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Fiddling With Yamuna's Might

Written By Gopal Krishna on Thursday, May 21, 2009 | 2:42 AM

"It is a sad story of men in haste fiddling with major issues and resultantly playing havoc," Justice Rekha Sharma of Delhi High Court while delivering her order saying, "This judgement relates to a river which once flowed majestically but is now gasping for breath. If this continues, time is not far off when this gift of Gods, will die an unnatural death getting buried beneath the layers of silt. If no urgent remedial measures are taken Yamuna may exist only in books" in the case related to the "construction of the Commonwealth Games Village in the river bed."

After violating of Delhi High Court orders, Chief of Delhi Metro Rail Construction (DMRC), E. Sreedharan has committed a blasphemy by suggesting how to "Control the width of the river, not allowing flood waters to inundate the low-lying areas of the city and allow the river to reach its own natural regime in the constricted width." Sreedharan has revealed his anti-environment stance for good.

Sreedharan and likes of him have a dream which is similar to that cherished by Kamal Nath the then Union Environment Minister with the support of Himachal Pradesh government.

The proposal of construction in the river bed of is a case reminiscent of what Indian Express had reported (in 1996) as "Kamal Nath dares the mighty Beas to keep his dreams afloat" referring to Kamal Nath linked Span Motels Private Limited, in Kullu-Manali Valley plans to have a house on the bank of the Beas after encroaching the land which was later regularised and leased out to the company when Mr. Kamal Nath himself was Minister of Environment and Forests.

In the Kamal Nath case, the Supreme Court held that Himachal Pradesh Government had committed patent breach of public trust by leasing the ecologically fragile land and the approval granted by the Government of India, Ministry of Environment was quashed and state government was asked to restore the river to its original-natural conditions and the hotel was asked to pay compensation.

How is constructing a hotel in the river bed of Beas different from the construction of Commonwealth Games Village & other structures in the river bed of Yamuna?

It noteworthy that NDTV and Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd (BCCL)that publishes The Times of India have made investments in Emaar MGF, a joint venture between Dubai-based property companies Emaar and Delhi-based MGF. Notably, Emaar MGF is the one that's constructing the Commonwealth Games village.

Gopal Krishna

Restrict Yamuna with walls and develop low-lying areas: Metro chief

When the members of the British parliament sat in the House of Commons on a day in the late 1850s, they could not transact any business on account of the foul stench emanating from the Thames. That was the day the government decided to clean up the river and limit its width by building high retaining walls along both banks.

By so confining the river, a new hydrological regime was achieved which resulted in self-cleansing during high and low tides. Sewage and industrial effluents flowing into the Thames were intercepted and taken elsewhere for treatment. The large tract of low-lying areas behind the retaining walls were given for real estate development. And that is how London is today clean, with majestic and monumental buildings lining the banks of the Thames.

The same story appears to have been repeated for all great cities located on river banks whether it is Paris, Budapest, Moscow, New York or Seoul. In all these cities, the river is `trained' (cause to grow in a particular direction or shape) with retaining walls and the banks on either side are beautified with parks, promenades and landmark buildings.

Why cannot Delhi also learn lessons from the experience of these cities? The Yamuna river has to be trained and confined to a width that is defined between abutments of the existing bridges by constructing appropriate guide bunds or retaining walls, and the large sprawling tracts of low-lying areas behind these walls utilized for high-end developments which can make the city rich, beautiful and prosperous.

A handful of self-styled environmentalists is stalling this idea. The result is rampant encroachments on the riverbed by jhuggis which catch fire at regular intervals every summer, often burning alive a few people. Sewage and untreated industrial waste are let into the river without treatment and nobody owns up responsibility for the same.

The so-called environmentalists are vociferous against clean development schemes which are vital for the city, such as Commonwealth Games Village, Metro constructions, Akshardham Temple, etc.

If the Yamuna is to be saved, there is only one way. Control the width of the river, not allowing flood waters to inundate the low-lying areas of the city and allow the river to reach its own natural regime in the constricted width. Model studies in the Central Water and Power Research Institute (CWPRI), Khadakvasala, can validate the philosophy of this argument. Two large longitudinal sewers should be built behind the rampart walls to intercept all the sewage falling into the river, take the sewage to a far-off place, and after proper treatment, let the effluents flow into the river. Industries should treat their effluents before they are let into the river. The low-lying areas behind the masonary embankments should be released for high-end development.

A Special Purpose Vehicle (Yamuna Development Authority) should be set up under an Act of Parliament, fully empowered to train the river and to manage the developments on the released low-lying areas. The resources needed for all these can be easily raised by exploiting the released riverbeds. In the development plan, a corridor of 300 metres should be reserved adjacent to the river bank for gardens, promenades and recreation centres. Initially the stretch between Wazirabad barrage and Kalindi Kunj could be taken up for river training, and the project can be extended downstream and upstream in due course.

The government has already spent more than Rs 1200 crore for cleaning the river. Where has all this money gone? If development as suggested above can be undertaken, the river can be saved, Yamuna can be made clean and the river-fronts can be made the pride of the city.

It is time the government and the judiciary listen to the voice of professionals and not to the vague fears of a few so-called environmentalists.

20 May 2009, The Times of India
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