Plan to revive Delhi’s Najafgarh Jheel, protect biodiversity around it

Published on Sep 05, 2022 01:39 PM IST

The revamp bid is part of the Environment Management Plan which had been prepared by the Delhi government following directions of the National Green Tribunal

Environmental experts have been batting to conserve the Najafgarh jheel for several years now, and argue that its environs need a higher degree of protection for its rich avian ecosystem, which could be lost without it. (HT Archive)
Environmental experts have been batting to conserve the Najafgarh jheel for several years now, and argue that its environs need a higher degree of protection for its rich avian ecosystem, which could be lost without it. (HT Archive)

The Delhi State Wetland Authority (SWA) has prepared a detailed action plan to protect and rejuvenate Najafgarh Jheel, with departments under the Delhi governments having already issued instructions to begin work on the ground to transform the lake over the next one to two years, officials aware of the matter said.

The revamp bid is part of the Environment Management Plan (EMP) which had been prepared by the Delhi government following directions of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). It will consist of short-term, medium-term and long-term measures that aim to remove all roads on the periphery of the lake, installing regulators and creating ducts and sluices to prevent flooding in the vicinity, the officials said.

Environmental experts have been batting to conserve the lake for several years now, and argue that its environs need a higher degree of protection for its rich avian ecosystem, which could be lost without it.

The Najafgarh Jheel is among 19 other water bodies in Delhi, which are planned to be notified as a ‘wetland’. While the remaining water bodies are being notified by the Delhi government, SWA officials say Najafgarh Jheel will be notified as a wetland by the Centre, owing to directions under a National Green Tribunal Judgement.

The NGT in January this year, had directed the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to prepare an integrated environment management plan (EMP), which will include specific budget allocations, for the Najafgarh Jheel, virtually paving the way for the notification of the transboundary (Delhi-Haryana) water body as a wetland. Until then, action plans or EMPs are to be enforced, it had said.

Once notified as a wetland, the Jheel will have a defined boundary and area, thereby reducing chances of encroachment. In addition, it will also be receiving funding for its protection from the Centre.

Among the immediate or short-term measures specified under the EMP is a species inventory which will be carried out by the state forest and wildlife department, mapping all fauna that is present in and around the jheel. This will focus largely on the birds that visit the lake. The species inventory will allow the wetland body to ascertain whether the number of certain species and their count is increasing or decreasing over time.

The plan, which was submitted to the NGT on August 12, 2022, has also asked the Irrigation and Flood Control Department (I&FCD) to begin a feasibility study on the construction of a regulator at Jhatikra, located downstream of the lake, to regulate the water level in the lake. A similar feasibility check is to be carried out for the construction of sluices or ducts in the embankments to allow for inundation on the Delhi side, the plan states.

In the medium-term measures, which are to be executed over the next two to three years, all obstructions impacting the flow of the lake and the Najafgarh drain will have to be removed or relocated, including a power sub-station. Meanwhile, PWD has been asked to provide alternate road connectivity to all villages located in the vicinity of the Najafgarh Jheel, thereby reducing traffic and disturbance to the migratory birds arriving at the Jheel each year.

“The two key components of the plan are to regulate the flow of the water. The proposed regulator at Jhatikra can regulate the water level of the lake, while the ducts and sluices can regulate the water level on both the Delhi and Gurugram side. This will maintain the water levels between contour levels 209 and 210 and can be particularly useful when the nearby areas are getting flooded,” said Manu Bhatnagar principal director at INTACH and part of the Delhi SWA. He says the idea behind restricting direct access to the lake via roads will also ensure wildlife and the birds there face minimal disturbance through vehicles.

“Vehicles will only be allowed up to a certain point, after which people will have to either walk up to the lake, or there will be a provision of e-bikes or something similar,” he added.

A second SWA official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said all departments involved had already begun work on the action plan, stating the Delhi government’s ‘Wetland Mitras’ were also being utilised to protect the lake. “We have also asked the revenue department to create an incentive-based plan under which private land owners near the Jheel can contribute towards protection of the lake,” said the official, stating in the long-term a wetland interpretation centre is also to be built near the lake.

CR Babu, head of the Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE) in Delhi, said over time, the catchments of the Najafgarh Jheel have reduced, with the majority of water into the lake now coming through stormwater drains that brings sewage. “It is important to ensure on-site treatment of water from these drains or to use a sewage treatment plant to ensure the water coming into the lake is clean. Regulators can meanwhile check the flow of water.This will be beneficial as the Delhi side regularly gets flooded due to excess water,” he said.

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