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10 water bodies may be labelled Delhi’s first wetlands this March

Updated on Jan 17, 2022 02:00 AM IST

The Delhi State Wetland Authority (DSWA) is expected to release a draft notification for each water body under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules of 2017. This will ensure legal protection to the water bodies

Hauz Khas is among the 10 water bodies identified in the first phase. (Biplov Bhuyan/HT PHOTO)

Not a single one of Delhi’s 1,043 identified water bodies – each of which has its own unique identification number (UID) -- is currently notified as a ‘wetland’. This, however, could soon change, with the Capital expected to notify 10 major lakes and water bodies as wetlands by the end of March, according to senior officials aware of the matter. The Delhi State Wetland Authority (DSWA) is expected to release a draft notification for each water body under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules of 2017.

Not only will this ensure legal protection to the water bodies, but each of the notified wetlands will see Integrated Management Plans (IMP) prepared, allowing DSWA to get funds from the Centre to protect and rejuvenate them.

The water bodies identified in the first phase include Sanjay Lake, Hauz Khas Lake, Bhalswa Lake, Najafgarh Jheel, Welcome Jheel, Smriti Van (Vasant Kunj), Smriti Van (Kondli), Pooth Kalan, Sultanpar Dabas and Daryapur Kalan. Another 50 water bodies will be notified in the second phase of the programme.

The Delhi SWA was constituted in April 2019, as part of the Wetlands Rules of 2017, and officials said that they began work on notification of wetlands by the end of 2019.

KS Jayachandran, member secretary, DSWA, said a draft notification for each water body will soon be released to the public, with a 60-day window for feedback and comments, before they are notified.

The notification will detail the geo-coordinates of each water body demarcated as a wetland and the area over which it is spread. These, officials said, will ensure the water body is not encroached in the future.

“In the first phase, 10 major water bodies were identified, but we are already working on the second phase, for which Khasra numbers (land survey number that is assigned to a specific plot or property) for 50 more wetlands are being identified. If a water body is notified as a wetland, the wetland conservation rules allow for an IMP to be prepared, which is a long-term action plan. We will also be applying for funding from the Centre for each of these wetlands,” said Jayachandran.

While nine water bodies are currently being considered for notification through the Delhi government, SWA officials say Najafgarh Jheel could be notified as a wetland by the Centre, as it forms part of a National Green Tribunal (NGT) judgment.

In September 2020, the NGT asked the Delhi and Haryana governments to jointly prepare an environment action plan for the lake, which falls in both the states. In their report, the two states said that it will be notified as a trans-boundary wetland by the Centre as it requires management from both the states.

HT has seen a copy of the draft notifications, which mention a zone of influence for each wetland, including its buffer zone, where recreational activities like cycling and walking are permitted, while commercial activities, including grazing, are not.

Suresh Kumar Rohilla, senior director, Urban Water programme at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), who is part of a technical committee formed by the Delhi SWA to notify wetlands, said the long-term plans for each water body will be detailed and can plug existing problems such as sewage in-flow and poor maintenance.

“Currently, for most water body projects, STPs are being used to provide cleaner water, but there are no action plans on how the water body will be revived and then maintained over a period of time. The IMPs will help do that and also ensure there is legal sanctity for the wetland,” he says.

Rohilla also said the Tikri Khurd lake was also being considered for notification in the first phase, with the NGT asking for clarity on its wetland status in 2019.

A major chunk of Delhi’s 1,043 water bodies currently fall under the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and the Block Development Office (BDO). Data with the Delhi Parks and Gardens Society (DGPS), which has mapped these water bodies, said 836 water bodies in the city fall under DDA’s jurisdiction, followed by 131 under BDO. The forest department has 18 water bodies, while the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has 15 water bodies under them.

Manu Bhatnagar from Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), who is also part of the Delhi SWA, states most water bodies that are set to be notified as wetlands in Delhi are currently without an adequate catchment area, or a source of water supply, a problem that will be addressed once they are notified.

“The Bhalswa lake, which was once comparable to the Naini Lake in Nainital, now suffers from excess sewage dumping. Each water body has specific problems that will need a specific solution. We will look at plans for each of them,” he said.

Diwan Singh, an environmentalist and convener of the Natural Heritage First, said while mapping 1,043 water bodies was an important step for Delhi, the next will be to make these individual plans work.

“Funding is often not an issue for the smaller water bodies, but once we know exactly how many there are, they can be systematically tracked and revived. Most require efforts where they can be connected to a storm water drain or a source of water that sustains them through the year,” he says.

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