Dilli, cry me a river
As monsoon fury has hit state after state hard across India, from the east to the west, south to north, a proportionate flood of self-flagellation has spilled over. And rightly so, because whatever Nature wreaks has been exponentially worsened by man-made misadventures, like indiscriminate damming of rivers followed by poor management of dams, short-sighted ecological degradation of bulwarks like the Western Ghats that Nature gifted to us some 150 million years ago… unfortunately this is a too long litany.
As far as flooding goes the national capital area does not suffer annual tragedies on the scale of Assam or Bihar. We have our share of monsoon woes but really, these are not comparable to what say Kerala has suffered since last year or what Maharashtra is undergoing this year. But given that it is a smaller area blessed with a very generous share of central and state resources, the crimes of environmental mismanagement here are all the more unforgivable. And unless better sense prevails soon, and we start reforming in earnest, we too will find ourselves trapped in a cataclysm one day.
To understand how spectacularly we have failed to balance the development needs of a population that has bulged over the past decades against the natural resources that were millennia in the making, look no further than what has been done to Yamuna in the Delhi region. In colonial times it was so rich with crocodiles that hunting them was pretty common. By now of course the river is so severely polluted here that it is often hard to find any dissolved oxygen in it, forget enough to make a welcoming home for aquatic reptiles. What indiscriminate shooting couldn’t do, abundant sewage has accomplished.
This month the Kejriwal government has rolled out a pilot project “for natural water storage on Yamuna floodplain by removing top soil layer to create a reservoir to end water scarcity in Delhi.” But, as Vikram Soni has reminded us in his column today, earlier such efforts like the Palla floodplain project initiated in 2009 have not been run to potential, even as “the entire water resource of the aquifer is in immediate danger of being lost due to a lack of protection and misuse.”
He further reminds us how the Yamuna floodplain aquifer in Noida was thoughtlessly and irremediably destroyed four years ago, when polluted water entered it. Such priceless aquifers are again created over millions of years, and today they are under threat across India from borewells, industrial effluents, agricultural chemicals, with awareness about what is at stake being sadly inadequate, even as the bureaucratic and political will to do what should be done is even more lacking.
A draft river regulation zone (RRZ) policy was prepared by civil society as far back as in 2002. Since then we have seen further drafts from government as well as untrammeled encroachment of the Yamuna floodplains, notably including the Akshardham temple in 2005, the Commonwealth Games village in 2010, numerously brazen residential colonies, not to mention vegetables with scary high levels of arsenic and heavy metals.
It is reported that right up to 1940 the Yamuna was used to navigate from Allahabad to Agra. Now we have highways and trains instead and we appreciate these, really. But meanwhile having turned the river into a drain, at least in Delhi, has taken a morbid toll on our quality of life. Furthermore, when damaged floodplains have damaged the riverine ecosystem flooding becomes more likely, and it takes in its spate precious infrastructure too.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.