‘Allowing housing to come up in precarious areas will risk life, property’

The Delhi Development Authority’s proposal to redraw the boundaries of the existing river zone, known as ‘Zone O’, that will allow constructions in the areas has drawn criticism from environmentalists.

A non-government organisation, the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, which has been campaigning for the protection of the floodplains in the city has shot off a letter to Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung protesting against the proposal, which will be discussed by the DDA at its meeting next week.

The YJA has alleged that the move will not only shrink the floodplains in the city by allowing constructions in the hitherto prohibited area, but also allow housing to come up in precarious areas, thereby, risking life and property.

The move to redraw the Zone O, YJA has said, will offer people living in unauthorised colonies a “false sense of security”.

“A number of recent climatic events, including the floods in 2010, 2011, and the more recent flash floods in June in Uttarakhand, all point to the fact that it is risky and dangerous to construct anywhere on the river's floodplains and it is futile to believe that an embankment can protect any low lying or floodplain areas in front of a marauding river. Experiences from all over the world point to the fact that embankments and levees only provide a false sense of security and invite grave damage and loss to life and property when these get breached,” YJA’s Manoj Misra said.

“Delhi is the first major city on the Yamuna and when flood waters in excess of 10 lakh cusec flow downstream at Hathnikund, it could play havoc with all the low-lying areas in the city, including the areas that the DDA plans to slice out of the current definition of Zone O. We do not mean that all those people who are currently residing within Zone O be summarily expelled. But it is necessary that they remain aware that they are living in a risky location and it is best that they voluntarily opt out of there,” Mr. Misra said.

YJA has suggested that for those who cannot relocate, there should be a scheme under which the existing structures can be repaired and strengthened on a case-by-case basis.

Zone O, which currently defines the bounds of the Yamuna in the city, is the left over of the original vast flood plain of the river and the maintenance of its integrity is essential for the physical and environmental safety and security of the city, including its water security, the YJA claimed.

“It is precisely for this reason that in 2005, the Delhi High Court had set up an empowered committee under Justice Usha Mehra to oversee the removal of all existing structures from the riverbed and floodplains. And it was for this reason that the then L-G had imposed a moratorium on any new construction in the river bed and the Zone O was given a ‘green’ tag,” Mr. Misra added.