New Delhi: If the images of a flooded Chennai last year or those of Srinagar two years ago were horrifying for the citizens of Delhi, it’s time they had a serious look at their own backyard. The continuous onslaught on the Yamuna floodplains is likely to land the National Capital in a similar disaster.
According to environmentalists, the severe damage to the Yamuna floodplains — the most recent example being the preparations for the World Culture Festival by Art of Living (AOL) Foundation — will result in flooding of the low-lying areas of East Delhi quite like Chennai if and when the next spell of heavy shower happens in the city.
“The way the entire floodplains of the Yamuna have been levelled and the marshy land has been converted into a ground, it can cause floods in Delhi during rains. Let’s not forget what happened in Chennai, twice in Srinagar, then in Mumbai and Kedarnath. This is the first time that the entire vegetation on the Yamuna floodplains has been damaged and flattened,” environmentalist Anand Arya told Firstpost.
Arya is one of the co-petitioners at National Green Tribunal opposing the upcoming World Culture Festival.
Besides Arya, there are other environmentalists who have also raised a red flag against the three-day mega event that will welcome 35 lakh visitors from across the continents.
An NGT-appointed panel in its report has mentioned, “The entire area of the floodplain between River Yamuna and DND Flyover has been levelled flat and on the western side of the river — 50 to 60 hectares of floodplain have been completely destroyed. Natural vegetation comprising reeds, shrubs, trees etc has been completely removed. A large number of birds and other natural life on the floodplain have vanished.”
Manoj Misra, convener, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, an NGO working for the restoration of the River Yamuna, said: “Vegetation on the soil is extremely important, especially on floodplains. The ground vegetation is the lifeline of floodplains. Absence of it will certainly cause floods. One won’t be surprised if the low-lying areas of east Delhi get flooded or even a larger area.”
How flood will be caused?
- The levelling and compacting of the floodplain would reduce its water absorbing capacity by 35 to 40 percent. As a result, the rest 60 percent of water will run off to adjoining low areas causing flood.
- The bush, reeds, shrubs, marsh etc helps in water-absorption due to the roots. As this vegetation has its own absorptive capacity, the flood situation will aggravate.
- Groundwater recharging capacity will drastically decrease.
- If heavy rain takes place, the extra water will flow into the residential areas.
The petitioners have questioned how the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) gave permission to AOL to use such a large area — which according to them is spread across 2,700 acres.
“It’s a huge area of 2,700 acres. The enormity of destruction can be judged from the fact that the vegetation spread over such a large area has been completely destroyed. There are no signs of vegetation and it has been flattened for setting up of stage, parking space, sitting arrangements, etc. There will be a huge loss in terms of value of water due to this,” observed Arya.
During the hearing at NGT on Thursday, the issue came up of whether or not DDA is a competent and reliable agency to look after the river floodplain in the city.
“We’ll establish that the approval given by the DDA is illegal. How can the agency that is supposed to implement the directives of NGT, work exactly opposite?” Misra asked.
“I wrote to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji — first on 7 January and the last on 8 February — bringing to his notice the consequences of the damage caused to the Yamuna’s bio-diversity (letter embedded at the end of the piece). But, I didn’t get any response. It was only after I filed a petition at NGT that the AOL Foundation responded. Floodplains are nature’s water treatment works — that remove vast quantities of pollutants from inland river waters. They also provide rivers with the building blocks of life, which are used by everything from bacteria to fish," Misra told Firstpost.
"Clearly such massive clearing and conversion of the floodplain is taking a heavy toll of the biodiversity extant at the site in question and puts a question mark on the future of the river rejuvenation plans and growing threat of flooding,” he added.
“But, despite our explanations to the foundation, they have gone ahead with total apathy towards environment conservation. It’s inhuman,” he added.
According to experts, Delhi receives 30 inches (75 cm) of rainfall, and the absorption of water in one hectare is 3,000 cubic metres. “The invitation by AOL shows the area earmarked for the festival (marked on the map in yellow) on the Isro website is 10.795 square kilometres or 2,667 acres,” said Arya.
AOL Foundation’s stand
“There is no question of violation of any kind of regulations. We’ve taken permissions from almost all possible authorities like DDA, Ministry of Water Resources, Fire, Disaster Management, Pollution Control Board, Delhi Police etc. There are a few permissions that will be taken once the construction work — which is purely temporary in nature — gets completed. If you refer to Google Maps, it’ll show that illegal farming had been going on in the floodplains,” Akshama Nath, advocate, AOL Foundation, told Firstpost after the hearing.
“As far the area is concerned, we gave a rough estimate of 26 acres to the DDA as our requirement in the site plan. Permission was given on the basis of it. This is the area where AOL stage and other arrangements will come up. The larger area about which the NGOs are talking about is basically entry points for the public. People need to walk through this area to reach the venue. We want to make it clear that no damage to vegetation has been caused at all. In fact, we’ll beautify the entire area once the festival gets over,” Nath added.
“It’s wrong to say that DDA has given permission illegally. It’s very much within the statute of the DDA,” an official said.