The Yamuna flows through many of India’s most significant attractions, including the capital New Delhi, with a population of almost fourteen million; Vrindavan, an international pilgrimage site visited by tens of millions annually; and the Taj Mahal, a World Heritage site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Over fifty million people rely on the Yamuna for their daily needs, using the water for religious observances, agricultural needs, and bathing, washing, and cooking. In addition to benefiting the human population, the Yamuna has supported a vast ecosystem of wildlife, such as fish, turtles, crocodiles, river dolphins, and aquatic plants.
Aside from agricultural, ecological, and domestic uses, the Yamuna River has long been regarded as a cultural icon and defining symbol of India. Ancient scriptures, traditional and contemporary art, music, festivals, and even the Indian National Anthem, demonstrate the reverence in which the river is held.
The Yamuna River is the largest tributary of the Ganges River, with a catchment area (345,848 sq km / 133,533 sq m) that constitutes 40 percent of the total Ganga River Basin.
The river is 1,376 km (855 miles) long and passes through seven Indian states.
The Yamuna is water source for 57 million people.
97 percent of the river’s water is directed away from the riverbed not far from its source. The balance dries up within a few kilometers. None of the original river water flows beyond that point north of Delhi.
Whatever little water reaches New Delhi does so through various canals entering the riverbed. A Central Pollution Control Board of India report in 2006 stated that there is “almost no fresh water in the river” beyond New Delhi. The report declared that for 580 km (360 m) south of Delhi, the river is “critically polluted.” A subsequent report in 2009 states that, “There is no doubt that the river is a cesspool for Delhi’s waste.”
The levels of pollution in the water flowing through and out of Delhi are so high that even bathing in the water is dangerous. The water from the river is also replenishing groundwater in the area, resulting in highly polluted well water, which threatens the health of millions of people.
Many accounts of severe illness and death have been attributed to the toxic state of the river’s water quality downstream of New Delhi.