Delhi, which is fighting for every drop of water to meet its requirements, is yet to come up to speed on restoration of water bodies, an important source for groundwater recharge.

For more than a year, a group of concerned residents have been petitioning and pleading with the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to restore a water body spread over 5.5 acre in the city’s Mahipalpur area, but the work remained undone.

Unwilling to give up hope, these residents finally approached DDA Vice-Chairman D. Diptivilasa, complaining about the authority’s lethargy and inaction. On Saturday, the residents were in for a surprise when Mr. Diptivilasa, who is also an Additional Secretary in the Union Urban Development Ministry, undertook a surprise visit of the now-dead water body and issued orders for its immediate restoration.

“The water body, spread over 5.5 acre, was in use till 1993-94. Thereafter, encroachments began and gradually the sources of water inflow to the water body were sealed and it was allowed to go dry. Illegal constructions — both houses and shops — came up on the land and the water body disappeared,” said Sheel Sehrawat, member of the Mahipalpur Gram Seva Samiti that has been campaigning for the restoration of the water body.

Following the Delhi High Court’s 2007 order asking the State government to take stock of and restore all water bodies, this water body in Mahipalpur was rid of encroachments.

“The then District Collector of the South-West zone undertook a demolition drive and razed the illegal houses and shops. The empty patch of land was then handed back to the DDA, that owned the water body. However, instead of carrying out restoration work, the DDA did nothing. In the meantime, the land was used as a dump for debris and other refuse,” Mr. Seharawat said.

In the absence of any revival plan or even a boundary wall to keep out land grabbers and prevent dumping on site, there are no indicators to show that the land was once a water body.

“Mr. Diptivilasa told us that he has ordered his staff to undertake the restoration work on an immediate basis and that they will begin with the construction of a boundary wall to preserve the land. This water body, adjoining an old Shiva Temple, was not only a source of water to the nearby residents, but a very crucial source for ground water recharge,” Mr. Sehrawat said.

This surprise inspection by Mr. Diptivilasa, is also, probably the first of its kind.

In 2002, the Delhi administration had listed 177 water bodies, but following a petition in the court by a non-government organisation Tapas and a new count, the number rose to 829 by 2006. Over the years, water bodies in the city have not only perished on account of poor or disrupted water flow and encroachment by the residents, but in several cases, the government itself has been guilty of using water body land for the construction of schools, dispensaries and offices.

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