Revenge of the rivers
About six years ago, an enthusiastic green activist from Ghaziabad, Vikrant Sharma had taken me to the banks of Hindon river near Mohun Nagar. He showed me how the government was changing the natural course of the river to reclaim some precious land to be allocated to builders for the development of residential areas. To a question on what was his objection to channelising a stream reduced to a “nullah” (drain), the passionate green warrior had replied that the worth of the “nullah” is known each time there is a heavy downpour.
He pointed to deluge in Mumbai in 2005 and said that it happened because the builders, politicians, and bureaucrats devoured Mithi river. On July 26 every year, people recall the mayhem caused by the floods which brought the metropolis to the standstill. Large numbers of people were stranded on the road, as they returned home from work that evening. Water logging on railroads halted Mumbai’s lifeline as local trains stopped operating. This caused a heavy rush on the roads, leading to vehicular logjam. Worse, the mobile services too collapsed.
A study carried out later showed that due to heavy downpour, Powai Lake had started overflowing and discharging water into the Mithi River. In normal course, the water should have got drained because of the prevalent low-tide. But that did not happen because the accumulated water from the first flood wave had yet not flushed out effectively during the ebb period because of a choked drainage system caused by the encroachment into the river.
When I read reports of Gurujam, the miserable traffic jam in Gurgaon following heavy downpour July 28 last, I somehow remembered the prophetic words of Vikrant, “the worth of the nullah is known each time there is a heavy downpour.” Gurujam was a story of the revenge which river Sabi had on the people who senselessly metamorphosed Gurgaon from a green district of the national capital region into a concrete jungle.
As reported by your reporter last Sunday, the story of deluge in national Capital’s famous IT-suburb is traceable to the connivance of the builder mafia with the state government. The two together devoured a complete river flowing through the district, which was the sole source of natural drainage in the area. According to people working towards retaining natural topography of the National Capital Region, in 2010 the riverine land of Sabi river, which flowed through villages including Ghata, Gwal Pahadi, Behrampur, Maidawas, and Nangli reaching Badshahpur was included in R (residential)-zone of the city’s Master Plan 2025.
The river had a clear course till Pataudi railway station and thereafter spread into distributaries. Its flat dry bed soaked water during the Monsoon showers. In case of heavy rainfall, its course took the flow to Nazafgarh drain. Sabi river started from Aravalli hills in Alwar district of Rajasthan and flowed through Rewari and Gurgaon districts of Haryana before joinging Yamuna through Nazafgarh canal in the national Capital. Today, in the Master Plan, the development agencies have replaced the river with a covered drain and a road running over it. No wonder, the covered drain proved inadequate to take the load of 48 millimeter of rain on Thursday in a short period of one hour and 15 minutes between 2.30 pm and 3.45 pm and it overflowed leading to a 16 hour 25 km-long jam on Delhi-Jaipur National Highway, which could be opened only on late Friday after taking emergency measures including imposition of Section 144 of CrPC asking people not to come out on the roads.
If the deluge has happened in Gurgaon by devouring Sabi river, Ghaziabad-Noida, the eastern suburb of the Capital could face the same fate if the devious designs of the government to help the builders are allowed. Green activists and residents of Karera village point towards the construction of a bridge on the Hindon. For the 800m-long bridge, which connects the Hindon Expressway with Karera Road (coming from Wazirabad), an embankment was raised across the river, which has somewhat changed the course of the Hindon.
The river now flows close to Karera village and the threat of inundation is constant during the Monsoon months. Villagers point out that in 1978, incessant rains caused flood in the Hindon. This had led to the snapping of Delhi-Ghaziabad link road for days. The National Highways, too, had sunk several feet into floodwaters and the railway link was broken.
Such floods in the life of a river can never be ruled out. The banks of Hindon in those days had no residential settlement. Today there are several of them. If the floods ever revisit Hindon, a deluge awaits these posh colonies. But should they blame the Monsoon for it. For the residents of Karera village and Raj Nagar Extension, which has come up on the other side of the river, Monsoon brings good news.
The rains regenerates this dying river, which otherwise, through the year, has black water with a very foul smell and menacing mosquitoes. Hindon was not a dying river till about two decades ago. So were the other tributaries of Yamuna, which have suffered most at rapid urbanisation and mad industrialisation of the National Capital Region. It has not only killed an eco-system but also ripped apart what was part of the hoary Harappan Culture.
For example, several sites have been found in many locations to establish a pattern of settlement of widespread civilisation along the banks of Sabi and its tributaries. Similarly, Hindon, historically known as Harnandi tributary of the Yamuna, too, is believed to be associated with Harappan and pre-Vedic settlement. Among the Indus Valley civilisation sites, Alamgirpur has been cited by the archaeologists be located on the banks of this river.
History tells us that rivers bred civilisations. In these times, the civilisation is such that it’s bent upon killing the rivers. It is an epic struggle between nature and its progenies. Who would win? Nobody seems to have an answer.
(Sidharth Mishra is President, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post. The views expressed are personal.)