Drained, dumped, damned
The plans of the Public Works Department of Delhi Government to cover two storm water drains of the city to construct roads may have far reaching adverse environmental consequences.
The roads costing a whopping Rs 1,650 crore will cover the Barapullah Nullah and a stretch of the Najafgarh drain from Wazirabad to Meera Bagh. The Delhi Government has identified these new urban road corridors to decongest the city roads. They are to be completed in time for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
The original plan
Incidentally, both the drains have been identified by the Delhi Development Authority for beautification and making recreational facilities for the citizens of Delhi. And that plan is at least 12 years old, Defence Colony residents say.
The covering of the Barapullah drain appears to have been approved without considering the South Delhi Greenway — a joint project of Delhi Tourism, MCD and the DDA to create a green corridor connecting Quila Rai Pithora with Tughlaq's Satpulah in Saket right up to Nizamuddin.
The project proposes to treat the sewage biologically and convert the 'nullah' into a water canal. The two sides of the drain will be landscaped with cycle trails and pedestrian pathways that will be safe for women, children and the elderly.
Dr Arvind Nema of IIT, who is working on the Greenway project, said that covering 'nullahs' is not an eco-friendly option and will result in increase in sewage discharge into river Yamuna.
But don’t drains stink?
Not if they are properly maintained and biological oxygenation demand is brought down through environmentally-safe means. Then they can prove to be a great resource.
Says Dr Nema: "We should consider storm water and sewage as potentially valuable natural resource to replenish acquifers, rivers and water bodies." Our feasibility study shows there is enough space along the nullah to create wetlands and treat the sewage water to bring down the biological oxygenation demand to 20 mg per litre. The waterway thus created will be fit for recreational purposes," Dr Nema said.
Environmental Planner and advisor with the Natural Heritage Division of INTACH Manu Bhatnagar said that nullahs should be used for water harvesting. "Based on the report submitted by INTACH, the Flood and Irrigation Department of Delhi Government has desilted the Najafgarh Nullah from Dhansa border to Kakrola.
“This has improved the quality of groundwater in the entire area. The water used to be very brackish earlier but now the salinity has gone down and the water table has also stabilised,” Bhatnagar said.
Is a road over the drain a bad idea then?
When contacted, a senior official of DDA said that the development agency had not been approached for clearance of these new roads.
The MCD's sanitation engineering department also says that it is against the covering of drains as it becomes impossible to clean them once they are covered. Covering drains is not only expensive but also prevents natural cleansing of the drain water through oxygenation and sunlight, an MCD official said.