Record rains in Delhi help raise groundwater along Yamuna floodplains by 2.5m

Updated on Sep 27, 2021 12:32 AM IST

The government acquired 40 acres of land along the Yamuna floodplains near Palla in 2019 for the project

In July 2019, the Delhi government launched a water conservation project along the Yamuna river. (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)
In July 2019, the Delhi government launched a water conservation project along the Yamuna river. (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)
ByAbhishek Dey, New Delhi

Devices installed by the Delhi government to measure groundwater level in a four-square kilometre area around a reservoir created along the Yamuna floodplains near Palla neighbourhood, located in the northern peripheries of the city, recorded a rise of 2.5 metres this year, the highest in three years with the Capital witnessing record rainfall this monsoon.

With the project completing three monsoons since its pilot run in 2019, the government will now start drafting a report from October 1, which is supposed to be submitted to a committee appointed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), said a senior government official. “The government is supposed to take a call on further continuation of the project, expansion of the 26-acre reservoir and acquisition of more farmlands for that in the time to come, only after getting the tribunal’s nod,” said the official.

In July 2019, the Delhi government launched a water conservation project along the Yamuna river, which, the official said, aimed at recharging the depleting groundwater levels in the national capital. The project involved creating a reservoir to collect excess water from the Yamuna as it floods during the monsoon and giving it adequate time to recharge groundwater levels. The government was supposed to record developments of the project for three monsoons and prepare a report, that is to be shared with the NGT-appointed panel, for taking further call.

The government acquired 40 acres of land along the Yamuna floodplains near Palla – not very far from the Delhi-Haryana border in Singhu village – in 2019 for the project. Of the 40 acres, 10 belonged to gram sabhas in the area and 30 acres were acquired from farmers on three-year lease agreements. The government then created a reservoir of 17.6 acres.

The next year, the size of the reservoir was increased to 26 acres. In a four square metre area around the reservoir, which includes Palla, Bakhtawarpur, Tigipur, Sungarpur, Bakner, Mamorpur and a few other villages with vast stretches of paddy fields, the government set up a network of 33 piezometers — devices that can measure the depth of groundwater.

“In 2019, the devices showed that the groundwater levels have risen upto 1.3 metres, and last year, the maximum rise recorded was 2 metres. This year, the devices recorded a maximum rise of 2.5 metres,” said the senior government official, who did not wish to be identified.

The reservoir is estimated to have contributed 4,350 million litres to the groundwater aquifer collectively in 2019 and 2020. “Assessment for 2021 is yet to be done. It will be incorporated in the final report. The government plans to submit the report to the NGT-appointed committee in another two months,” said the official.

The government has plans to expand the project to a 1,000-acre area stretching till Wazirabad, said a second official in the government’s irrigation and flood control department “To understand why the project is evidently bearing fruit, one has to look at rainfall data, because rain plays the primary role here,” said the official.

According to the data of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), Delhi usually receives 653.6mm of rainfall during the monsoon season. In 2020, the city recorded 648.9mm of precipitation and 404mm rain in 2019. This monsoon, Delhi has received 1,169.7mm rainfall till 8pm on Sunday, the highest since 1964 (1,190.9 mm).

“The idea of the reservoir sounds feasible considering the soil type in Delhi, which allows quick percolation of water. If the government does not take measures to recharge groundwater levels now, things can get worse. Chennai has a severe groundwater depletion problem. Delhi should not become another Chennai,” said Sanjay Singh, national coordinator of Jan Jal Jodo Abhiyan, an advocacy group that works on access to water, conservation of water bodies, groundwater recharge and water security through community participation.

Farmers in the area, however, highlighted some concerns. “There are issues pertaining to payment of rent in accordance with the lease. Those have to be resolved. The farmers who have given their lands have no other source of income,” said Ritesh Rana, a farmer and a resident of Bakhtawarpur village.

When HT visited the villages close to the reservoir this week, several farmers stressed on why they were unsure about the efficacy of the project.

“Most farmers have water pumps and pipes that go 40 feet down. During monsoon, they face no problem anyway. We are not very sure about the changes in the groundwater level. We learn about the changes through data that is occasionally shared by government teams visiting the site,” said Pappan Singh Gahlot, a farmer and resident of Tigipur village.

There are also a lot of uncertainties. “What happens if the government plans to drop the project next year? The whole area has been dug up and farmers cannot cultivate this land without help from the government. Also, if they plan to expand it, they should inform farmers before the sowing season. Last time, they had to cut half-grown paddy to make space for the reservoir. Farmers in the area still feel that they have not been compensated adequately for the crop loss,” said Rai Singh Tanwar, a farmer from Sungarpur.

Office of Delhi’s water minister Satyendar Jain said: “The impact assessment of the project is being done by the Joint Committee appointed by NGT. All the data pertaining to ground water levels, amount of water being recharged and rainfall in the local area is being shared with the Joint Committee. The study of water table is being done with piezometers network in the alignment of pond area and non- pond area and the requisite information will be available... It is expected that the Joint Committee shall submit its report to the NGT by the end of this year.”

On land lease amount concerns worrying farmers, Jain’s office said, “The lease rent of land owners are being paid timely... according to the lease agreement by l&FC department for development of pilot project at village Sungerpur. The lease rent upto 2nd year has already been paid through online payment and 3rd year 1st quarter payment is under process . However. there was an issue with some farmers due to merger of banks and change in IFSC details , which has been sort out with concern land owners.”

On what will happen to the land if the project is dropped and other uncertainties, an officer in Jain’s office, who is also in charge of the irrigation and flood department, said: “As per the terms and conditions of the lease agreement, if the project is not continued then the land of the farmers shall be returned to them by filling the land with the excavated earth and bringing it to the same elevation as the soil near the reservoir site. The lease is being paid to the farmers from the day their land was taken for the project. This means that the crop of the first year is also compensated. The lease was fixed by a multi department committee of the Delhi Government and has taken into account all the contingencies as far as possible. Otherwise on the success of project, the lease period will be increased accordingly or as directed by the Delhi government.”

Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, a civil society consortium working for the Yamuna’s protection, however, flagged some concerns largely regarding challenges to fair assessment of the project.

“The project has been created in a floodplain. Floodplains have an organic relationship with rivers. During the monsoons, the rivers feeds on the floodplains. The water percolates and recharges aquifers, which can stretch for kilometres. During dry months, the aquifers feed the rivers and help them maintain a base flow. Being a perennial river, Yamuna is one such case. So, a large part of the water recharging process is automatic here,” said Mishra.

“Secondly, in the absence of wells in the area and residents always getting access to water with the help of water pumps during monsoon, they would find it difficult to see any changes in the groundwater levels and the assessment would become completely dependent on government readings taken to piezometers. Also, 40 acres of land is too less an area for executing such a project and recording visible changes in water levels,” said Misra.

He further said, “For fair and more efficient assessment, the government should consider creating a reservoir in the passive floodplains, ideally on the other side of the river embankment, instead of the active floodplains. This process will not work with the natural overflow of the river and will feed the reservoir automatically during monsoons and would require the government to set up arrangements to fill it up. It can give better results in terms of assessment of such a project.”

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