Delhi prone to disasters
taken over by land sharks who have been constructing and selling farmhouses and bungalows for premium prices of ₹ 50 lakh to over a few crores. Such properties are also advertised often as houses with a riverfront view.
Environmentalists attribute the present situation to an inordinate delay on the part of the environment ministry in notifying the River Regulation Zone (RRZ) that is to be modelled on the lines of the Coastal Regulation Zone under the Environment Protection Act 1986.
Clarifying the government’s stand, Ashok Lavasa, secretary, ministry of environment, forests and climate change, says consultations are going on with the states. The purpose of the River Regulation Zone is to define the area included in the regulatory zone and provide protection to the flood plains and regulate activities that can be permitted therein. “This is the first regulation of its kind in the country and we are going through a consultative process,” he adds.
Brij Gopal, former professor of JNU who conceptualised the RRZ in 2001 and has been a member of all expert groups set up by the ministry to formulate guidelines for management of river floodplains through the river regulation zone, says, “The basis of RRZ is that the rivers need certain space to carry their large seasonal flows and this space on either side of the river channels – called floodplains – has many important functions. These include groundwater recharge, holding floodwaters and allowing the development of fertile soils by replenishment of nutrients, supporting fish, and all other biodiversity, and improvement of water quality in the river. Hence, all development activities in the floodplains - on either side of the rivers - should be regulated.”
Afloodplain, to quote rivers expert, D Mussared, is as important to rivers as bark is to trees. Just as the sap flows through the outermost ring of a tree, not through its centre, the lifeblood of a river ebbs and flows on its floodplains. HT Estates, caught up with Manoj Misra, environmentalist and convenor of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan.
What according to you is the impact of commercialisation and encroachments on river floodplains?
There are two types of encroachments – state sponsored such as the recently-concluded World Culture Festival or state supported such as the construction of the Akshardham Temple. The second type is occupation or encroachment of the floodplain by people by default such as in Rajiv Nagar, Zakir Nagar, Batla House etc. In Greater Noida, there are farmhouses in the active floodplain. Such “misadventures” are taking place because MoEF has defaulted on notifying the RRZ notification.
How effective is the Master Plan in protecting the rivers and other water bodies in a city?
As far as the master plans are concerned, these are often weak documents as they can be amended by way of a public notification. These documents have the liberty to change land use and its provisions provide very little security. There needs to be a statutory regulatory regime in place which should be far more structured than a master plan.
Rapid urbanisation has taken place along rivers all over the world, especially in Europe. Should we follow that model? Unlike rivers in Europe, ours are monsoonal rivers. The problem European rivers face is that of pollution and not water flow. Rapid urbanisation along the river was a folly which they have now realised.
(L) Flooding in areas close to Mayur Vihar during the 2010 monsoon season. (R) Farmhouses in Noida along the Yamuna.
Manoj Misra, environmentalist and convenor of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan.