The floodplains need saving, but so does the Yamuna
No one who has read the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) judgment on Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living (AOL) Foundation’s three-day World Culture Festival on the Yamuna floodplains can have any doubt that each arm of the government has been derelict in its duty, and is now passing the buck. The DDA which gave the original clearance, it appears, was acting beyond its mandate and did not seem to absorb the magnitude of the event—3.5 million people attending it, roads and pontoon bridges built to accommodate the traffic, a stage of 40 x 1,000 x 200 feet dimensions, among others. The environment ministry, similarly, was not a party to the clearance, nor was the water resources ministry that is in charge of river redevelopment across the country—that is decidedly odd given the potential damage that can be caused by this event.
That said, the NGT order looks funny since, if the potential damage is as great as it is being made out, surely a Rs 5 crore fine—with AOL refusing to pay this, the standoff is nail-biting—isn’t going to make things okay. It has to be said, as NGT recognises, that with the petition coming in so late, it was presented with a fait accompli, more so given the high profile nature of the guests from all over the world and the dignitaries that may even include the Prime Minister.
Some of the scepticism comes from the fact that the rules have been broken multiple times by different governments. Based on the BJP government’s clearances, the Akshardham Temple was opened on 17 acres of land on the Yamuna embankment in 2005. In 2010, the Commonwealth Games Village, the Yamuna Bank station of the Delhi Metro and a 23-acre bus depot for the Delhi Transport Corporation were all built on the floodplains—while the bus depot is being relocated to Rohini, the other structures remain. Also, as the Centre for Science and Environment points out, Delhi generates 3,700 million litres per day (mld) of sewage as compared to the sewage treatment plant (STP) capacity of 2,330 mld. With most STPs running at low capacity—where there is sewage, there is no STP and vice versa—Delhi’s filth freely flows into the Yamuna. The floodplains are critical in the event of a flood, but that can’t be true for AOL and not for Akshardham or the Commonwealth Village and others—in any case, caring for the floodplains and not for the open sewage drain that passes for the Yamuna is incongruous.