Structure at New India Garden may hit green hurdle: Experts

Updated on Aug 09, 2021 02:09 AM IST

The garden and structure are part of the Central Vista project, which includes a new Parliament building, government offices, residences for the Prime Minister and the Vice President, and the relocation of the National Museum in North Block and South Block.

The plan could run into some problems arising from a NGT ruling of 2015, though.(PTI File Photo)
The plan could run into some problems arising from a NGT ruling of 2015, though.(PTI File Photo)
ByRisha Chitlangia, Jayashree Nandi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The Central Public Works Department (CPWD) recently relaunched a design competition for an “iconic structure” to be constructed at the proposed New India garden on the western bank of Yamuna, although this could run afoul of both a 2015 National Green Tribunal ruling and a 2016 notification by what is now the Ministry of Jal Shakti.

The garden and structure are part of the Central Vista project, which includes a new Parliament building, government offices, residences for the Prime Minister and the Vice President, and the relocation of the National Museum in North Block and South Block.

The design competition was first launched last November and has received in excess of 100 entries -- these are displayed on its website -- but CPWD wants more “creative ideas” a CPWD official said on condition of anonymity.

Located near the Purana Qila, the garden will be spread over 25 acres on the western bank of the river and have infotainment facilities, a “sphere of unity”. a walkway, an exhibit titled “Journey of India”, a “tech dome“ and an open-air theatre.

The last date to submit the entries is October 18 and CPWD plans to complete the construction of the structure before August 15, 2022, which will mark India’s 75th year of independence.

The plan could run into some problems arising from a NGT ruling of 2015, though.

The National Green Tribunal in its judgement dated January 13, 2015 prohibited any construction activity in the demarcated floodplain area. It added that the floodplain needs to be defined on the basis of a so-called once-in-25-years-flood in the “ “interest of ecology, biodiversity and the river flow.” This basically means all area in the river bank, flooded by the river in the worst flood in the past 25 years will be declared part of the floodplain.

NGT directed the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to prepare a map and physically demarcate the entire floodplain.

Interestingly, the floodplain criteria is not rigid and subject to change if any public authority challenges regarding it in future, the bench headed by then NGT chairperson, Swatanter Kumar clarified — something that could provide a way out for CPWD.

A senior DDA official who asked not to be identified, claimed that a major portion of the proposed gardenis not within the 25 year flood line. This according to its draft master plan MPD 2041

There’s another issue — a ministry of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation notification of October 7, 2016 which applies to all of Ganga’s tributaries including the Yamuna. It defines “flood plain” as that on the bank flooded in a once-in-100-years-flood. It says the floodplain shall be a construction-free zone.

In response to HT’s queries, a Union ministry of housing and urban affairs (MoHUA) spokesperson said that the proposed site doesn’t fall in the floodplain. A senior MoHUA official “The site is outside the floodplain. All necessary permissions will be taken before construction work starts.”

The current zone ‘O’ or river zone regulations of DDA also state that recreational activity with construction not exceeding 0.5% of the area (with the permission of competent authority) will be allowed.

Environmentalists fear that the Navbharat Udyan (or New India garden) could be detrimental to the Yamuna floodplain and also make the structures being built unstable because of the floodplain topography.

As per the design brief available on CPWD’s website, the iconic structure can be maximum 134m in height. This is the Airport Authority of India’s height restriction in the area.

In its design brief, the CPWD has cited locational constraints that participants should keep in mind while proposing the design. “It will be located on the western bank of river Yamuna. Hence, the foundation is to be sited in sandy soil with high water table.”

Madhav Raman, architect and member of LokPath (a citizens’ collective), said the ambitious public project is risky, as the structure will be unstable due to soil liquefaction.

“Like other rivers, Yamuna is exposed to climate change. Any construction on the floodplain is not safe and is prone to flooding. The site where this garden is proposed is in Zone O and is the narrowest stretch of the river in Delhi. The area is bound to get flooded during monsoon. The proposed garden is being developed as a public space and will see a footfall. Safety of public and public assets should be assessed before taking up such projects.”

A senior CWPD official said, “CPWD will take all permissions. Maximum height mentioned as 134m, is as per the height allowed by AAI.”

Interestingly, DDA has proposed to delineate Zone ‘O’ in the Master Plan of Delhi-2041. “In case of Yamuna, the delineation shall include its once-in-25 year floodplain or any other criteria mandated by a competent authority,” read the provision in MPD-2041.

Zone ‘O’ has been split in two parts: river zone (active floodplain) and riverfront (regulated). The river zone is spread over 6295 hectares, while the regulated riverfront is 3,638 hectare in size. The plan remains a draft.

“There are two issues that need to be understood. One is that DDA has its own floodplain restoration plans. It is planning to develop a biodiversity park which will stretch between the CWG village embankment and the Ring Road. In the west bank of Yamuna the CPWD is developing the Nav Bharat Udyan and in that garden they are planning to build an iconic structure. This entire area being developed by DDA and CPWD falls in zone ‘O’. No construction is permitted in zone ‘O’ as per the NGT judgement of 2015 and the current zonal regulations. We have raised objections to both what DDA and CPWD are doing. The NGT judgement is clear that nothing can be done on the floodplains without the permission of the NGT’s principal committee’s expert body. Also, Yamuna bank is part of the Ganga system. So, such constructions will be violation of the Ganga notification also,” said Manoj Mishra, convenor, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan and petitioner in the Yamuna floodplain restoration case in NGT.

As for DDA’s claim that the location does not fall in the floodplain, Mishra added that this is according to MPD 2041, which is a draft and “has no legal validity.”

The DDA, which has put the draft plan in public domain, is aiming at notifying the draft MPD-2041 by year end, said a senior DDA official.

A CPWD official said that they are in the process of finalising the design of the structure. “It is a government project and all necessary permissions will be taken before the construction work starts,” said a CPWD official.

Raman added that MPD-2041 shows an overlap. “The same area is shown as a floodplain and also as a recreational space. In recreational space, you can construct a lot of things. The Yamuna, sadly, doesn’t flood according to the DDA’s zoning.”

Experts also point to other recent constructions and events that NGT came down on. “NGT directed last year that the Millennium bus depot on the floodplains be shifted because it was an encroachment of the floodplain; NGT also made certain very strong observations about the Art of Living cultural event on Yamuna floodplains in 2016 because it involved levelling and temporary constructions. How can these constructions be allowed now?” asked Rahul Choudhary, an environmental lawyer.

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