Yamuna Rises from the Ashes to Reclaim Its Floodplain


Activists and researchers working on River Yamuna in Delhi have long declared it sick and dead. River Yamuna is also considered to be a drain, as it flows through the eastern part of India’s national capital: Delhi. Not only does Delhi gulp down every single drop of water in River Yamuna, it even sends out requests to the upstream state of Haryana to “release more water” in the peak summer months of April-May.

However, it is certainly not administrative delays in addressing Delhi’s requests as to why Haryana releases MUCH MORE water in River Yamuna than Delhi asked for, in the following months of June-July-Aug! A major part of North India remains hot and dry until the month of May, during which time the water demand of the region peaks.

The water demand peaks maximum in Delhi which has a population of over 17 million! Taps run dry, ground water falls drastically and the Delhi administration struggles to meet the water demand of the city. June-July brings the monsoon to Delhi and only a week after the city was suffering with water scarcity, there is threat of water logging and floods.

It does not require in-depth research or detailed policy analysis to understand that the issue of water scarcity is more due to lack of sustainable planning than any physical scarcity of water. The above paragraph is enough to realize that Nature has put in place a recharge and renewal system in terms of water resources and that water availability is a cyclic factor.

Every year River Yamuna in Delhi is reclaimed with healthy flow of water during the monsoon months. The pollution in the river is washed away, the ground water along the river is recharged and the nutrient value of the soil in the floodplain is restored. However, in recent times, this annual reclaimation process of River Yamuna in Delhi is being termed as ‘flood’!

What’s more, due to setting up of indiscriminate permanent constructions on the floodplain of the River in Delhi, the ‘flood’ is also said to causing loss of life and property. In addition, floodplain construction would have most certainly caused a reduction in the recharge of the ground water along the river, which could have otherwise been a reserve water bank in the dry months during the next summer.

This year, the monsoon has reached North India earlier than expected. An unfortunate large-scale damage has taken place in the Northern states of Himachal, Uttarakhand and Haryana. Structures made along the river are specifically the worst hit and hotels, buildings, temples and other religious structures have all been submerged and immersed in the holiest of the holy River Yamuna, now in its full glory.

Haryana has released the excess water which has already reached Delhi and has risen River Yamuna in Delhi above the ‘danger’ mark. All the barrages have been opened in Delhi and the river can be seen flowing in a continuous manner unlike its ‘flow’ pattern during the rest of the year.

River Yamuna is alive, risen from the proverbial ashes, and very much a river in Delhi that many have dismissed it to be. Questions by Courts in India, asked during proceedings of Public Interest Litigations, and replied by Corporate tutored environmental consultancies as to “what is the extent of the floodplain of River Yamuna in Delhi” have now been answered by the river itself. The early monsoon has perhaps also caught the Flood Control Room of the Delhi Government unaware, as the website continues to show 2012 monsoon situation data.

‘Flood’ Water Mismanagement
For a city which remains heavily water parched during the entire non-monsoon period, so much so that it is making dams upstream of Delhi to divert more water to Delhi’, it is unfortunate that the water brought by River Yamuna in the monsoon season is allowed to flow downstream and is not tapped.

It is equally unfortunate to note the flooding of colonies and newly created permanent structures on the floodplains of the river in Delhi. The aforementioned two points suggest a relook at the water management as well as urban development policies being adopted by the Delhi administration.

The consistent decrease in the extent of the floodplain through the construction of urban infrastructure has been questionable since the very beginning. The legal and illegal encroachment of the floodplain of River Yamuna should have been checked timely by the Delhi state administration.

It is now being checked by River Yamuna itself. Due to the encroachment, the most useful ecosystem service of floodplain recharge has also been affected and the ground water status in Delhi remains dismal. We must never forget that Nature has a balancing act. And that we must listen to Nature and develop using the lessons it has brought for us. Any deviation may invite the fury of the Nature, that we are already witnessing.

Govind Singh

Dr. Govind Singh holds a Ph.D. in environmental studies and is currently associate professor of environmental studies at O.P. Jindal Global University, Delhi NCR. He can be reached at contact@govindsingh.com

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