Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Yamuna: The river is dead. Grab the land.

If it was possible to kill a river which was already dead -- the Art of Living's World Culture Festival planned for 11-13 March 2016 has managed to do it by ruining about 1000 acres of Yamuna's floodplains.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) appointed expert committee which visited the site on 20.2.2016 had observed in its report:
  1. Entire flood plain between river and DND flyway has been levelled, all natural vegetation removed.
  2. Construction debris are dumped/ used on the roads that are constructed.
  3. Two ramps have been constructed joining DND flyway with the stage using construction debris and earth.
  4. One pontoon bridge has been constructed and other is in process.
  5. Most trees have been chopped/ removed.
  6. Parking sites are proposed on eastern and western side of floodplain and approach roads to the same will be constructed and 650 portable toilets will be placed.
  7. Several large portable enclosures have been erected for different functions, offices and facilities for performers.
  8. An enormous stage (1200 feet long, 200 feet wide and 40 feet high) is being erected with the help of scaffolding of steel pipes. This is expected to support 10's of thousands of musicians, performers and dancers during the function.
  9. Entire site is littered with construction material. A network of access roads to the parking lots will be constructed from Noida link road and NH-24.
  10. On the western side, 50-60 hectares has been completely destroyed and all vegetation, trees, birds etc have vanished.
  11. The permission given by DDA is in complete violation of NGT order dated 13.01.2015.

Says, don't stop the crime

Having said all this, the committee meekly reports there is an urgent need to restore the area damaged by the organisers soon after the festival is over. Since extensive and severe damage is already done, simply stoppage of activity and removal of all that has been done at this juncture may not serve much purpose!!

The committee in its report places confidence in its interaction with one Mr. Gautam Vig (director, Art of Living) that only 2-3 lakh people are expected though the preparation are on to accommodate 35 lakh people. It recommends that in light of the revised plan, the area used should be minimised.

The committee recommends a penalty of Rs 100-120 crore on the organisers and restoration plan be implemented in one year. It recommends that a strong message must go to DDA. Pray, what that might be? It does not suggest.

Rule of law

I am not sure whether to laugh or throw up in disgust.
  • The run up to Commonwealth games in 2010, led to permanent (in the garb of temporary structure) construction of an entire housing colony (Games Village), stadium (sports club) spread over 157 acres.
  • The massive 60 acre permanent (again in the garb of being a temporary structure) DTC Millennium Park Bus Depot came up on the other side of the river where DTC runs its depots and repairs -- causing incalculable damage. This, as per Wikipedia, is supposed to the largest bus depot in the world.
  • The Delhi Metro too has abused the river, constructing Delhi Metro Depot called as Yamuna Depot, the Metro Mall and station (Akshardham station), Yamuna Bank Station and apartment blocks for its staff on the floodplains of the river.
  • When the huge Akshardham temple was constructed during 2000-2005 on over 60 acres of flood plain, I used to sit during some weekends at the construction site and watch the floodplains getting concretised.
  • Earlier, around 1994-95, about 20 years back, I had seen the construction of pontoon bridge on the river to connect Mayur Vihar - 1 to Sarai Kale Khan Bus Terminal. Later, this was disbanded and permanent slums came up on either side as encroachment.

All this has happened in the last 20 years -- in front of my eyes and within a few kilometre from my home. There is much more to be be said about the destruction/encroachment of river floodplain across the city. It is not that people have not complained and that cases have not been filed in courts. Just like the present example of Art of Living -- cases were filed earlier too. Nothing came of them.

When a poor person observes all this and he also sees his hut getting pulled down or his small shop demolished because of encroachment -- it must be hard for him to reconcile that he is being fairly punished for his wrong.

My dad says that the law is not same for the powerful and the ordinary. I want to disagree. I believe we need to strengthen our enforcement and strengthen our laws.


1. Art of Living

Why did the expert committee say that it was no use stopping the Art of Living Festival? If the function is stopped -- it will really send a strong message to everyone, right? Stop them and fine them. Do we let a murder continue just because it is already in process?

2. DDA

Why should all the top brass of DDA be not sent to jail for contempt of court? Why should they not be fired from their jobs and individually penalised?

3. Central Government

Why is the Prime Minister silent? Should he not have said that he will not attend such an event? After all, he won the election from Varanasi and one of his promise was to clean river Ganga! How could he let this happen to Yamuna then? What was the irrigation department, ministry of environment etc doing? Why is Indian Army constructing the pontoon bridges for the Art of Living event?

4. State Government

It is reported that Delhi water minister is supporting the event. What is the Chief Minister Kejriwal doing? Why is he not sitting on dharna along with Manish Sisodia and his Aam Aadmi on the construction site?

5. Opposition

Why is Rahul Gandhi not agitating about this?

I don't know. Maybe river Yamuna does not vote. Makes it even easier to rob than voters.

6. Media

There is some news in Media about all this. But surprisingly, not enough. The nation wants to know. Why?

Where is hope?

Yesterday night when I was going back home from work -- the flood plains were flood lit and construction was in full swing. It was a sight to see. People were stopping to click pictures. I did not see many on Facebook, lamenting the crime that is taking place. Why? The radio jockey on my morning office drive too wondered - what if birds get killed? After all, they are birds.

I will pack up in a few minutes and head back home -- see the Art of Living construction stand like a huge monster on fire in the darkness near the DND flyway. Somewhere, I am almost hoping, there is heavy rain during 11-13th. What if we have massive floods this monsoon and the river reclaims its space?