Following a visit to Yamuna on July 25, SANDRP had written to the Delhi Yamuna Monitoring Committee (DYMC) and concerned agencies about the dumping of construction debris and encroachments on Yamuna riverbed, floodplain at Signature Bridge, Nizamuddin Bridge (Mayur Vihar, Kale Khan side). DYMC has promptly asked Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC, we accompanied them for the inspection visit to the flood plain on July 27, 2020) and Delhi Development Authority (DDA).
On Aug 4, as per the request of DDA, SANDRP accompanied them to the Yamuna floodplain and riverbed along with their official photographer, videographer and measurement team.
DDA has divided the 25 km stretch of Yamuna River (& accompanying floodplain area) into two divisions: Wazirabad barrage to NH 24/ Nizamuddin Bridge and Nizamuddin Bridge to Okhala Barrage. The respective DDA Executive Engineers for these two divisions, Shri A K Jain and Shri V K Vats along with their assistants, horticulture department personnel were present during this official inspection. The location wise observations made and largely agreed by DDA officials are included here. We first visited the Signature bridge area under Shri A K Jain.
1 Signature bridge western bank of Yamuna River
On August 4, 2020, for first time in monsoon 2020 the river water level has increased on account of rains in upstream areas. When we reached the location at 11:30 am, we found most part of the riverbed areas (where debris were dumped close to surgical mask material site as shown in pics and videos of July 29 report by SANDRP[i]), had gone under water. The tips of boulders, debris were still visible. The rest of the riverbed abused by debris dumping that was outside water spread was shown, explained to DDA & documented, photographed. Timely action has been assured.
There is still some construction work going on for additional leaf over of Signature Bridge on western side and riverbed has been dug to install pillars. As a result huge amount of muck and debris have been generated and piled up in riverbed. The officials acknowledged this and promised action.
- Signature Bridge: DMRC pillars construction site, Eastern Bank of Yamuna River
At this site the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has been constructing pillars for upcoming Majlis Park – Maujpur line. In violation of NGT order, DMRC has raised, filled, levelled and enclosed 80X60 metres of riverbed (as measured by DDA team) upto 7-10 feet thus disconnecting it from the riverbed.
In addition, coating of concrete gravels has also been done on large part of this raised area. Road debris were also seen dumped on this raised ground.
Further DMRC has placed makeshift office cabin nearby and the riverbed beneath and next to it has been concretized. Similarly, in violation of the NGT order, DMRC is preparing iron mess work for pillars inside riverbed and for this too, a significant area of riverbed has been concretized.
Shailendar Singh, the project engineer of KEC Company for DMRC was visited in makeshift cabin office. A K Jain, executive engineer DDA mentioned all the issues to him. Though he accepted he has been aware of NGT order, however he had not so far registered that DMRC work there was in direction contravention of the same order.
DDA official team also acknowledged these were serious violations. The site and work must be monitored by DDA regularly, which they are clearly not doing.
All these violations are happening inside the guide bund which is active riverbed of Yamuna. Moreover, large scale construction work going on in riverbed in the middle of the monsoon season when a good flood spell is long overdue in Yamuna.
When the project engineer was asked about this, he accepted that if flood comes their structure would get affected. He was told that it may also adversely impact areas downstream. He also assured that this raised structure (over 80X60 m) will be removed in two months. But the question is can such illegality be allowed to persist till the convenience of DMRC?
But SANDRP mentioned that the DMRC work carried out at Nizamuddin location had grossly abused riverbed and floodplain and no action has been taken so far. Action must be taken by DMRC, DDA and DYMC.
We also raised the issue that within 600 metre distance between Wazirabad Barrage cum double lane bridge and Signature Bridge which is again double lane, now a third bridge of metro line is being built there, without any assessment of its impact on floodplain, riverbed, river and flood water flows.
- Signature Bridge, Eastern Bank of Yamuna River
Next to DMRC work, a large chunk of riverbed area inside guide bund is still under occupation of Signature Bridge Construction Company. It includes junk materials in huge amount, unused vehicles, damaged machinery dumped on the riverbed. There has been visible impact of flattening of riverbed with debris, construction materials in large amount.
Upstream and downstream of bridge construction debris, concrete blocks, waste are still dotting the riverbed. Visibly beneath and around second pillar from guide bund riverbed has been raised by 3 to 10 feet with earth and debris where the unused equipment, machinery, junk material is piled up as if riverbed is some dumping site.
During visit to Signature bridge on August 04, 2020 DDA team, SANDRP found Signature bridge construction company unnecessarily occupying riverbed apart from dumping junk machinery, construction material, unused equipment in floodplain thus impacting the river Yamuna there. Bhim Singh Rawat/ SANDRP
Apparently, the work of bridge which was supposed to be completed by 2010 has now come to an end however, no initiation has been taken from the project developer to restore the abused and encroached riverbed there. Nor has DDA taken any action.
DDA team admitted gravity of all these issues. The team also assessed that the project developer has been utilizing way more of the riverbed area than actually required due to lack of proper and regular inspection by DDA. The team found that the Signature Bridge construction facilities are occupying about 2 hectares of riverbed while the actual requirement is less than half of it.
- Nizamuddin Bridge, Eastern Bank of Yamuna River, Mayur Vihar
On the way to Nizamuddin Bridge via Laxmi Nagar, we found a large piece of Yamuna floodplain is being levelled at the turning point to Noida along the eastern embankment right opposite Akshar Dham temple.
The area has been recipient of flood water in recent past. The DDA officials said that it was under Uttar Pradesh, Irrigation Department. There is need to gather more information about the work and its impact on the floodplain.
At Mayar Vihar, abuse of Yamuna floodplain was shown to the entire team of DDA officials. There were large concrete blocks, waste dumped on floodplain. Additionally about 1km long parallel road under metro line has been created by 2 to 4 feet high dumping of debris from guide bund to PWD office which is entry point inside floodplain.
DDA officials there remarked that the encroachment done in past is difficult to undo and they would stop future abuse. This we have found problematic, unprofessional on part of DDA and and is unacceptable. It seems broadly there is little change in the mind-set of the officials.
After this, I took V K Vats Executive Engineer, in charge of this site and photographer to bottom of pits measuring 4-5 feet in height (which is actual level of floodplain) created by debris dumping. DDA team inspected, photographed and also noted pillar numbers (16, 17 and 18) to take action later. However, DDA officials did not measure the area to figure out amount of debris dumped there and to decide punitive action against violators including DMRC.
Near pillar number 14, 15, 16 of DMRC over 70 cubical concrete blocks (called sinking cubes) measuring 1X1X1 metre are left by bridge developers occupying floodplain there. Again physical observation and photographic documentation was made by DDA, but no measuring and counting of these cubes were undertaken to figure out floodplain space occupied and deterrent action to be taken by DDA.
From guide bund the riverbed begins and large area has been raised there by leveling of debris upto 3 to 7 feet in height. We have already submitted details of this in writing supporting videos, photographs and even Google earth images demarcating approximate area of riverbed which has faced grave violations.
Because of this large scale dumping and leveling; an active current of Yamuna stands disconnected from the river now. Any restoration claim by DDA will be ascertained if this channel is restored back to the river.
The DDA officials were taken around, shown concrete debris, leveling of riverbed and its impact. The team accepted that there has been violations. However, they still seem to have no clue that dumping includes all materials not belonging to original riverbed there including earth, soils. There are places where riverbed has been filled by soil excavated for pillars construction and other material which apparently don’t look like concrete waste, construction debris, which the DDA team exclaimed that is natural thing thus doing no harm.
Such remarks by Shri of V K Vats is highly inappropriate putting question mark on DDA’s understating of river, riverbed and floodplain. It raises doubts about any remedial action which is decided by DDA emanating from clear lack of understating of the issue.
The entire team was taken beneath the bridge where riverbed malba was dumped apparently by none other than but DDA itself while claiming removing efforts way back in February 2020[ii] following our site visit and report.
In between DDA Superintendent Engineer (SE) under whom Mr Jain and Vats work also joined while the team was underneath the bridge. He remarked what and how much excavation we wanted them to do. This possibly shows lack of understanding about riverbed, impact of blocking riverbed by debris and importance of restoring the riverbed to possible original form.
Yamuna riverbed filled with construction debris at Nizamuddin bridge on Mayur Vihar side. Pictures taken during July 25-27 , 2020 visits of the area. Bhim Singh Rawat/SANDRP.
It is of utmost concern that despite pictorial evidence put up by us in public domain through blogs and submission to DYMC and shared with DDA officials, the DDA team including V K Vats executive engineer and T R Gautam assistant engineer of Nizamuddin to Okhala division did not acknowledge that the debris from riverbed next to metro line were dumped under Nizamuddin road bridge.
They showed us file, pics, tabular content claiming their remedial action. But in the face of irrefutable ground realities which they have all seen and agreed, this claim is clearly indefensible.
Largely the team was convinced that there is large amount of malba still dumped in and around river bed, key officials of the division kept repeating that they had taken action. Actually they were not able to figure out the riverbed level and amount of muck dumped on riverbed. They have been considering the riverbed like any other part of landscape which could be covered up by levelling debris.
The warning board erected on dumping which we have been mentioning since the beginning was still there on dump site. The DDA staff and photographer was taken down the pit which is original riverbed there. It was clear for all to see that though now under some vegetation cover on account of monsoon, the debris in large amount were still piled up there.
The riverbed was excavated in presence of all at three locations by a JCB machine standing there of which the first pit was having yellow soil layer upto 4 feet depth which is not natural riverbed soil, second pit have mixed material including silt, debris when dug upto 2 feet and the third location had purely construction malba upto 2 feet to make them realise where and how debris have been buried in riverbed.
At this stage the SE left the site, and the team was taken upto riverbank to show them the construction debris. They were also shown cross sectional bund created by DMRC underneath its line from pillar number 9 to 12. At places it is higher than 8 feet which will adversely affect passage of flood. The team largely agreed to this, blamed DMRC for violation and decided to convene a high level meeting with DMRC officials.
We raised the issue of construction of back to back five bridges including metro line within a narrow stretch of about 170 metre of river. These structure have 70 pillars of varying size, plus the raising of riverbed with debris have clearly created a bottleneck situation there thus adversely affecting flooding pattern and confining river channel to narrowest limit by disabling meandering of river there.
Further about 1 km downstream, one more double lane Barapula Extension Bridge is being built. Thus in about 1.3 km length 6 bridges are coming on the river which means on average a bridge every 200 metres. These bridges are acting like cross sectional embankment on river, fragmenting the floodplain into pieces and encouraging encroachments of all sorts.
Additionally the blatant manner in which the bridge developers including NHAI, DMRC, PWD & their contractors have abused the riverbed & floodplain by dumping construction debris all around is in clear violation of NGT directions, unacceptable and showing that they totally lack understanding of river eco-system. DDA is guilty in each of these cases for allowing all such gross abuses of the riverbed and floodplain.
We told them that the debris are having detrimental effect on river but it’s also a precious resource for developers which can be recycled at C&D waste plants and reused for development activities elsewhere which are consuming fresh material there.
The A K Jain and his assistant also left the team after this site.
- Kale Khan site, Western Bank of Yamuna River
As mentioned in SANDRP’s July 29 report and now confirmed by the field visit about 2 hectare of floodplain abutting NH 24 (next to Millennium bus depot are) on Kale Kha has been raised by around 10 feet.
DDA team shared that this patch of floodplain have been leased out to PWD for years unknown. The entire area has been alarmingly concretized and DDA team felt that restoration would be impossible once the lease period is over.
There is concretization of every nook and corner of this area underneath metro line, floors of cowsheds, teen sheds, shops, open areas being used by construction labours and farm workers living there.
Inside guide bund, as mentioned in SANDRP July 29 report, about 620 metre long illegal bund of construction material has been created right inside river. The bund is about 12 m wide, 4-6 ft high. The very act has severely compromised river flowing path and squeezed river channel.
In recent years NHAI, PWD have dumped huge amount of construction waste, concrete debris inside river Yamuna at Kale Khan adversely affecting river flowing path as shown to DDA team on August 04, 2020. Bhim Singh Rawat/SANDRP.
The DDA team carried out physical observation and photographic documentation but has again not measured the area to chalk out restoration plan and disciplinary action against violators.
For some urgent reasons, V K Vats left the inspection at this point. He asked his A E and rest of team from horticulture including the photographer to continue the inspection work.
- Barpula Extension Bridge, Western Bank
This was last location visited by the remaining DDA team and SANDRP. We had found that two channels of river were blocked by the ongoing work as a parallel earthen embankment cum road has been created there to facilitate construction.
There were unwanted debris all along this path. The flow of water in river has increased following rains in upper catchment, yet the construction activities are going on in full swing close to the river.
During discussion with Larsen & Toubro (L&T) staff, the project contractor, it was revealed that during 2019 floods, an entire column of bridge has sunk inside river costing the company losses of about Rs 10 crore and delaying project by full one year.
It was also revealed that the bridge was being built as an alternate to DND flyover to save on toll tax. After the work started, NH 24 Meerut Expressway was also approved by NHAI rendering Barpulla extension purposeless, since the Meerut Expressway was to serve as an alternate to DND flyover. But it is still being built because money has been sanctioned for the project. Clearly this is unwanted construction, with wastage of money and huge, unnecessary impacts. The wisdom of going ahead with this needs to be checked even at this stage.
The issue of blocked river channels was raised with the project staff there. Shri V K Sharma, senior deputy general manager of L&T along with a PWD official also visited the site and assisted the inspection team. They appeared to be aware of NGT order and knew that the flows and floods in rivers would affect their work and said that they would undo all the impact before leaving the site after completion of the work which would probably take one more year.
They also informed that the pipelines were laid to facilitate flow of water through the blocked channel we had mentioned. They showed us the pipes which were found partially buried in earth mounds and blocked thus of no use. As there was rise in water level in the river, water should be flowing through the pipes as an indicator of their usefulness.
Images shared with us on August 05, 2020 shows though developer being responsive yet much left to be done. Bhim Singh Rawat/SANDRP.
V K Sharma promised time bound action on issues raised and update us on Whatsapp. On August 5, 2020, he sent pictures to us claiming that they had opened the blocked pipes which was actually still blocked and free flow was not happening.
L&T has placed only one pipe of about 2.5 feet radius at first blocked channel and only 2 pipes at the second blocked channel which are clearly not providing enough room for river water to flow through and during time there needs to be more space for water passage as these channel will be reclaimed by the river.
Segregation of plastic waste in floodplain at Barapulla. The waste pickers must be provided arrangements for safe disposal, away from river of waste remaining post segregation or rehabilitated to safe locations. Bhim Singh Rawat/SANDRP.
We also found about 60 waste pickers leaving in floodplain there. They have been collecting solid waste mostly plastic waste from Kale Khan, Siddharath Nagar and nearby areas and segregating it on the floodplain.
While we appreciate the valuable services they are providing to society at large by working for segregation and recycling of the waste, we feel they can be allowed to use this location only if arrangements are made to ensure that the post segregation waste are disposed off safely away from river areas.
Concerned DDA officals are clueless as who has occupied such large chunk of floodplains land between Kale Khan and Barapulla.
Similarly this Kale Khan portion of floodplain have been grossly misused by public private facilities which have come there in recent years including storage cum pre-construction yards at three different locations presumably belonging to PWD and L&T and roughly occupying 30, 40 and 50 ha of floodplain. These exclude PWD occupation at Kale Khan and PGCIL Power substation on about 40 ha of floodplain area.
Apart from this, there are several other detrimental activities going on in the stretch of floodplain including recent expansion of PWD concrete road inside floodplain near Simrti Van area along outer ring road.
Conclusion and Suggestions for DYMC
Based on our past experience related to Yamuna river and recent field visits including assisting DPCC, DDA official teams, we have found that the floodplain and riverbed at all the locations visited have been adversely affected by the various activities.
The developers of Signature Bridge, NH 24 bridges, DMRC metro line at Nizamuddin have dumped huge volumes of construction debris in floodplain and riverbed of Yamuna. They have not restored the riverbed, floodplain to original state after completion of their work and there is no monitoring, accountability mechanism in place by DDA.
These violations of NGT order has been eating away the remaining floodplain and significantly affecting the Yamuna river eco-system in Delhi as seen at Signature Bridge, and either side of Nizamuddin bridges.
It is also clear that project developers have been occupying more than the area permitted or required and doing all sorts of activities prohibited by NGT order inside riverbed and floodplain.
The ongoing levelling and concretization of riverbed by DMRC at Wazirabad and Signature Bridge still grabbing large part of riverbed and DDA not taking any action about any of these show they lack basic understanding of river, floodplain and have no regard for NGT order and no fear of punitive actions by DDA, DPCC, CPCB, DYMC, NGT and others concerned.
Some of the agencies are aware of NGT order, however all these including DDA, DPCC, PWD, NHAI, DMRC and project developers seem largely ignorant about the significance of issues of floods, floodplain, river flows, channels and riverbed. While DPCC and DDA appreciated the issues raised by us, the underlying lesson from the visit is that the concerned govt department and officials need to be educated on importance of the eco-system of river and floodplain and dangers of interfering with it.
The monsoon is the time when rivers across country are officially left undisturbed however the norm is not being followed in Delhi. During monsoon time no construction activities should be allowed to continue on floodplain and riverbed. The sinking of Barapulla pillar last year is the latest example of how working on riverbed and in floodplain during monsoon is an invitation to disaster. It would also become an obvious risk to the lives of construction workers.
The DDA as custodian of floodplain area has been focusing mainly on allotting lands for revenue and developing ornamental parks while indifferent to the gross violation and destruction of riverbed by project developers. In fact a full list of various permissions given by DDA to different agencies, including the area of specific pieces of land, period for which permission is given, objectives and purposes for which the permissions are given, in what condition the land is to be returned to DDA, etc, needs to be procured by DYMC from DDA. The DDA’s system of monitoring and compliance to ensure that the lands are only used for the permissions for which it is given and what happens when there are violations also needs to be looked into.
We were surprised to see that instead of making violators undo the various violations and damages, DDA seemed to take it upon itself to try to cover up the illegalities by itself carrying out levelling and dumping on riverbed. This is clearly unacceptable and DDA must make the land use permission seeking agencies (e.g. DMRC, PWD, NHAI, Contractors) to be accountable for the gross violations. This also raises questions if the DDA has proper system to ensure this.
Similarly the DMRC, NHAI, PWD have become wilful violators with no thought, sensitivity towards floodplain and riverbed, they must be asked to restore the floodplain and riverbed abused at locations mentioned above and before to original state.
In blatant violation of norms and abuse of river in national capital all these responsible agencies must be fined appropriately to make them avoid repeating such violations in future.
We urge DYMC to ask DDA carry out drone survey of river floodplain during peak flood time in this monsoon season to map the space river occupies and understand how construction activities are affecting flooding pattern[iii] of Yamuna in Delhi.
We would also like to raise the fact that Delhi is already having 23 rail, road, barrages cum bridges[iv] in a limited stretch of 22 km and three more are ongoing. The tally of 26 literally means one bridge after about every 800 metres. These bridges are fragmenting floodplain, encouraging encroachment and abusing riverbed. It is high time we scientifically assess the cumulative impact and also learn the limits and measures necessary for future.
Similarly we would like to request DYMC that any visit to investigate the violations must be carried out with concerned officials of all departments including project proponent and developers, independent river experts to jointly assess the damages, violations and chalk out a course correction plan.
The monitoring mechanism of the DDA, DPCC is not only inadequate but also ineffective. They have not placed security guards and CCTV cameras even at such key locations that we visited.
The Google Earth technology is easily accessible to obtain before and after images of floodplain revealing encroachment. There is a tool also to figure out the area encroached. These agencies must have access to these free and reliable technologies and so much more. We have also carried colour print outs of Google earth images of these areas which helped them develop clarity on violations we pointed out to them.
Similarly there are satellite services available revealing current status of land in question which can be useful for monitoring violations and abuse of the floodplain by project developers.
The violations, abuse highlighted already in detail would not be addressed unless there is high level inspection of all involved and concerned and proper systemic, remedial, persistent, deterrent action plan in place. Else piece meal effort would be buried, soon to be raised again post floods.
A joint inspection of floodplain of these areas with DYMC, all concerned departments and independent experts, followed by collective efforts is a must to figure out a systemic, long term restoration plan and to make DDA follow it up till the riverbed and floodplain of Yamuna in Delhi are restored and maintained as close to the natural state as possible.
We would also request DYMC to keep all the information and reports promptly in public domain. We are still awaiting the DPCC inspection report of Yamuna flood plain of July 27 2020 when SANDRP accompanied DPCC team on request from DYMC.
Floodplain custodian stakeholders need to stop rampant abuse of riverbed and floodplain of Yamuna urgently, we hope DYMC helps achieve that.
Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org), SANDRP