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Beautification drive killing Yamuna: Study (April)

  Times of India, Delhi, Tuesday 29th April 2014 A German researcher's study of the dying Yamuna is an interesting take on Delhi's aspirations to be a 'world class city' vis-a-vis its utter failure in conserving the river. The study talks about Delhi's constant obsession with beautifying and developing Delhi's riverfront and how this has ironically meant nothing but further deterioration of the riparian ecology. Titled 'Bourgeois Environmentalism and the Reclamation of Yamuna's Floodplain for a World Class City in the Making', the PhD project of University of Cologne researcher Alexander Follmann concludes that successive governments' ambition to make the riverfront a "new frontier for urban development" notwithstanding, the reality is that it remains a "neglected backyard of the city".


The study raises issues highlighted by the ministry of environment and forest's C R Babu Committee report submitted to National Green Tribunal on Friday which show exactly why Delhi Development Authority's Yamuna Riverfront Development Scheme is untenable and has the potential to destroy fragile floodplains. Follmann examines flooding trends in Delhi which experienced serious episodes in 1924, 1947, 1955, 1956 and 1978. By September 2010, Yamuna had crossed the danger mark of 207.11 metres at Old Railway Bridge, putting it at risk. All this shows how prone Delhi is to flooding. Meanwhile, for decades Delhi's planning ideology for the riverfront has been based on anachronistic European models in disregard to the real ecological threats, the study says. DDA's second master plan in 1999, for instance, proposed channelization —pressing of the river into a designated bed of embankments with concrete walls a la London's Thames and Paris' Seine—to develop prime real estate on the banks. In 1998, it planned to develop a financial district, convention centres, stadiums and theme parks all on the river bed.


The central government had declared the riverbed a "development area" under Section 12 of DDA Act 1989 which authorized DDA to "develop" it. Then there were attempts to "clean up" the river and make a riverside promenade in front of Red Fort as a new tourist hotspot. To achieve this, huge demolition drives were conducted since 2004 displacing lakhs of poor, Follmann says. However, Yamuna's real problems—inadequate sewage treatment, deficiencies in sewage collection and non-adherence to warnings by scientists on altering its natural flow—remained unaddressed. In line with Delhi's idea of a 'world class city', encroachments like Delhi Metro depots and Commonwealth Games Village were allowed to come up on the floodplains.


The latest project has been DDA's Yamuna Riverfront Development Scheme in which roads, parks and vehicle parking lots would be built on the floodplains. "The Golden Jubilee Park is a perfect illustration of the middle-class centred vision of a world-class riverfront and again a new episode of bourgeois environmentalism," says Follmann in his study.


Times of India, Delhi, Tuesday 29th April 2014