June 21, 2008

Don’t Allow Change in Land Laws, Say Greens

NEW DELHI: The riverbed has finally got some breathing space, or so one would like to believe, with the DDA decreeing that it would be classified under the 'O' zone, the objective of which is to augment water supply, contain pollution and have eco-friendly "green" development. However, the order also mentions that, after the first phase, further implementation of the project would be dependent on studies in the area. Although thrilled with the order initially, environmentalists and activists were doubtful of the need for further studies.

With the L-G's order six months earlier, several ongoing projects were put on hold. The only construction permitted now is the Games Village and the DMRC depot. Other projects that were being planned, like stadiums and sports complexes, will probably not see the light of day. Activist Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, was extremely optimistic about the new plans. "At least some effort has been made to stop concertising the river bed. However, what we also need at this point is to have such a plan given a permanent legal status. Unless that happens, who is to ensure that land use is not changed again?" he demanded.

K T Ravindran, Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC) chief, who also attended the DDA meeting on Wednesday, only said that the river bed should be maintained as "green area in principal" and be respected for what it is. However, certain people questioned the need to keep the proposal open-ended, since several studies had already proven that, in order for the river to be pollution-free and have a decent recharge capacity, no construction on the river bed was advisable.

"Any activity, construction or so called greening should not become an excuse for paving way for gardens and boating areas. The river needs to be left alone. Zero development should become the thumb rule," said an environmentalist.

Vinod Jain, from NGO Tapas, agreed with the concept of zero development, saying that such rules were left open to interpretation and future governments could alter land use if so required. "What is the guarantee that land use is not changed again? Unless there is a complete ban on any sort of construction on the river bed, the people in charge can permit any project as long as it conforms to their idea of a 'green project'. This decision brings a lot of relief for the river but it needs further safeguards," he said.

About five years earlier, the Central Ground Water Board had declared that no extraction of groundwater was permitted from the Yamuna riverbed, which meant that no large-scale construction could have taken place there. Despite this, several big projects, including the Games Village came up. "The problem is that, even as the government takes measures to safeguard the river and the riverbed, none of these measures are foolproof. They are susceptible to change and interpretation depending on vested interests. If the government is serious about not permitting construction, then there should be a law in place for it," said a CGWB official.

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