Delhi govt asks for 12 weeks to demarcate Yamuna’s floodplain | Latest News Delhi - Hindustan Times

Delhi govt asks for 12 weeks to demarcate Yamuna’s floodplain

Jan 30, 2024 10:52 PM IST

Floods such as the recent ones in 2023, in which Yamuna’s waters almost reaching the Supreme Court, can be directly attributed to abuse of the floodplains

Experts have long held that there is a simple reason why the Delhi government has been unable to protect the Yamuna floodplains — they have never been demarcated and defined.

The Yamuna’s floodplains at Sungarpur in New Delhi in 2019. (HT Archive)
The Yamuna’s floodplains at Sungarpur in New Delhi in 2019. (HT Archive)

After the National Green Tribunal (NGT), in October, pushed the administration to do so by setting up a panel for the task, the Delhi government, in a submission to the body on January 29, has sought 12 weeks to complete the virtual demarcation of the floodplains, and a physical demarcation on the ground through signage and pillars.

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Floodplains are a critical ecosystem — they are a natural barrier against floods, serve as an ideal recharge mechanism (for rainwater especially), and provide a home to diverse flora and fauna. But they are usually neglected, and often encroached upon — often with disastrous consequences for not just the river, but also human habitations along its banks.

Floods such as the one last year which saw the Yamuna water level rise to an all-time high of 208.66 metres on July 13, with the river’s waters almost reaching the Supreme Court and besieging the Red Fort, can be directly attributed to abuse of the floodplains, experts say.

NGT, in October, took cognizance of a media report and formed a committee headed by the Delhi chief secretary to identify, demarcate and notify the floodplains of the Yamuna as per the River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Authorities Order, 2016.

It added that the delineation of Yamuna was required to prevent illegal developments in the floodplains.

The committee also comprises a nominee from Delhi Development Authority, the Secretary (Environment); the Secretary (ministry of Jal Shakti); executive director, National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG); and commissioner, Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD).

“The committee will get the spot inspection done and ensure demarcation of flood plains of Yamuna in the area concerned and suggest measures to prevent and remove the encroachment and unauthorized constructions falling within the flood plains,” NGT said in its order dated October 17, 2023.

In a submission on January 29, the environment department of the Delhi government told the tribunal that it will take two weeks for the remote determination of the floodplain area, followed by another two weeks to prepare high-resolution images using Geospatial Delhi Limited (GSDL), a company that maintains and update spatial data through mapping and surveys, and four weeks for on-ground verification of the same area, after which physical demarcation on the ground will commence.

In its submission, the Delhi government added: “The committee has deliberated at length the timelines required for the exercise and found that the operation needs massive interdepartmental collaboration, collection of data, ground surveys, verification and on-ground demarcation to ensure effective implementation of this Tribunal’s directions and thus requires more time. It is prayed further a time of 12 weeks may be granted to the concerned agencies to complete the exercise and ensure compliance.”

HT has reviewed a copy of the submission.

The submission added that DDA estimates the so-called Zone O of the Yamuna to be 9,700 hectares with the area occupied by the river itself being around 1,146 hectares.

Of the balance, land available for development is 3,493 hectares (1,647 hectares of this is with DDA); the remaining 5061 hectares is with other department and agencies, and also home to 94 unauthorised colonies.

The Delhi government department also said that DDA carried out a floodplain area demarcation , based on a 2015 NGT order that sought the demarcation keeping in mind a possible “1-in-25 year flood” (a rare occurrence with a 4% chance of occurring every year).

That exercise (done in association with the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi), however, has been questioned by the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), which, in January 2022, directed the demolition of structures in the floodplains noting that the DDA demarcation was “inappropriate” and “not done properly”.

In the draft master plan for 2041, which is yet to be notified, DDA split this zone into Zone O1 and Zone O2, with regulated development being allowed in the latter.

To determine the area with other agencies and government departments along the floodplains, the NGT-appointed committee has directed GSDL to procure high-resolution images of the floodplain area and coordinate with different departments and agencies for the preparation of a detailed map, the submission stated.

“The committee stressed on the granularity of data required from DDA on this exercise, which included a detailed department-wise/agency-wise break-up of area in terms of ownership and land use. ...Also directed DDA to submit the area which is clearly free from encroachment and encumbrances and also enquired from DDA about the area under private ownership,” the submission added, stating that each government department or agency owning land along the floodplains has to appoint a nodal officer and share information with GSDL within four weeks.

Experts said until the demarcation is done, unauthorised colonies and structures cannot be removed.

“DDA has said it has done a 1-in-25 year floodplain demarcation in the past, but we don’t see any bollards or markings in the Yamuna, barring a few limited places, like Baansera. The O-zone also exists on paper and until there is clear demarcation of floodplain area, how can we stop projects from taking place on floodplain land?” asked Bhim Singh Rawat, a Yamuna activist and member of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP).

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