A long fight to save the Yamuna | delhi | Hindustan Times
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A long fight to save the Yamuna

At the heart of the protests against construction on the Yamuna riverbed lies a concern for Delhi’s long-term water security and zeal to protect the city’s only river from slow death. Avishek G Dastidar reports.

delhi Updated: Nov 12, 2008 01:09 IST
Avishek G Dastidar

At the heart of the protests against construction on the Yamuna riverbed lies a concern for Delhi’s long-term water security and zeal to protect the city’s only river from slow death.

In the past two years, environmentalists have argued in all forums-including the High Court-that the Games Village is being constructed on the floodplains of the Yamuna — which is ecologically sacrosanct — meant only for the river’s water recharge.

Yamuna needs to flood its banks in monsoon and recharge its underground water reserves, which they have termed a “goldmine of water”.

“The Games Village sets the example that the riverbed is just like an open tract of land that needs constructions. This violates the environmental sanctity of this invaluable natural resource, which is the lifeline of the river. The constructions stifle the river and destroys the water repository of the city,” said Manoj Misra, one of the petitioners who filed a public interest litigation in the High Court against the constructions along with other environmentalists.

For the past two years, a forum of NGOs and citizens called the Yamuna Bachao Andolan has been staging an indefinite demonstration outside the Games Village for more than a year now, keeping the storm alive.

The protestors have been saying that once the floodplains are stifled, Delhi will be prone to floods in the monsoon because without the spacious floodplains, Yamuna will lose its natural ability to manage excess water.

“Why do they have to build on the riverbed? Isn’t there any other place in Delhi to build the Games Village? This is just a way to leverage the real estate value of the riverbed,” said Magsaysay award winning activist Rajendra Singh, one of the petitioners.

According to Prof Vikram Soni of National Physical Laboratory, the entire riverbed area of 97 sq km area can retain 2 billion cubic meters of water underground and the quality of the sand allows almost half of the retained water to be taken out for non-invasive use (not for drinking). “That means every year Delhi can obtain around 1 billion cubic meters of water from the underground aquifers of the floodplains,” Soni added.

“This was detrimental to the city’s future from the very beginning because the developers twisted several laws of the land to come up with this project,” said Prof AGK Menon, convenor of the Delhi chapter of Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage.