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Lords of all they survey

Coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal must not fret. There’s nothing called a ‘no-go’ area in India. Manoj Misra writes.

india Updated: May 23, 2011 10:25 IST

Union minister of state for coal Sriprakash Jaiswal is desperate that minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh relinquishes his obsession with ‘go’ and ‘no go’ areas as regards mining in forest areas. But as events in Delhi suggest, all this cajoling is least needed.

Delhi witnessed its worst floods in 1978. Learning from the experience, the Yamuna Standing Comm-ittee, an apex technical body, in 1979 said that “the minimum spacing between future embankments on the banks of the river Yamuna should be five km”. In other words, the river deserved a minimum of 5 kilom-etre space as its own. It must be noted that even at that time at no place did the river’s width in Delhi exceed 3.5 kilometres. Clearly on technical grounds, the then available flood plains in Delhi could not be compromised any further.

But in 1998, the Delhi Metro got major part of the river bed at a place called Shastri Park in east Delhi for constructing a depot, station, residential flats and later even commercial properties.

In 2000, the private trust developing Akshardham temple used a favourable political climate to relinquish an already allotted piece of land in the Pandav Nagar area of east Delhi and occupy a large part of the riverbed. Later in 2002, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) constructed an embankment with no public utility, almost a kilometre inside the existing eastern marginal bund also known as the Yamuna Pushta, presumably to safeguard the temple from any future flood’s fury.

In 2003, all hell broke lose on the river. The nation had ‘won’ the right to hold the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and what could be a better site for the Games Village than the river bed in ‘waiting to be developed’ east Delhi? And why should the green ministry be bothered and insist on temporary structures when a permanent structure called the Akshardham already existed on the river bed?

Once the Village had agreed to ‘grace’ the river bed, then how could the Delhi Metro be left behind? It asked for, insisted and got more land in the river bed for another depot, station and residential flats at a site now called Yamuna Bank. The Yamuna Standing Committee’s feeble protestations were cast aside.

In late 2005, the Delhi High Court, expressing displeasure on the state’s inability to safeguard the river bed set up a committee under Justice (Rtd) Usha Mehra to rid the river bed of any structure, within 300 metres of the either side of the ‘river’. But since the court had not defined what it meant by the ‘river’ the first batch of 300 jhuggis to be removed from the river bed lay north of the Akshardham adjoining the Yamuna Pushta, beyond the 300-metre mark, and where now ironically 90 residential flats of the Metro are under construction. By 2006, when the DDA was pressing the MoEF to permit it build permanent high-rises structures on the river bed in the name of the Games Village, the said committee was reporting to the court the removal of some 11,280 structures largely jhuggis from the same.

By 2008, when the Village came to occupy the river bed, the nation had seen terror strikes and hence the security of athletes and officials were the highest priority for the hosts. The Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) thus needed to park the Games buses near the Village. But there was a hitch. The Lt Governor had in 2007 imposed a moratorium on any new construction on the river bed. So, to save the day, the Lt Governor created an extraordinary exception to permit this with a caveat that no permanent construction should come up on the river bed and it should be vacated within 10 days of the closing of the Games. The DTC went ahead and occupied 61 acres, spent R60 crore and created an almost 100% bituminised bus depot.

But even after the Game, there was no movement on the part of the DTC to vacate the river bed. In a recent order, the Delhi Urban Arts Commission directed the DDA to demolish the structures and restore river bed. A month-and-a-half has passed but nothing has happened.

So why is Jaiswal so bothered about Ramesh’s ‘go’ and ‘no go’ classification? He should take a cue from the long-held practices in Delhi: when it comes to the State or it’s protectorate as the interested party, all rules can be changed.

(Manoj Misra is Convener, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan)

*The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Dec 30, 2010 23:25 IST