Delhi’s rapid infra growth nullified its natural topography advantage
Delhi actually was far more fortunate as a city for it had the ridge and an undulating terrain between the ridge and the river which sheltered the city quite well.
Since time immemorial, man has preferred raised locations (tekri in local parlance) for building residences and settling down. No wonder the first of seven Dillis, namely the Lal Kot was no where near the low lying Yamuna and depended little on the latter. Even the last of them namely Shahjahanabad looked down into the Yamuna and straddled the western bank. Jamuna paar, the East Delhi of today was considered unfit for human dwellings as it was part of Yamuna Khadar and floodable each year during the monsoon. Khadar is the traditional term for riverine floodplains which were suitable only for non-monsoon agriculture and it was Bangar, raised areas beyond the Khadar, where villages were located.
Delhi actually was far more fortunate as a city for it had the ridge and an undulating terrain between the ridge and the river which sheltered the city quite well. Reportedly some 201 storm period streams which together formed catchments of Najafgarh and Barapullah drains, drained the city without any issues every monsoon. Some of them also acted as the source of water to the first few Dillis. In addition, large number of wetlands (reportedly some 800 of them) spread all over the city were recharged during the monsoon and non-monsoon storm events. All was well till first the colonial Delhi and later the national capital took shape.
First came, the railways and then the roadways with a sense of abandon. Both cared little about the natural drainage lines or the existing wetlands in the city. Two examples are most telling. Space underneath the Minto bridge becomes a lake come a hint of rain and the famous ISBTs, both at Kashmiri Gate and the Sarai Kale Khan, turn into deep ponds. The Ring Road laid with such a gusto also played havoc with the city’s natural drainage lines and became the forerunner of a lot more that came as the city expanded. Barapullah elevated corridor bang within the Barapullah drain has done no favour to the people living on either side of it and the JJ colonies who have come to occupy several of the city’s drain floodplains have not only narrowed the drain’s carriageway but also dumped all their muck into them further reducing their water draining capacity.
If the above was not enough, the construction spree for the Commonwealth Games 2010 contributed to the woes. Thankfully, a case at the NGT put a halt to these misadventures but the damage had been done. Its worst example is the covered drain within the ‘posh’ Defence Colony. If any confirmation is required of the monsoon period mayhem then please consult any resident living next to the said drain, there.
In short, Delhi especially the Dilli west of the river Yamuna had no reason to suffer any urban flooding thanks to its natural topography. Just that it failed to account for mindless construction activities sans any concern for its drainage lines and the result is for all to witness and the Delhiites to suffer. Dilli ka monsoon once looked forward to has since been turned into an event to dread. A shame really!
Manoj Misra is the convenor of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan