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On Delhi’s Toxic River, Prayers to a Sun Struggling to Shine Through Smog

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Her brother-in-law, Sonu Prasad, 36, who sells buttons, said he knows what contributes to the pollution of the river: “When I shower, it goes into a small canal, then a big canal, then it goes into the river,” he said.

“It’s a sewer,” Ms. Devi’s husband and Sonu’s older brother, Ravi Shankar Gupta, said. “But the sun deity says: ‘Even if you stand in a gutter and make an offering, I will protect you for the rest of the year.’”

“It would be great if they improve it, but even if they don’t, what can we do?” Mr. Gupta added, pointing to the infighting over the pollution between the states that the river flows through. “We will still live, and enjoy life.”

The Yamuna forms the boundary between two states, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, a circumstance that has complicated the already tortured process of cleaning it up. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in recent decades, to little effect. Less than half of the roughly 16 billion gallons of daily sewage in India’s urban centers is treated, according to government figures, and much of the rest pollutes the country’s rivers.

New Delhi, overwhelmed by a growing population, treats about two-thirds of its sewage. But hundreds of millions of gallons are still dumped into the Yamuna untreated, along with untreated industrial waste, in its slog through the city.

Delhi gets a good portion of its drinking water from the Yamuna, which enters the city limits relatively clean. After that, the river is pummeled with wastes.

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