The Delhi Development Authority’s public notice announcing its intention to excise 61.59 acres from the Zone O (River Zone) and include it in Zone D has drawn sharp criticism from environmentalists and river conservationists.

Reacting to the DDA’s public notice that appeared on Wednesday and proposes to change land use of 51 acres ‘river and water body’ into ‘transportation’ for a bus depot, which is meant to be a temporary parking bay for buses for the duration of the Commonwealth Games 2010, non-government organisation Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan said alternative sites for the bus shelter can be sought anywhere in the city.

Critical of the government’s move to convert a floodplain area into a bus shelter, Manoj Misra of the YJA said: “Out of the 61.59 acres, the DDA plans to change the land use of 51.06 acres from the present land use of ‘river and water body’ to ‘transportation’ for post facto legalising the DTC bus depot, there. Interestingly what it proposes to do with the rest 10.53 acres has not been specified in the said public notice.”

He said the public notice seems like an outcome of the PILs that were filed and heard by a two-member Bench of the Delhi High Court. “The two PILs had challenged the brazen encroachment by the DTC and the PWD on the river bed of the Yamuna for construction of a bus depot using the subterfuge of a ‘temporary’ bus ‘parking’ needed for the duration of the CWG-2010 in Delhi. The encroachment had violated the provisions of the Master Plan of Delhi 2021 as also disregarded the direction of the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC) – which is a statutory body with its directions by law being binding – to vacate the river bed,” Mr. Misra said.

The Delhi High Court, Mr. Misra said, conceding the fact that the site had been illegally utilised by the government agencies, still gave a six-month period to the government to try and change the land use by following the due process of law, including issue of a public notice.

“It (High Court) maintained that if such change in land use does not materialise, then the bus depot would have to be re-located. The operational part of the said judgment was ‘these petitions are accordingly disposed of by granting six months’ time to the respondents to take steps for the change in the Master Plan, if it is possible, thereby changing the land use and bringing it in conformity with the present use. In case the Master Plan is amended in this manner, the natural consequence thereof would be that the bus depot would continue to operate from the given site,” he said.

“On the other hand, if attempts to amend the Master Plan fail, there would be no option but to re-locate the bus depot to some other place. In that event, it will be for the DTC to ask the DDA to allot alternate site and feasibility of the site at Mayur Vihar can also be considered at that stage. So, for the DDA to now, on April 17, issue such a public notice is clearly illegal as the statutory time period available to it is long past,” said Mr. Misra.

He also alleged that the DDA having failed to change the land use within the statutory period of six months means that it had found it not possible or desirable to make the change in land use of the said site.

Diwan Singh of the NGO Natural Heritage First also criticised the DDA’s move, claiming the change in land use will have a negative impact on the environment and ecology. “It seems to have become a norm for the DDA to regularise whatever is illegal. There has been a moratorium on constructions on the floodplains since 2007, yet a temporary bus shelter was constructed and now they are pushing to change the land use. This shows the DDA has no respect for environment or the sanctity of the floodplains,” he said.

A DDA official said the notification changing the land use was not final and that those with suggestions and objections could approach the authority for reviewing the decision.