DDA ignores directions to remove official constructions on floodplain, builds more

April 18, 2024 08:06 pm | Updated April 27, 2024 03:16 pm IST - New Delhi

Sur Ghat features permanent construction in the form of tiled floors, a concrete pool, and barbed wire, despite the National Green Tribunal’s directions to reclaim the area nine years ago.

Sur Ghat features permanent construction in the form of tiled floors, a concrete pool, and barbed wire, despite the National Green Tribunal’s directions to reclaim the area nine years ago. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

Just over a hundred metres from the Wazirabad Bridge in north Delhi lies Sur Ghat, spread over an expanse of at least 2,000 square metres. The ghat, enclosed by barbed-wire boundary walls, features tiled floors, four concrete rooms, and a 40-metre-long pool, and is often visited by Hindu families performing the last rites of their loved ones. Large letters painted on a 12-foot-high wall proclaim the area under the jurisdiction of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA).

The whole complex, however, bustling as it is, is built on the Yamuna floodplain, a mere 50 metres from the river. The area, as per directions of the National Green Tribunal nine years ago, was meant to be reclaimed from concretisation. But over the years, the DDA has done the very opposite, and has constructed more and more structures at Sur Ghat, dealing a blow to the floodplain, which is meant to serve as a key defence in the event of floods.

Sur Ghat is not the only example of encroachments on the Yamuna’s floodplain. The DDA, despite court orders, has not only failed to recover multiple such “official” encroachments, but has helmed further concretisation for official developmental works, The Hindu has found.

The heavily concretised Sur Ghat.

The heavily concretised Sur Ghat. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

In a landmark 2015 judgment, the NGT had directed that Qudsia Ghat, too, be reclaimed from concretisation. But the DDA, after having renamed the site ‘Vasudev Ghat’, has constructed more permanent structures there, including large sitting areas and 10-foot-high elephant statues affixed to concrete bases. On a ground visit, The Hindu found that tiles had been fixed into the ground to make walkways in the area, and concrete steps leading into the river had been built, spreading across about 100 metres of the floodplain. Lieutenant-Governor V.K. Saxena inaugurated the newly-renamed ghat on March 12 this year, and the DDA has since entered into an MoU with a registered society which will conduct a ‘Yamuna Aarti’ at the ghat regularly.

Similarly, the now-defunct Millenium Bus Depot near Sarai Kale Khan, which was built atop a large portion of the floodplain ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2010, still remains in its concretised form, despite directions for it to be recovered.

Some experts say that DDA’s flouting of court orders is “the same old story”. “Committees cannot keep visiting places again and again to check whether court orders are being implemented. Ultimately, it is the DDA that has to implement court orders,” said former IIT Delhi professor A.K. Gosain, who is a member of the Principal Committee, which was appointed by the NGT in 2015 to monitor illegal construction on the Yamuna’s floodplain.

Casting yards

About two kilometres from the Signature Bridge in north Delhi, a casting yard — confined areas where all concrete structures are typically cast — can be found on the right side of a road which cuts through the eastern bank of the Yamuna’s floodplain. Its boundary walls enclose a concrete space almost as big as a football field.

The casting yard near Signature Bridge.

The casting yard near Signature Bridge. | Photo Credit: NIKHIL M BABU

At another casting yard adjoining central Delhi’s Baansera — advertised by the DDA as an “eco-friendly” bamboo park — a 12-foot wide concrete road has been built. Construction and demolition waste was found dumped in the floodplain, and the premises of a ready-mix concrete plant were also found concretised.

Both casting yards have come up on land leased by the DDA for different government construction works, and are being operated by private companies, officials have confirmed.

According to Professor Gosain, the DDA may lease the floodplain for casting yards with necessary permission, but concretisation of the floodplain is still very much illegal.

He added that these “official” encroachments by the DDA could invite more private illegal encroachments on the floodplain. “For instance, in an upstream area in Okhla, an embankment was built by authorities under the guise of “protecting” people already living on the floodplain. After it was built, people encroached further on the floodplain between the embankment and the river, and as a result, another embankment was built,” he said.

This is part three of the five-part series Yamuna - Beyond Ebb and Flow. Click here to read the full series.

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