Floodplain zone halved to 50 metres, contradicting an Allahabad HC order
A previous version of the story erroneously attributed the 12 rivers were between Sitapur and Varanasi. The error is regretted.
A three-year-old government order (GO) issued by the irrigation department of the Uttar Pradesh government declaring the Gomti as a “non-perennial river” has drawn flak from water experts and river rights activists. The GO has surfaced recently but was issued on September 3, 2020.
Gomti is a tributary of Ganga river and an alluvial river of the Ganga Plain. It originates near Mainkot, from Gomat Taala lake also known as Fulhar Jheel in Madhotanda. This is located around 30 kilometres from Pilibhit town in UP, according to the Central Water Commission.
The GO was issued regarding the floodplain zoning for 12 rivers, including Gomti. It, however, didn’t decide on a timeline and stated, “Due to COVID-19 epidemic [sic], the timeline will be rescheduled after lockdown.” A copy of the order is with Down To Earth (DTE).
A line in the order addressing the Gomti river read: “As it’s a non-perennial river, e-flow (environmental flow) cannot be maintained throughout the year and no surplus water is available to augment the flow.”
The order also declared a 50 metres area from both banks of the river as a no-construction zone. It was undersigned by RK Gupta, chief engineer, Sharda Sahayak.
“A river that provides the daily water supply to the state capital can’t be declared ‘non-perennial’,” Lucknow-based Venkatesh Dutta told DTE.
Gomti has been flowing for several thousands of years, Dutta said. “It has a very wide floodplain and the river swells up during monsoons and brings abundant water to the Ganga,” he said.
The river flows through Sitapur, Lucknow, Barabanki, Sultanpur and Jaunpur before meeting the Ganga at Kaithi, Ghazipur district, the CWC website stated. It empties into the Ganga near Saidpur. The 960-km-long river also supplies around 450 million litres per day of water to Lucknow.
The old GO on defining the floodplain of various rivers was brought to public notice as the work on the green corridor project in Lucknow is picking up, said Dutta. The project aims to link the western and eastern parts of the city.
Read more: Gomti river is almost dead
“It is likely that many development projects are coming up in UP that are planned around the floodplain areas in the state. The authorities are thus seeking available orders to define the floodplains and this GO has resurfaced,” said Dutta.
Nobody from voluntary groups concerned with rivers across Lucknow was notified about the GO, claimed Dutta. “Some sections of the order show that it is only being referred to now, after a long pause since the COVID-19 lockdown,” the expert said.
“The perennial or seasonal state of a river depends on what happens in a catchment,” said Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People.
As for floodplains, one needs not only thumb rules, but must also understand the science behind it, Thakkar added.
The GO defining the floodplain of 12 rivers was regarding a case being heard by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
In 2018, the NGT raised dissatisfaction over encroachment and construction activities on the floodplains of rivers, which included Kali, Hindon, Varuna, Rapti, Sai, Betwa and Ghaghra.
The state government then issued a letter and a hearing on the case took place.
A chief engineer with the state irrigation department issued a letter declaring the floodplain zoning for the 12 rivers to other engineers in the department. The department took a decision in this regard on September 3, 2020, which didn't surface in the public purview until July 2023.
“The Gomti is an ancient river that is also perennial. But it is in dire need of protection from pollution, exploitation and encroachment,” said Vishwavijay Singh is a river activist who fought for several years to save the Aami River in UP.
The declaration of the river as a seasonal one takes away from its importance, he said.
Efforts are needed to assure the continuous flow of the Gomti, said Sanjay Singh Parmar, known as the waterman of Bundelkhand district.
As per a CPCB report from 2022, Gomti is the fifth most polluted river in the country.
The GO further read: “For the said Gomti river stretch, 50 metres from both banks will be declared as no construction. The demarcation of the floodplain will be made a suitable location by planting a row of suitable plants through the forest department.”
This, Dutta said, is in strict violation of a High Court order.
On June 18, 2010, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court ordered the UP government to stop all construction activities within 100 metres of the banks of the river.
At least half of the river flow should be considered e-flow, the expert said. “Gomti’s flow mostly comes from the groundwater,” said Dutta, who is also a professor at School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University.
He, along with co-author U Sharma, carried out research establishing the environmental flow for the Gomti river for all the major stretches using flow data from 1978. It was published in the International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology.
Calls to a staff member in the irrigation department of the UP government for comments went unanswered.
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