Thursday, September 9, 2010

A river strikes back

Thirty two years after the highest flood of 1978 the Yamuna river is expected to flow more than two metres above the danger mark in Delhi tomorrow. It will not only inundate its natural flood plain but also many low lying localities beyond. This is going to be the river’s mighty reminder about its capability to the politicians, bureaucrats and realtors, who had been so dismissive of the possibility of another high flood in the river. Taking from this line of thought, in the past decade they had violated the sanctity of the flood plain in a big way, thereby appreciably reducing the area available to accommodate a swollen river. Therefore, if this time the river touches a level 2.60 metres above the danger mark, as it did in 1978, the havoc caused will be much greater.


In the State of Delhi the flood plain of the Yamuna measures about 15,000 acres or 6,000 hectares. That is a lot of land and no wonder the capricious triumvirate of politicians, bureaucrats and realtors have been drooling from both ends of their mouths at the very mention of this vast expanse of vacant land. They want to own, usurp in some way or sell this land because they fear that if they are not able to do it their successors, for sure, would not fail in doing so. Even at an extremely conservative Rs.10,000 per sq. metre this land is valued at a mind boggling Rs.60,000 crore. Naturally then they have been colluding, scheming and planning on how to build on this land in the name of development, in the name of providing civic amenities to the city’s suffering masses or whatever.


In the recent times, the first two major government-approved encroachments on the flood plain  were made when the BJP-led NDA was ruling at the centre. They were the Swaminarayanas’ Aksharadham temple on 72 acres and the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation’s Shastri Park depot on 60 acres. Then it was the turn of the Congress-led UPA to permit the Commonwealth Games Village and the DMRC’s huge Yamuna Bank station to come up on perhaps hundreds of acres of the flood plain. When the athletes leave at the close of the games on the 15th October 2010, each of the hundreds of flats in the Games Village will be sold for about Rs.5 crore by the builder from the United Arab Emirates. The Uttar Pradesh government also has been planning for some time to build residential and commercial complexes on 300 acres of the flood plain it owns in Delhi. So far the Delhi government has not permitted its U.P. counterpart to change the land-use  but the Congress-BSP political equation may change any day and the necessary permission granted.


More damaging in its reach was a talk in Delhi’s ruling circles that the Yamuna should be restricted to a 500 metre wide cement-concrete channel, like the Thames in London and the Seine in Paris, releasing 15,000 acres of land for beautiful river-fronts and other architectural delights and for modern housing for millions which would make Delhi a world-class city. R. Sridharan, the legendary chief of the Delhi Metro, supported this view forgetting that there are no south-west monsoons in England or France. In those countries the annual precipitation is less than that in the north India and it is distributed fairly equitably over 8-9 months as against the 80 to 90 per cent of the annual rainfall in only a little over 2 months here. Naturally then, the Thames and the Seine can never come anywhere near a marauding Yamuna in high floods.


Let this flood in the Yamuna be a warning to the land grabbing class that they can not take nature for granted and that when nature strikes back it does strike really hard. Unfortunately, it is the city’s poor who would bear the brunt of the flood and not the real culprits who have violated the sacrosanct laws of nature for their selfish gains.


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