The National Green Tribunal has issued notices to the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) and the Uttar Pradesh government following a petition by environmentalists alleging that land mafia, in connivance with administration officials, have encroached on the floodplains of the Yamuna and the Hindon rivers to build colonies on them.
The petition, filed by Akash Vashishtha and Rajendra Tyagi, says that the floodplains have been encroached with concrete and permanent structures that are bound to cause ecological havoc in the form of floods besides upsetting the natural hydrological cycle of the areas situated close to the two rivers.
“The government has, apparently, supported the land mafia in setting up these illegal colonies and commercial centres on the flood plains of both the Yamuna and the Hindon rivers and has completely failed in restraining them,” allege the petitioners, adding that these colonies and commercial set-ups are set to discharge a huge amount of garbage, sewage and toxic waste into the already highly-polluted rivers.
The petitioners also alleged that there is still no central regulatory authority in place to prohibit and act against such illegal concrete structures in the flood plains—the entire land along rivers, including areas that go under water during a 100-year flood. At present, concrete structures in the riverbed are only prohibited by rules laid down in master plans and zonal plans of the cities. There has been a long-pressing demand for River Regulation Zone (RRZ), a statutory authority under the Environment Protection Act of 1986, but MoEF still hasn’t notified it.
In April 2011 the Allahabad High Court had prohibited construction within 500 metres of the highest flood level (horizontal spread of water) of the Yamuna in Allahabad. It identified the river’s natural limit as its highest flood level (floodplain) and said that the land use of such floodplains is strictly agricultural and floodplains are an integral part of the river ecosystem.
However, land mafia has illegally sold off the floodplains of the Yamuna in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Haryana in the form of plots and farmhouses. The mafia has also sold off almost entire stretch of floodplains of the Hindon river, especially in Ghaziabad and Gautam Budh Nagar districts of Uttar Pradesh. The land sharks are still actively engaged in selling off the floodplain areas of both these rivers. . The registration and mutation of plots in flood plains is being actively carried out by the administration, they add.
The petitioners allege that daily hundreds of thousands of bricks are brought into floodplain areas of the Hindon and the Yamuna for raising illegal structures. The land mafia and realtors sell plots in the form of farmhouses in absolute violation of the land use norms. None of the farmhouses or plot owners has environmental clearances from the Central or state governments, with them.
The petition quotes a media report that about 1618 hectares of the Yamuna floodplain has been usurped by the land sharks along 30 km of the river in Noida. Numerous farmhouses, concrete structures (houses, schools included), crasher plants, hot-mix plants, concrete ready-mix plants and quartzite-washing plants have been set up in the riverbed. Several thousand hectares has similarly been colonized in Delhi, Faridabad, Mathura and Agra. “The Delhi government itself has built Commonwealth Games Village and DTC Bus Depot on the eco-sensitive Yamuna banks,” the petition reads.
The petitioners also pleaded that with reduced dissolved oxygen, and high biological and chemical oxygen demands in the Yamuna and the Hindon, aquatic life, comprising diverse life forms of amphibians and vertebrates has ceased to exist. Activists have demanded directions to be passed to all agencies to prevent civic agencies from setting up any new concrete structures and registration of FIRs against violators. The activists have also demanded the constitution of a monitoring commission to ensure time-bound and transparent implementation of provisions specified in the National Green Tribunal Act of 2010 to protect the rivers.
After hearing the petition, the bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar issued notices to MoEF, Ministry of Water Resources, Uttar Pradesh government and Delhi and Haryana governments. Next hearing in the case has been scheduled for April 23.