Cleansing of Holy River

India's Yamuna river regains sparkle as lockdown banishes waste.

It's not just the waterways in the City of Love - Venice, Italy - that are being cleansed. The sparkle has also returned to the Yamuna river flowing through India’s capital of New Delhi, residents say, after decades of filthy and stinking waters, matted with garbage and polluted with toxic effluent from industry.

In a feat that eluded years of government cleanliness efforts, a nationwide lockdown has brought about the transformation of a river many Hindus consider holy, with a halt in industrial activity since late in March.

“Ever since the lockdown, we can take Mother Yamuna’s water in our hands and offer it for prayer, as well as drink it,” said Sanjay Gir, a Hindu monk, clad in traditional white dhoti.

From its source among Himalayan peaks, the river meanders 1,376 km (855 miles) through a clutch of northern states to join the river Ganges in the city of Allahabad, where Hindu tradition says the two merge with a third, the mythical Saraswati.

India has one of the world’s toughest lockdowns against the coronavirus, with factory closures keeping out most of the industrial waste that normally clogs the Yamuna. That was the key reason for the better water quality, said Anshuman Jaiswal of city research body the Energy and Resources Institute.

“The industrial discharge which was going into the Yamuna actually stopped and that, for sure, has reduced the pollution load,” he added. Is it too optimistic to hope that the movement for cleaner air and greener economies that's occurring In Europe and elsewhere will have an immediate impact on the psyche of the India and its government? Probably. But, perhaps, it will speed up India's transformation into an environment that takes greater care of people and planet.

Nevertheless, while it lasts, a clean, revitalised Yamuna also augurs well for the environmental condition of the Taj Mahal, India’s famed monument to love that stands on the riverbank in the northern city of Agra.