Delhi could have an accessible riverfront in a few years: DDA

Published on Mar 17, 2021 04:05 PM IST

While the Delhi government has set a three-year target to clean the river, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) is working on rejuvenating and making the riverfront accessible to the public

A man rows a boat in the heavily polluted waters of the Yamuna River. (Biplov Bhuyan/HT PHOTO)
A man rows a boat in the heavily polluted waters of the Yamuna River. (Biplov Bhuyan/HT PHOTO)
ByRisha Chitlangia

Large parts of the 54km-long Yamuna riverfront have been inaccessible for Delhiites for decades, while industrial waste and untreated sewage are continuously dumped into the river.

However, there is a change in the offing. While the Delhi government has set a three-year target to clean the river, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) is working on rejuvenating and making the riverfront accessible to the public.

From cycling tracks, walkways, eco-trails to wetlands and a floodplain forest, the 22km-long rejuvenated urban riverfront between Wazirabad Barrage to Okhla Barrage will not only help people connect with the river (which has long been neglected) but also check the dying ecosystem of the Yamuna floodplains, both flora and fauna, a senior DDA official said. Close to 1,400 hectares of land are being developed by DDA on the eastern and western banks of the river.

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DDA vice-chairman Anurag Jain said, “The entire stretch has been divided into 10 projects, each spread over 90 hectares and above. The work is moving at a fast pace, and the three projects will be completed in the next few months. We aim to complete large parts of projects by the end of this year.”

The project to restore the riverfront was conceived following a National Green Tribunal order in 2015. The work on the riverfront, DDA officials said, started in 2017 and was monitored by the NGT-appointed Yamuna Monitoring Committee that was set up in 2018. The committee concluded its proceedings in January this year after it submitted its final report. DDA officials said that the restoration work on the 22km-stretch in Delhi has been planned as per the committee’s directions. The restoration work is being closely monitored by Delhi lieutenant governor (L-G) Anil Baijal, who has been taking regular review meetings. A report regarding the status of work was presented to the L-G in February by DDA.

One of the biggest challenges in restoring the riverfront, Jain said, is removing encroachments and reclaiming the land. According to a senior DDA official, about 1,000 acres of land have been cleared of encroachment and are being developed, and work is going on in other parts.

As for the issue of dumping of debris on the floodplains, DDA officials said they have installed CCTV cameras and deployed staff to keep a check on the menace.

Of the 10 projects, three projects—Kalindi Biodiversity, Park Asita East, Asita West—are in advanced stages of construction and will be completed in the next few months, officials in the know of the matter said.

Spread over 200 hectares, Asita West, located between the Old Railway Bridge and the ITO barrage, is one of the first areas being rejuvenated. DDA has developed 4.8km of walkways, 1.5km of cycleways, three new water bodies, 300m of green buffer along the river, greenways, etc. on 93 hectares of land. The project is likely to be completed by June this year.

A senior DDA official involved in the project said, “In Asita West, we have cleared 140 acres of land of encroachment and developed these facilities. There are floodplain forests, grasslands and buffer areas along the river edge planted with riverine species of grasses like sedges, Saccharum, Cymbopogon etc.”

For residents of Walled City and nearby areas, this has become a popular spot. Kishore Kumar (35), who lives and works in Chandni Chowk, said that he often comes here with his children. “While there are parks in the area, there aren’t many such large open spaces. We usually come here on weekends. They have now expanded the park and constructed a water body here.”

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Shambhu Nath Pathak, who works at the park, said, “A lot of people from nearby areas come here for morning walks and exercise. The park is crowded during the weekends. The work is still going on. A small passage has been created for people to walk up to the river.”

DDA officials said that as part of all 10 projects, walkways, cycle tracks, eco-trails, as well as wetlands will be developed. DDA also plans to develop the three ghats (Qudsia, Yamuna Bazaar and Sur ghats). While work on Sur Ghat is expected to be completed by September this year, plans for the other two are yet to be prepared.

As part of the rejuvenation project, DDA is developing a biodiversity park near Delhi Noida Direct (DND) Flyway. Spread over 116 hectares between DND Flyway and Okhla Barrage, the biodiversity park will have 11 constructed wetlands and will treat sewage from about 25 drains. It will also have 100m-wide greenways, about 6km-long walking trails and recreational parks.

CR Babu, who heads the Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE) at Delhi University, said, “Two of the 11 constructed wetlands are operational. We are treating drain water that has raw sewage from the Kilokri drain naturally via a constructed wetland system before the water is released into the river. A similar wetland system will be soon operational for the Maharani Bagh drain where 500MLD (millions of litres per day) of drain water will be treated. We are also constructing recreational spaces.”

However, environment experts say that beautifying the floodplains will serve no purpose if the river continues to be dirty.

Faiyaz A Khudsar, a scientist in charge of the Yamuna Biodiversity Park who is involved in the development of Kalindi Biodiversity park, said, “The river has to be clean before you take people close to it. How can people sit near the river if it stinks? Just beautifying the floodplains is not enough, we have to restore the ecology of the area which will help not only rejuvenate the river but become an attraction for the people.”

He added, “We are developing grasslands and woodlands, and one can see already restored wetland and established biological communities in the Yamuna Biodiversity Park. We are working on ensuring that sewerage water is naturally treated through constructed wetland systems before it is discharged into the river.”

Khudsar and AK Gosain, a professor of civil engineering at IIT Delhi, who submitted a drainage master plan to the Delhi government in 2017, said that just treating a few drains is not enough and efforts should be made to ensure that no sewage flows into the river.

Gosain said, “There is a need to ensure that sewage doesn’t flow into the river. There are around 200 natural drain segments in Delhi and most of them are flooded with sewage. We had advised the government to put in a system in place whereby sewage from unauthorised colonies, where there are no sewer lines, is trapped and diverted to nearby sewer lines. The natural drains should be clean and are meant to carry only stormwater.”

On the completion of the first year of the Delhi government’s second term, Delhi health and urban development minister Satyendar Jain said after defeating Covid-19, the Delhi government will focus on cleaning the Yamuna in three years.

“Nobody believed us when we promised to provide 24×7 electricity, but today, the Delhi government is providing 24×7 electricity to the people of Delhi. Soon, we will also provide 24×7 water supply as well. [Delhi chief minister Arvind] Kejriwal has given clear instructions to complete the Yamuna cleaning project as soon as possible and we are working day and night for this,” Jain said on February 16.

While work on the restoration of the riverfront, which was disrupted last year due to the coronavirus disease pandemic, is picking up pace, DDA officials said that a majority of the work will be completed by December 2021.

DDA is also planning to send a proposal to the Union housing and urban affairs ministry for approval of funding of the project from the Urban Development Fund, which is collected by DDA mainly through conversion charges, said a DDA official.

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