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India: Supreme Court asks where Yamuna river cleanup money disappeared

It's tempting to conclude that the Indian government simply threw $2 billion intended for the cleanup of Delhi's Yamuna River into the drink with the rest of the trash and sewage.  But the truth is that nobody's too sure where the money went, according to India's Supreme Court.

“Where has all this money gone? We don’t see any improvement in the water of the river... what is the use of this money,” asked the bench of Justices Swatanter Kumar and Madan B Lokur, according to the Indian Express.

Nearly $2 billion has been spent in the last 18 years by the central government and the governments of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and their civic bodies, the court noted.

The bench asked Additional Solicitor General P P Malhotra to place before it by November 9 the Yamuna River Action Plan and any other plan, if formulated, to clean the river by resorting to correctional and preventive measures, the paper said.

As I wrote for Newsweek some years ago, India's horrendously polluted rivers are among the reasons why it routinely scores miserably on Yale and Columbia's Environmental Performance Index. 

"If anybody needed a reminder of how crippling bureaucracy can be, consider the campaign to clean up the sacred Yamuna River in Delhi," I wrote at the time. "The river oozes through town like a putrid ribbon of black sludge. Its level of fecal bacteria is 10,000 times higher than what's deemed safe for bathing. After a half-billion-dollar, 15-year program to build 17 sewage treatment plants, raw sewage still spills into the river at the rate of 3.6 billion liters a day."

And as the Supreme Court irascibly points out, nothing has changed since 2008.... At least not for the better.

According to the Express, the bench this week expressed dismay at the disclosure that as many as 18 drains from Delhi discharged untreated or semi-treated waste and other effluent into the Yamuna. The court was told that a prime reason for the problem was the existence of unauthorised and irregular colonies in Delhi, which indiscriminately dumped waste into the river directly or into drains that released water into the Yamuna.

In other words: If you don't provide basic services to the poor, they defecate in your drinking water.