On August 21, 2019, the first big flood spell of monsoon season 2019 has passed through Delhi. The river swelled to cross first warning level 204.00 metre and then danger level 204.83 metre at Old Railway Bridge (ORB) Delhi, finally receding from 206.6 metre which is 0.89 meter short of 207.49 Highest Flood Level (HFL) set in 1978.
The delayed and much awaited flood spell hit the city after highest ever recorded discharge of 8.28 lakh cusec water for two hours from Hathini Kund Barrage (HKB), Yamuna Nagar in Haryana on August 18, 2019 at 05:00 pm and 6:00 pm. The highest since the commissioning of HKB in 2000. The water release this year has also surpassed the discharge of 7.09 lakh cusec the previous highest discharge recorded at Taje Wala Barrage (TWB) during the highest flood recorded in River Yamuna in September 1978. The British era TWB barrage, some 6 kilometre upstream of HKB was washed away in 2010 floods.
River Reclaims Floodplain In Palla
By the evening of August 20, 2019, every single inch of 26 km long floodplain lying between Palla and Wazirabad went under water by 1 to 10 feet. The flood water surrounded several ongoing encroachments. The solid waste dumped along the embankment also got washed in the flood water. The status of liquid waste was no different and it was being pumped out in flood water without any treatment at Burari.
Yamuna floodplain stretch near Burari during August 2019 floods.
Only in June 2019, SANDRP has highlighted the threats and encroachments going on in this stretch, all those areas were covered by flood water as concerned agencies and department failed to take required actions. https://sandrp.in/2019/06/14/abuse-of-remaining-yamuna-river-floodplain-in-delhi-continues/
Interestingly the recently inaugurated flood water storage project at Sungarpur village was also severely flooded.
Floodwater Storage Pilot Project Got Flooded
On August 9, 2019 Union Water Resources Minister, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal inaugurated the flood water storage project. Under the pilot project about 30 acres of floodplain which is normally under cultivation is being dug by one metre depth to store the flood water. Government of Delhi proposes similar artificial off channel reservoirs if the pilot project gets successful.
Delhi Govt’s flood water storage pilot project gets flooded during August 20-21, 2019 floods.
“The project is hardly one acre away from the actual lean season channel of the river. The river keeps meandering and after this flood it may starts flowing through the reservoirs or more closer to embankment. Hence the exercise could become futile”, said Lokesh a farmer of Sungarpur village. He also complained that his soon to be harvested paddy crops were damaged for the project without any compensation.
Rajpal Singh, another villager of Palla feels that the storage would be filled with fine silt during floods hampering the groundwater recharge which is claimed as one of major benefits from the project. “The receding flood water can raze down the sandy borders of storage pond and the water could quickly flow back to the river leaving the reservoir dry”, adds Rajpal.
Local people also said that the contractors tried to create sandy bund to protect the site from flooding as the work was incomplete but in vain.
Some farmers seemed to have protested against the project. A banner near embankment at project site terms the project as grabbing of floodplain land away from farmers.
In fact, terming the project unsustainable scientist Vikram Soni has in his opinion in Hindustan Times dated August 12, stated that, “Delhi government has been overzealous in announcing that they would create a medley of lakes on the floodplain to trap monsoon floodwaters. Since the floodplain is already a porous sandy aquifer and absorbs most of the floodwater, such an intrusion may not be optimal. The floodplain itself is like an invisible underground lake.
I would like to suggest that organic agriculture, for example, planting of food forest or fruit forests on the floodplain, would be a better option than carving out lakes, where vast quantities of sand would have to be transported out affecting the wetland ecology of the floodplains — very much akin to sand mining, . Furthermore, in any case, the floodplains are designated as a protected Zone O in the master plan and declared a biodiversity zone. Also, open lakes would lose a very large amount of water — nearly 3 metres depth of water — in a year from evaporation.”
Last year, Delhi Government started construction of 70 new Ranney Wells in Palla area to tap 15 million gallon of water daily (MGD). There are already more than one hundred such ranney well extracting about 20 MGD water from the floodplain to augment Delhi drinking water supply.
It’s true that floodplains store flood water naturally and artificial reservoirs would end up disturbing its eco-system. Similarly extracting more groundwater from the floodplain than its replenishing capacity would affect both the groundwater table and base flow to the river during lean season.
Large Chunk of Floodplain Grabbed by Signature Bridge Construction Company
In June 2019, the heaps of construction debris were seen chocking the riverbed and impeding river flow beneath the Signature Bridge. When concerns were raised, it was removed in half-heartedly manner. Beside the debris, the construction company has encroached on a large piece of active floodplain. Part of company’s facilities were flooded and part of floodplain was deprived of floodwater spread by levelling, raising the land.
Garhi Mandu Parking Site Goes Underwater
In recent years a parking facility has been allowed to be constructed inside floodplain at Garhi Mandu village along the embankment locally known as Pusta road. The entire stretch was immersed in flood water on Aug 21, 2019.
River Reclaims Proposed Landfill cum Waste To Energy Site
In brazen violation of laws, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in March 2019 has allotted 42.5 acres of active floodplain for development of landfill cum waste to energy plant in Ghonda Gujran, East Delhi. Similar plan has been made for Sonia Vihar site which is again in the floodplain of River Yamuna.
These sites fall in Zone O, where such polluting activities are legally prohibited. More surprisingly National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in their report had maintained that the Ghonda Gujran site was not part of floodplain. This deliberate manipulation of facts put a big question mark on the credibility of these agencies.
The entire floodplain particularly the eastern bank between Signature Bridge and Kashmiri Gate Bridge goes underwater every year. This year too it was seen under 8 to 10 feet of floodwater. Even though the river recedes in couple of weeks, but it leaves water-bodies, wetlands behind for long time.
Metro Depot, IT Park Surrounded By Flood Water
Over the past two decades the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has built Shasthri Park Metro Depot, DMRC Training Institute, IT Park, Yamuna Bank Metro Depot on Yamuna floodplain by levelling and filling up the floodplain area. These structures are further protected by bunds, roads and guide bunds. Despite that floodwater was seen encircling the facilities in a clear reminder that these structures have illegally come on the river land.
Floodplain near Common Wealth Games Village Goes Underwater
Further downstream the floodwater touched the embankment next to the Common Wealth Games Village. This stretch has also gone under about 10 feet deep water during 2010 and 2013 floods. It is well known that the Akshar Dham Temple has also been carved out of Yamuna floodplain.
Video clip on floodplain under submergence near CWG Village site.
World Cultural Festival Site Submerged
The World Cultural Festival (WCF) organized by Art of Living (AOL) foundation in March 2016 had faced severe criticism and a fine of Rs. 5 crore from National Green Tribunal (NGT) for damaging floodplain eco-system. In their defence, the organizer had even argued that there was no water bodies and no damage was done to the floodplain.
Now as a self-explanatory evidence the entire area is covered by flood water. Hope in future the government agencies and private organizers would refrain from organizing such destructive activities in the floodplain.
Jaitpur Extension, Delhi Basantpur Part II, Haryana Flooded
Jaitpur Extension, Basantpur Part II colonies have come up as most prominent encroachment on Yamuna floodplain in recent years. The area forms border with Haryana state as the river exits the city. As per locals the colonies go under water during every big floods. Last time the colonies were flooded in 2010 and 2013 floods.
The approximately 5 km long stretch of floodplain lies between Okhala Barrage and a drain separating Delhi and Haryana states. Large part of the floodplain is still occupied predominantly by exotic Keekar (Prosopis juliflora) and farmlands.
During this flood, water covered a large part of this degraded forest area. The illegal human settlements is reportedly saved by construction of an earthen bund. Residents told that a JCB machine was employed for 2 days to create the bund to stop flood water and over flowing drain from flooding the colony.
However, the other part of the illegal colony across the drain was severely flooded. Major part of this unauthorized settlement administratively falls in Faridabad district of Haryana and is known as Basant Pur extension. In gross violation of laws, more than thousands plots have been created in both colonies over the years.
The affected residents blamed the nexus of local property dealers for cheating them with lakhs of rupees and selling land in flood prone areas. The people met during the visit to the area during floods wished to leave the area if their money was returned by the property dealers or they could resale their plots.
Some Observations Yamuna river has seen the highest discharges in August 2019 floods. Before the flood spell the entire basin area was facing large rainfall deficit and even after the floods there is significant rainfall shortage in Yamuna basin areas. Hence the floodwater made no remarkable difference in areas downstream Delhi. The water discharge from HKB rose rather steeply, remained only for a short while at peak and then came down steeply, hence the water level at Delhi Railway Bridge and other locations along Yamuna did not cross the HFL, even when the discharges from HKB were highest ever.
Nevertheless, the flood spell has again enable the river to reclaim its floodplain territory. The flood has also like previous big floods exposed the existing, on-going and proposed encroachments and abuses of river and its floodplain.
The relatively better and clean stretch of river running between Palla and Wazirabad is being abused by dumping of solid and liquid waste. There are several attempts going on to encroach the floodplain bit by bit. Although the issue has been raised earlier and brought into the information of NGT monitoring committee, yet there has been no effective action to curb the menace. Further inaction would surely make the matter worse.
Prima facie it is evident that construction of more ranney wells and floodwater storage pilot project could affect the river, groundwater and floodplain adversely. These projects should not go ahead without proper Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) studies.
There is urgent need to free the river floodplain area encroached by Signature Bridge construction company and it should be restored back to the river. In past, similar encroachments, in the name of temporary facilities, like Millennium Bus Depot and L&T construction facilities in Smriti Van near Sarai Kale Khan, seems to have become illegally legalized encroachment on the floodplain. There is need to take prompt steps to restore the grabbed and degraded floodplain back to the river.
The flood is also reminder to DMRC that it should stop all future depots and other plans in the floodplain.
DDA must scrap the proposed waste dump sites at Ghonda Gujran and Sarita Vihar, as these are proposed on active floodplain as evident by pictures and videos.
The August 2019 flood also serves as a wake-up call to Central and Delhi Governments to protect the remaining floodplain from CWG Village, Akshar Dham Temple like permanent encroachments and AOL like cultural events.
In the end, if concerned governments have slightest intention to revive the river, they must investigate on how and why Batla House, Jaitpur Extension and Basantpur like unauthorised colonies have come up on riverbed in the first place and initiate legal actions against all involved.
As experts fear, the river may in next few years be repeating its 50 years flood cycle, then in all possible likelihood, these unauthorised settlements could be severely damaged, possibly resulting in heavy toll on human lives.
Floodplains are integral part of a river as they fulfil essential ecological functions for river eco-system and riparian communities. Encroachments on floodplain not only destroy a river but also in due course become sure invitation to disaster. Sooner the governments realize this and take prompt actions against existing, ongoing and proposed encroachments, the better it would be for River Yamuna and public at large.
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)