Mar 19, 2017
University Event

The University of Virginia & Delhi Jal Board present the The Yamuna River Project, the pan-university research project on exhibit at Campbell Hall, East Gallery; Hotel A, Main Room; and Wilson Hall, Ground Floor.

Symposium:  April 14, 10:00-12:30 pm | Hotel A, Main Room
Challenges in Equitable Development

In our rapidly changing world, fairness and social equity are at the base of any sustainable future for communities across the globe. The necessary improvement in life conditions for extensive portions of the world’s population faces multiple challenges, sometimes unique and often shared. Faculty members of the University of Virginia are committed to working in different places on the planet, many of them in the global south, addressing issues of public health, pollution, and humanitarian crisis. Community development, entrepreneurship, governance, and the impact of cultural, historic or religious relations are essential factors in shaping a more equitable society. The speakers will share their individual experiences and engage in discussions. This symposium is intended to keep and intensify the current conversations among experts in different disciplines working with similar ambitions, facing challenges in equitable development.


  • Michael Allen, Shankar Nair | Religious Studies | on Religious Influence
  • Peter Debaere | Darden School of Bussiness | on Water Economics
  • Bala Mulloth | Batten S. of Leadership | on Social Entrepreneurship
  • Brian Owensby | History | on Historic Impact
  • Liz Rogawsky | Public Health | on Public Health Implementation
  • Sree Sathiamma | Global Studies | on Community Development
  • Vivian Thomson | Environmental Sci & Politics | on Trash Management

Supported by the Program in Global Studies, the Center for Global Inquiry and Innovation, the Institute for Humanities and Global Cultures and the Yamuna River Project.

Keshav Chandra, CEO Delhi Jal Board
Rivers don’t die quickly. A stream of water that nurtures civilizations loses its life only because civilizations fail to fulfill their obligations towards it. The Yamuna, which found a place in the Hindu pantheon is today living the curse of an insensitive economic development of several decades. Delhi, which built many empires on the banks of this river over centuries, is at its wit’s end today to see the moribund state of its life-giver.

Where has the city gone wrong? In last four decades when Delhi broke its shackles and started to emerge as an economic giant, slow growing hinterland fueled the influx of population to the unprepared city. Delhi was continually found wanting to cope up this humungous in-migration. Scores of new settlements mushroomed in totally unplanned manner, severely compromising the essential services meant for safe and healthy urban living. Wastewater generated by thousands of unplanned colonies found its way to the river through more than two hundred natural drains crisscrossing the city. Not only the Yamuna became terminally polluted, but the entire hydrology of the city feeding the river became toxic.

Endeavors to rejuvenate the ailing Yamuna have been undertaken in the past in the name of Yamuna Action Plan- I, II and III. However, these action plans failed to translate into the intended objective to clean the river and had an almost negligible impact on the overall hydrology of the city. The reason behind this glaring failure is more than apparent. All these plans tried to situate the solution in the realm of stark engineering projects ignoring the important urban planning aspect altogether. While increasing volumes of sewage were brought to the newly built wastewater treatment plants, the aggravated hydrology of the city remained completely untouched. Today glaring reality that urban planning needs to be resurrected and given the center stage in the river cleaning effort has become evident. At the same time, it is also apparent that the gargantuan task of cleaning the river along with the entire hydrology can’t be handled by any one institution alone. It needs to collaborate, co-operate and bring in the expertise unavailable to the city agencies locally.

Delhi Jal Board has realized the immense potential in collaborations with local and global expert institutions. It has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Virginia- a globally acclaimed research institution, with an outstanding urban expertise. This partnership has infused a new and refreshing dimension to the river cleaning effort. City’s largest watershed – Najafgarh drain and its basin have been selected for the intensive scrutiny and detailed planning. This book illustrates some of the chosen projects from a gamut of a vast array of projects which emerged as a product of this planning exercise. These projects are also being showcased in the of an exhibition. The untiring effort of Prof. Inaki Alday, Prof. Pankaj Vir Gupta, students and faculty of the University of Virginia, Shri Radheahyam Tyagi, Shri V K Gupta, Shri Vikram, Ms. Mriganka Saxena and officers of Delhi Jal Board has made this fabulous book and exhibition a reality. A sure and certain step is afoot, and we all hope that this journey will stop only when the Yamuna gets its turtle back in its waters.

Keshav Chandra, CEO Delhi Jal Board

An Essential Future
Iñaki Alday & Pankaj Vir Gupta, co-founders of the Yamuna River Project

Confronting reality is the initial step towards imagining and initiating a transformation. Facts are analyzed and interpreted, and then assembled into visions for the future.

As founders of the Yamuna River Project, we believe this ambitious investigation marshals the resources of a great public research university, forges a milestone collaboration with the Delhi Jal Board, and directs the expertise and insight of a multi-disciplinary team towards generating meaningful solutions for the crisis afflicting the Yamuna River. The relationship between the Yamuna and New Delhi constitutes one of the most acute urban dilemmas at present. We are optimistic that this research project shall be instrumental in identifying the many restorative opportunities latent in the space of the intersection between River and City.

The Yamuna is a living ecological entity, with her own seasonal cycle of flow, complex hydraulic dynamics, and floodplain territory. For centuries, the river has existed as a significant geographic presence within the Indian landscape. In myth and in religion, in prose and in poetry, in song and in lore, the Yamuna has been immortalized as a primordial Goddess. But all this is in the past. Long gone are the days when the citizens of Delhi swam, fished, and strolled freely on the banks of the Yamuna. For centuries, the river constituted not just the defining axis, but also the ecological and agricultural lifeline of the many settlements preceding present day Delhi. Just as it is impossible to imagine the city of Varanasi without the presence of the Ganga, or separate the ancient town of Maheshwar from the ghats of the Narmada, Delhi and the Yamuna were once so conjoined. Even today, the sandstone walls of Mughal era monuments abutting the river, reveal watermarks of the Yamuna.

In this age, characterized by geologists as the Anthropocene – when patterns of human settlement are the most significant influencing forces on environment and climate – urban populations in mega-cities have far exceeded the carrying capacity of designed infrastructure.

In New Delhi, the Yamuna has been reduced to a poorly managed resource, absent both from both the urban landscape and from the urban imagination. The fight for citizens’ survival inflicts even deeper damage to an already fragile ecological circumstance. Urban development justified in the name of civic prosperity is often misleadingly defined in opposition to environmental security. In the hardscrabble urbanity of the present Indian megacity, there is little room for the ecologically sacred.

The Yamuna River Project seeks to change this. We recognize a basic fact of the Anthropocene era – the cities that we design and make now, are the cities that we shall inhabit in the future. It is present day human intent and intervention that shall ensure the sustainability and survival of the future city – a city predicated on our ability to secure ecology from our own advances. We equate social prosperity with ecological stewardship, and propose to empower the citizens of New Delhi by the simple yet profound act of restoring our Yamuna.

We recognize the dilemmas of New Delhi, or for that matter, any Indian megacity – a critical level of air and water pollution, scarcity of affordable housing, acute shortage of community space. The dysfunctional and contaminated Najafgarh drain, presently releasing a toxic flow of contaminants into the Yamuna, has the potential to transform into an ecological lifeline for the city, offering seasonal rainwater channels, walking and cycling paths, and areas for public amenities that would revitalize its surrounding neighborhoods. We imagine a future where the Najafgarh drain reverts into its original ‘avatar’ as the Sahibi River and merges into the Yamuna as a clear stream.

We believe that the research efforts initiated at the University of Virginia, combined with the high-minded governance and civic leadership of the Delhi Jal Board, shall generate vital catalysts – solutions that would act in synergy to address some of the most pressing causes of urban and environmental conflict. We imagine a New Delhi, encircled with rejuvenated river-forests, offering a vital urban eco-sphere for the citizens of the present.