Jaichand Goswami, 47, recalls how as a child he used to take his family’s buffaloes to a pond near his house in Khichripur, east Delhi. He also remembers there used to be multiple smaller ponds in the area. Today, not a single of those waterbodies remain.
Everything is either encroached upon, concretised, or polluted with sewage. “There were two boards here stating that the land belonged to the Delhi Development Authority. But now those too have been uprooted and the agencies remain apathetic,” Mr. Goswami said, pointing to a corner adjoining a cluster of tents where heaps of waste lay dumped. Delhi has as many as 1,043 identified waterbodies, which belong to 16 different authorities. According to official data available with The Hindu, 169 of them have been infringed on and destroyed.
An encroached waterbody in Khichripur, next to a municipal corporation-run school, has been included in the official record for years. But it has not yet been reclaimed for rejuvenation. Of the 169 encroached waterbodies, 103 belong to the DDA, headed by the Central government-appointed Lt.-Governor. The DDA owns 836 waterbodies — the highest in the city — followed by the Revenue Department which has 131 under its ambit.
Of the 836 waterbodies, the DDA has asked for deletion of 208 from the list and many of these could also be encroached upon apart from the 103 on the list, officials said.
The government is in the process of notifying waterbodies that fit into the definition of “wetlands”. This will give legal protection and rejuvenate the waterbodies under the Integrated Management Plans (IMP).
Wetlands are vital parts of the hydrological cycle, which support rich biodiversity and provide a wide range of ecosystem services such as water storage, water purification, flood mitigation, erosion control and microclimate regulation.
The unique characteristics of wetlands help to mitigate urban floods — a major issue in Delhi – and also store floodwaters.
Mr. Goswami said even when shanties started coming up in the area, several smaller ponds formed naturally following rains. But everything has been filled up with all kinds of garbage now.
“When it rains heavily, the road gets flooded till the ankle and you have to wade through that murky water,” he said.
Experts say Delhi has lost its wetlands due to unplanned growth and encroachment.
Suresh Kumar Rohilla, director of water programme, Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi, said there were over 1,000 waterbodies in Delhi , according to a 1997 survey, but now only less than 700 are left.
“There is a lot of encroachment. Earlier, there used to be one or two waterbodies in each village. Now most of them have vanished,” he said.
Mr. Rohilla said that the Najafgarh lake used to be 80 sq. km. in size in 1883, as per records, but now it has shrunk to a meagre five sq. km. “The government must act to save the water bodies before we lose them all,” he said.