The floodplains of Yamuna in Delhi have been facing encroachment threats for long. In the latest incident a huge portion of riverbed underneath Nizammudin bridge towards Games village was found turned into a dumping ground on February 16, 2020. This was happening despite the protection of floodplains from encroachment and waste dumping were among key concerns of remarkable National Green Tribunal (NGT) judgement “Maili Se Nirmal Yamuna” of January 13, 2015.
Most of the debris were left over from Metro and road bridge construction work undertaken during past one decade. Apart from this, there were heaps of construction and demolition (C&D) waste probably from nearby colonies and residential areas.
On Feb 17, 2020, through a series of tweets[i] SANDRP through its twitter handle @Indian_Rivers shared photos and videos of the Yamuna river bed at Nizammudin and raised the concerns over alarming situation of debris dumping with NGT monitoring committee, DDA and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). One of the worst impact of the wanton riverbed encroachment and debris dumping was seen on a channel of river which was active till seven years ago but is now turned into a linear shaped small water body.
We are thankful that the NGT monitoring committee, CPCB and DDA in their tweets replied back assuring actions and action taken report (ATR). Firstly the NGT monitoring committee asked the DDA to look into the matter and remove the dumping from the riverbed. Then the CPCB also directed DDA to take immediate action and share ATR.
Acknowledging the concerns and follow up tweets from NGT committee and CPCB, the DDA through its official twitter handle also replied back with assurance of needful action.
As we write this, it has been one week since the episode but there is no action as yet on the Yamuna riverbed.
Images of the same site taken on Feb. 23, 2020 showing no action taken by DDA so far.
Background Though the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and NGT set up monitoring committee in past have taken steps to check the abuse of floodplains including placing of notice boards & installing CCTV cameras, these measures appeared ineffective in the absence of regular monitoring and effective penalties.
Roughly about 5 acres of riverbed land close to the Nizammudin bridge was seen buried under around four feet layer of debris. The trend seems to be to first dump and then level. Ironically the DDA notice board warning against dumping itself was surrounded by dumped debris.
Equally alarming was the condition of river Yamuna turned into a cesspool of putrefying polluted water with no flow. The river was ecologically dead despite spending of over Rs 1500 crores in last quarter of century under three phases of Yamuna Action Plan (YAP).
In less than last 10 years, 4 new bridges have come over the river stretch fragmenting the floodplain and affecting smooth passage of flood waters at the location. This as per the locals was the reason for about 10 feet deep flood water stagnation next to the Games village river stretch on August 20, 2019 while across the National Highway (NH) 24 there was hardly any impact of that historic floods in 2019 monsoon, the highest discharge in the river since 1978.
In April 2019, the similar issue of construction material leftovers from Signature bridge blocking Yamuna flows and defacing the river bed was raised by media[ii] and SANDRP. Most of the debris from river channel and riverbed was then removed[iii] following NGT committee intervention. Though large part of the riverbed seems to have been grabbed by the construction company, parking its machinery and material in riverbed. During restoration process the debris were also pushed into the active channel in an attempt to wash it down.
Awaiting Action on Ground These incidents highlight that bridge construction are not only affecting natural flowing pattern and flooding nature of the river but the derbies leftovers and seemingly unending construction work are leading to increasing encroachments upon the riverbed. It appears the bridge construction has also become a tool to grab riverbed and floodplains land.
Before, this SANDRP has many times through field visit reports shared the worrying situation of riverbed and floodplain[iv] stretch lying between Palla and Wazirabad. We are thankful that the NGT committee is intervening in these issues by asking relevant departments to act. We would look forward to effective and exemplary action on ground, beyond the twitter responses from official agencies.
The regular monitory visits by NGT committee and ATRs by concerned departments can surely bring a change and help make Yamuna river floodplains stay free of debris, waste and encroachments. Hope this joint efforts by civil society groups, Media, NGT monitoring agency and government departments will result in some positive action for floodplain protection of River Yamuna in Delhi.
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Following this blog and update on the issue, the Yamuna Monitoring Committee, CPCB, DDA has again promised prompt actions, which is appreciable however they have already delayed the action and we will keep updating them on the issue.
25 July 2020
[i] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/tweet-on-debris-near-yamuna-spurs-depts-into-action/articleshow/74182555.cms, https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/delhi/2020/feb/18/cpcb-asks-dda-to-remove-debris-from-yamuna-floodplain-nizamuddin-bridge-2105006.html