The National Green Tribunal on Wednesday came down heavily on the Delhi Development Authority for having failed, despite repeated orders, to come clean on the Yamuna floodplains and activities permitted there.
Referring to a Delhi Transport Corporation bus depot set up temporarily in 61 acres of Yamuna floodplains, the tribunal said, "Why is this activity so compulsive that you have to take a detour from the rules. This [the river] is a national property. Under what law do you get powers to carve out exceptions. How do you allow structures coming up [in the floodplains]."
The tribunal had earlier issued notices to various departments of the Centre, and government of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana over a petition which has claimed the floodplains of Yamuna and Hindon rivers have been encroached upon with permanent concrete structures.
Petitioner's lawyer Amit Khemka told HT: "The tribunal had sought to know the defination of floodplains. The DDA said Delhi's master plan has a zone 'o' which comprises riverfront, riverbed and floodplain. It said some exceptions have been made for structures such as the DTC bus dept. But the tribunal said erecting Metro pillars in the Yamuna is understandable but how do you explain other concrete structures. It said in the event of a default [in stating the state policy regarding the floodplains, the DDA vice-chairman will have to appear in person and explain everything."
On July 17, the tribunal had directed the authorities to clarify the law under which they have notified floodplain areas and whether construction of any kind is permitted.
The petition says an encroached floodplain is bound to cause ecological havoc in the form of floods besides upsetting the natural hydrological cycle of the areas situated close to the two rivers.
The union urban development ministry has, between December 2012 and September 2013, sought the land back from the Delhi Transport Corporation at least four times. The depot in front of Millennium Park abuts Ring Road and NH-24 and can house 1,000 buses.
The DDA instead issued a public notice in April, 2013, to change the land use from 'river and water body' to 'transportation'. The ministry has in letter dated September 2 finally told the DDA not to change the land use and return the land at the earliest.
Touted as the biggest in Delhi, the depot was supposed to be a temporary structure during the 2010 Commonwealth Games. While the sporting event got over in 15 days, the depot has remained, not allowing the floodplains' restoration.
Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan said, "DDA has failed to uphold the doctrine of public trust by letting DTC continue with the illegal occupation of the riverbed. It's one example where it has knowingly undermined its own authority and law and thus set a dangerous precedence."
Another environmentalist, Himanshu Thakkar, said, "UD Ministry in addition to asking Delhi government to return the land should have taken action against DDA for working at cross purposes."
The Delhi High Court had in September 13, 2012 allowed the Delhi government and the DDA to change, if possible, the land use through laid down procedures, including a public hearing, in six months. Else, the depot was to be relocated.
"The very fact that the invitation of public objections on change of the land use began a month after the six-month court window got over shows illegality and contempt of court on the part of DDA. Post-March 14, DDA was bound by the court to start relocation of the depot after that," Misra said.
Misra has moved the high court with a contempt petition against the DDA. Neither the DDA vice-chairman nor the Lt Governor (who heads DDA) responded to HT's questions.