling drain is, or how much the Yamuna has shrunken. Likely both.
We’re approached by a local security fella, who tells us about the construction along the banks of the drain. A large bulldozer, currently dormant, sits next to a large-diameter tank with protruding iron rods that reveal the prescribed height of construction. The water is apparently to be pumped out and cleaned before letting it flow into the Yamuna via the Najafgarh drain itself, which I can’t wrap my head around. But that’s as much as he’s able to explain to us about the untitled project identified only by the blue boards that proclaim it to be a DJB project with some entity called Pratibha-Mosinzhstroi-JV. I find out online that last summer, the Pratibha Industries-Mosinzhstroi Open Joint Stock Company consortium was awarded two orders worth Rs 1,249 crore for the design, construction and laying of interceptor sewers along three major drains – Najafgarh, supplementary, and Shahadra to help in the reduction of pollution in Yamuna. The projects are scheduled to be completed within a period of 36 months, although the guard stationed there says there’s likely 4 more years to go.
We catch the 831 back to Shastri Nagar metro station, and hop into the red line that takes us to Dilshad Garden, only to learn after 20 minutes in a rickshaw and 10 on foot, that the drain we’re looking for has been covered. But what’s more depressing than trekking all the way to North Delhi to find that the drain’s been covered, is trying to quell your hunger with a batch of Domino’s breadsticks, where the idea of ‘stuffing’ means three pieces of jalapenos, two dozen corn kernels, and probably a 100 grams of saturated fat. Growl.