Floodplain Encroachment: Commonwealth Games’ Irreversible Damage to Delhi’s Sustainability
Satellite image of River Yamuna and its floodplain (in lean period) clearly shows the encroachment that may have intensified floods in Delhi this year
If you think the massive traffic jams, national shame, broken infrastructure that crumbles even as it is being constructed and the caving in of roads are all the direct impacts of the Commonwealth Games 2010 that we are facing as citizens of Delhi, there is more to it that got overshadowed amidst it all. And these are impacts that may keep returning to plague Delhi long after the Games are over.
If you are among the people whose houses got flooded this monsoon and think it is the incessant rains because of which the Yamuna became so swollen and caused the damage, there might be more to it that you should know. Predictions had already been made about the severe intensity of monsoon this year. And when the Yamuna water entered Delhi after being released from Tajewala and Hathnikund barrages up North, the water had lesser area to accommodate itself on the floodplain this year since a chunk of the floodplain–the size of the Commonwealth Games Village–was no longer available to the river that it was for centuries.
The stream in the image above is the Yamuna river (in its lean season) and the two vertical lines on each side are, if not the natural floodplain of the river, the floodplain that urbanization has left alone for the river so it can flow undisturbed and also not disturb the people living on both its banks. With the construction of the Commonwealth Games Village on the floodplain, as is evident in the image above, more of the floodplain has been broken open and concreted. This is even closer to the flow of the river than is the Akshardham Temple though it was the latter based on which the environmental clearance for the CWG Village was obtained.
And when the river brought the flood water this monsoon, it collided with the new embankment that defends the CWG Village. But the philosophy of the river is to flow and that it always find a way is romanticized by many a poets and geographers alike. And so it flowed, into several parts of Delhi. Several and repeated efforts had been made by environmentalists from all over North India to not disturb the Yamuna’s floodplain as any such tampering could mean floods as well as droughts. This is because floodplain also plays a key role of recharging the ground water of Delhi. This can well be searched in the archives of this Blog.
The ecosystem services provided by the floodplain are far in excess to even put a monetary tag on this land. The floodplain after all is a reservoir, a water bank for the city. And the CWG Village is not only a problem for the floodplain in itself, it has also opened the floodplain for further ‘real estate’ prospects. The stagnating water next to the Village will not only breed mosquitoes but also bring several diseases to the people inhabiting this complex. Monsoon each year will come with its own misery, not just for the Village but for other low lying areas as well. The Village will remain a problem until long after the Games are over. Call it colonial hangover or simple logic, but it seems the floodplain of the Yamuna River is another common ‘wealth’ that India lost to imperialism.
Image via wikimapia.org