Delhi is spread over an area of 1,483 sq km. Of this, the water bodies are not even total two per cent (30 sq km); the notified ridge area is just five per cent (77.77 sq km) and the Yamuna riverbed, including the flood plains, is about seven per cent (97 sq km).
The pertinent question is: Can’t the national capital conserve and mange properly barely 14 per cent of its life-giving, life sustaining area?
Owing to the rising demand for land due to urbanisation, more and more portions of the Yamuna, the ridge and the water bodies are being encroached upon by the growing population.
Following a 1994 water sharing agreement between Yamuna’s riparian states, Delhi has a limited share and hence traps all fresh water for human use at Wazirabad. “Delhi will have to sacrifice something. It can get water from somewhere else but just can’t kill the Yamuna at Wazirabad. A river is a complete eco-system, it can never be replaced by a flow of cleaned sewage,” said Satish Sinha of NGO Toxics Link.
Brajraj Sharan of the Man Mandir Sewa Sansthan Trust that runs the Save Yamuna campaign, said, “Following a Supreme Court order in 1999, a high-powered committee and the Central Pollution Control Board had recommended measures that are yet to be implemented. Solution: Release enough water in the Yamuna throughout, divert all sewage canals emptying into the Yamuna and after recycling, use it for agriculture, domestic or industrial usage.”
For the conservation of water bodies, Manu Bhatnagar, an environmentalist, said, “Several water bodies fall in the ‘aabadi’ (human population) areas and people actually do not want these for various reasons.”
Citing the example of the Tree Act, he said, “If one water body is converted into a green area, another water body double its size should be developed.”
Diwan Singh of Campaign for Preservation of Commons said, “Involvement of the community is important for preservation, which can happen if the people are convinced of the utility of the water body.”
Experts suggest a multi-pronged strategy, which include planning and development of regulated flood plain reservoirs in low lying areas; ensuring efficient and effective functioning of the STPs and ETPs and removing non-compatible and pollution causing land uses from the river bed. Apart from that increased accessibility to the riverfront and attracting people there by developing eco-friendly arts/entertainment/cultural venues was another important step.
AK Jain, former DDA commissioner (planning) said, “The objective of DDA Act is to promote planned development and not ‘regularise’ the unplanned development, specially in the ridge or the river bed. Zonal plan for Yamuna area legally bans all construction.”