Millennium Post

Give me my lake

How urbanisation devastated the ecological balance of Delhi is reflected in decreasing number of water bodies in the national capital, which besides providing water, and harbouring flora and fauna also used to naturally recharge ground water. The unplanned urbanisation in the city gradually gobbled them up, which coupled with unfettered extraction of ground water is the root cause of depleting water table in the city.

The land records reveal Delhi had 1011 water bodies but the government agencies have so far identified only 629 water bodies. Of these 232 water bodies can’t be revived as they have been fully encroached upon and remain on paper only. Surprisingly, the government and its various agencies which own these water bodies never took any initiative to maintain or redevelop them. It was only after a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in the High Court in 2000 by social activist Vinod Jain after which the court passed a landmark judgement in 2007 to survey and revive water bodies in the city that efforts in this direction were made. The court also formed a nodal agency under Delhi chief secretary in which heads of all the concerned government agencies – MCD, DDA, PWD, Flood and Irrigation Department, ASI and NGOs representatives are members; to submit half yearly action taken report to the court. ‘The committee has not had its meeting for the past two years. Only clerical reports are submitted to court to complete the formality,’ said Vinod Jain, who is also a member in the committee.

Surprisingly, government agencies actively contributed in encroachment of these water bodies. As per the report of Delhi Parks and Gardens Society (DPGS), Department of Environment of Delhi government, out of 1,011 water bodies 78 were covered for legally approved buildings while 39 were encroached illegally to construct buildings. A total of 107 water bodies have been marked as non traceable – lost forever. The social activists recall that in the pre-urbanised era Delhi was never dependent on Yamuna river for its water requirement but its water bodies were sufficient. ‘The construction on river bed has acted as embankment for water bodies, which were recharged by river water while unfettered concretisation resulted in shrinking of water bodies distant from river,’ said Jain. The water bodies in Delhi are both natural — Sanjay Lake, Bhalswa Lake etc. and man-made — Agrasen ki Baoli (stepwell) and Rajon ki Baoli. The man-made water bodies, mostly of archaeological importance, are with Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

The government agencies entrusted for revival of water bodies never had any clear plan or dedicated project to revive the remaining water bodies. ‘The main problem is lack of co-ordination among various agencies and non-cooperative approach and apathy of citizens,’ said SD Singh, chief executive officer (CEO) of DPGS. Out of the 629 water bodies identified by (DPGS) maximum 476 are owned by various departments of Delhi government followed by 118 by Delhi Development Authority. DPGS emphasises on citizens centric approach of development of water bodies in which citizens feel to have stake in their conservation like making parks, walking tracks, boating facilities wherever possible. Recently, Delhi Development Authority engaged four prominent NGOs to revive 63 water bodies in the city on the pattern of public private partnership (PPP).
As per the project these NGOs would select the water bodies of their choice and pool the funds from
corporate sector through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) arms. ‘The banks of water bodies would be developed as parks and jogging tracks to make it useful for the people living around it so that they feel their stake in conservation of water bodies,’ said Balvinder Kumar, vice chairman of DDA.
These NGOs - Braj Foundation from Mathura, Samarthya from Kerala, Forum for Organized Resources Conservation and Enhancement (FORCE) Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH); are entrusted with the task to revive water bodies which are already facing gradual extinction from encroachers. The success of the project is a matter of time but one thing is clear that DDA has conceded that only 63 water bodies out of 118 that can be revived, bringing down the figure to almost half.
‘I doubt the success of the project as government is not putting money into it. How much these NGOs and their sponsors are concerned is doubtful,’ said Jain, considered a crusader for water bodies in the city. The government never paid heed to the proposal of DPGS to set up Water Bodies Development Authority in Delhi on the lines of a similar Lake Development Authority in Bangalore to develop landscape, greening, biodiversity and recreational facilities with water bodies watershed/catchment to make for visual attraction as well as public interest to end multiplicity of agencies.
The water bodies of Delhi falling in village areas - village ponds; and also in unauthorised colonies and slums very small catchment of rain water and mostly fed with sewage of the area observed DPGS in its survey and reporters. The recommendation of DPGS to lay sewage lines in all the villages, and unauthorised colonies discharging effluents and sewage in water bodies is waiting any targeted and time bound project from Delhi Jal Board. As per recent data available with Department of Environment, 154 out of 189 villages need Land for STP/SPS, 34 villages need sewer network, 49 villages need sewer lines, 53 villages need waste stabilisation ponds, 53 villages needs sewage treatment plants, 42 cases of gram sabha land and 48 cases of private land under approval process. These villages besides several unauthorised colonies and slums coupled with concretisation would continue to endanger remaining water bodies in the city till government shows a strong will and starts real action on the ground.
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