The Delhi Development Authority's plan to shrink the Yamuna floodplains by half to legitimise villages, colonies and government installations will destroy the already dying river but not before causing devastating floods in adjoining areas, environmentalists have warned.
The DDA's logic is these structures will even otherwise remain in the floodplains because they are not going to be demolished. So why not regularise them by showing them in non-river zone areas? This will allow much-needed civil repairs, not permitted in the river zone.
HT has been writing that the government cannot escape the floodplain reality by redrawing maps or buildings embankments. The DDA has issued a public notice to re-define the river zone, proposing to reduce the area from the current 9,700 hectares to 4,961 hectares. Construction and development will be allowed in the new area thus carved out.
"Why cannot the authorities allow repairs without attempting to grab the floodplains? If the slicing happens, the existing built-up area, now regulated, in the actual floodplains will increase immensely. Land sharks and even government agencies will turn the whole area into a concrete mess, killing the river for one final time," said Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan.
"Right now, the occupants are aware they have chosen to live in the river zone; they are at risk. After regularisation the government will tax these colonies, make them complacent, but there will still be risks of flood fury, as seen in Allahabad and Varanasi," he said.
Water activist Vinod Jain said, "It's pretty clear the government wants to appease a potential vote bank ahead of the Delhi Assembly elections this year at the cost of an already dying river."
Most government installations such as thermal power plants were set up in the 1960s and 1970s in the floodplains when the threat to the river was not understood or appreciated. Even the construction of Akshardham Temple began in the early 2000 when environment clearance was not needed.
In a letter to the Lt Governor (who heads the DDA), Misra has asked him to withdraw the proposal and said, "The 48-km stretch of Yamuna and its floodplains in the city cannot be treated like any other planning zone, where civic considerations determine planning priorities."
"The reduction of the river zone would adversely affect the upstream and downstream flooding in the river; its ability to spread flood waters and recharge the groundwater and above all the natural drainage patterns in the city have to be the key considerations here," he has said.