That the Yamuna is one of the most threatened riverine eco-systems is well known. But can an economic value be put to the flood plains and wetlands along Yamuna so that planners and decision makers value it and preserve it instead of allowing concrete structures on it?
Yes, if one were to go by a World Bank-commissioned report, jointly prepared by Delhi University and the Institute of Economic Growth, for a project of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The report has estimated the capitalised value of benefits accruing from the 3,250 hectares of the river corridor (from Wazirabad to Okhla Barrage) at a very conservative Rs 711.9 crore. The indirect and intangible benefits, however, make the riverbed and floodplains invaluable and irreplaceable.
“The valuation study of the river’s ecology and hydrology was carried out over five years ago but the government has not acted on the recommendations and thus a first of its kind study in India has been reduced to a mere academic exercise,” says Amit Love, environmental scientist with Delhi University who worked on the project. <b1>
The valuation of the river corridor has been done on the basis of values derived for the hydrological functions performed by the river by recharging ground water, cost benefits of nutrient retention, fisheries, agriculture, melon farming the river supports, its recreational value, etc.
The report has attributed the maximum economic value to the hydrological functions of the floodplains that can supply safe drinking water to 25 per cent of Delhi’s population at minimum cost. The value of the floodplain as a fresh water source, when water is a scarce and precious commodity, is a very high 40 per cent of the total value.
The Rs 711.9 crore figure would be much higher if cost benefits were to be derived for the water aquifers in East Delhi, Nizamuddin, Central Delhi and other areas that are connected to the floodplain aquifers that the river recharges during monsoons, the bio-diversity and life that it supports and the overall aesthetic and resource value it has for the city.
The biological productivity, the habitat it provides to endangered migratory birds and the fact that wetlands perform the same functions for city as kidneys for the human body, make it a priceless and irreplaceable resource, the report says.
It also says the ecological functions of wetlands and floodplains are unacknowledged, unaccounted and un-priced as a result of which it’s value is disregarded by planners and developers.
Amit Love says he and some other scientists had made their representations to the committee on Master Plan 2021, but their suggestions and objections went unheeded. Another senior scientist involved in the reasearch study said the World Bank report was sent to the Indira Gandhi Institute of Developmental Studies for further action but that nothing came of it.