The greening of the Yamuna plans

By Azera Rahman, IANS

New Delhi : Delhi's main tourism body is confident that its mammoth projects on the Yamuna floodplains will not harm the river, although environmentalists are dead set against such construction.

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"We as a tourism department have kept the safety factor in mind before proposing any plan and are all for eco-friendly projects," Sanat Kaul, managing director of the Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC), told IANS.

The corporation's initiatives include a proposed 170-metre tall Signature Bridge in Wazirabad, a Yamuna Redevelopment Plan and a proposed 1,000-acre tourism-related project on the eastern side of the floodplains.

One of the risk factors highlighted by environmental groups, including the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan (YJA) and Swechha, is that the floodplains lie on a seismic zone which makes it vulnerable to earthquakes. Any construction on the floodplain will therefore expose it to natural disaster, they argue.

But Kaul said: "The 575-metre-long Signature Bridge over the Yamuna at Wazirabad will be built with steel and will be earthquake-proof."

A fancy cable-stayed suspension bridge with a dual carriageway of four lanes – each 14 metres wide – the bridge is designed to be nearly twice the height of the 12th century Qutub Minar.

"It will be an icon. Delhi's tourism will be boosted greatly because of it."

Conceptualised three years ago, the bridge had been held up by its enormous budget. According to Kaul, it is expected to cost Rs.8 billion now.

"The plans keep changing. Formerly it was supposed to be in concrete; then the plan changed to making it in steel. Then it had to be bow shaped. All these cost more money," he explained.

The main purpose of coming up with a project as enormous as this is to ease the traffic in that area. A metro connection will also be provided at a later stage.

The second purpose is to turn it into a major attraction for international and domestic tourists.

Current plans also include a one square-kilometre lake under the bridge, to encourage water sports.

"The architecture model has just come in," Kaul said. "Once the work gets going, it will be a 35-month project with penalties for delay. We expect it to be completed before the Commonwealth Games in 2010."

As for the 1,000-acre tourism project on the eastern side of the floodplains, Kaul said it would have an embankment and would be green.

Yet another environmental objection to construction on the floodplains is that the river's ability to recharge groundwater may be affected. Kaul said the DTTDC was conducting 25 studies to investigate this risk.

"One of our observations is that ample amount of water from the rains during monsoons goes waste. Hence we are proposing a project to capture rainwater to ease the water shortage the city faces. We are also in talks with the Haryana government," Kaul said.

"The Yamuna river table is also getting lower. Therefore we are planning on Yamuna redevelopment, its channelisation and creation of water bodies to the north of Wazirabad to make up for water shortage."

Over-extraction of water, climatic changes and pollution are among factors contributing to the slow drying up of the Yamuna.

As the Yamuna enters the capital still relatively clean from its 395-km descent from the Himalayas, the city's public water agency, the Delhi Jal Board, extracts 229 million gallons every day from the river – its largest single source of drinking water.

As the river leaves the city, it becomes the principal drain for Delhi's wastes. Residents pour 950 million gallons of sewage into the river each day.

One of DTTDC's most ambitious projects, the Yamuna redevelopment project aims at cleaning the 22-km length of the river in the city and turning it into a tourist attraction.

A part of Vision 2021, it is a mammoth task that is being worked upon by the Delhi government, the government of India and the surrounding states.

"We have had talks with the The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), as well as other institutes in this context. So hopefully it should be completed within the stipulated time," said Kaul.

"We just want to add that whatever we do is keeping the environment in mind," Kaul said.