|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
How the Commonwealth village will hit the Jamuna
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | October 16, 2007 20:37 IST
A controversy is brewing over construction plans for about 118 acres of land on the banks of the Jamuna river which will be home to nearly 10,000 sportsmen and officials at the Commonwealth Games 2010 with politicians, land mafia and bureaucrats supporting the development plans steadfastly and environment activists, scientists and non-government organisations opposing it.
Veteran journalist and former Rajya Sabha member Kuldip Nayar is planning to go on Satyagraha if the Sheila Dixit government does not ban the ongoing construction of huge building complexes and shopping malls on the riverbed of the Jamuna to accommodate the athletes of Commonwealth games.
The agitation is organised by the Jamuna Jagiye Abhiyaan, which claims that the eleven medium-rise buildings on little more than 40 acres for athletes are being build on the riverbed. It is suicidal to build a plinth of concrete over nature's wonder, they say.
JJA has been backed by experts like Dr Vikram Soni of the Indian Institute of Technology and Magsaysay award winner Rajinder Singh.
Nayar told rediff.com: "Instead of buildings, if the government creates a reservoir here it can store water to serve 80% of the water requirements of New Delhi's 13 million people."
New Delhi will be organising the prestigious Commonwealth Games between October 3 and 14, 2010. But, the preparations are chaotic, controversial and an embarrassment for the local government and the central government at every step.
Nayar, who has led many agitations, alleges: "The sand of Jamuna is so good that it retains 70% of rain or flood waters. The Akshardham complex has eaten away a large part of the riverbed and now, the sports complex will pour concrete into this invaluable sand. This will invite disaster."
He argues that when the Vasant Kunj area was being developed experts had warned about the problem of depletion of ground water. Now again, the planners are ignoring scientific data to go ahead with develop plans, mindlessly, he says.
Rivers are organic entity and any tampering with it needs scientific sanction, Nayar argues.
Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People agrees with Nayar.
He told rediff.com: "How can the government build the structure on the recharge zone (the area from which a body of water is recharged) of Jamuna? These areas help recharge the ground waters. Since centuries these flood plains are cushion for the river. If you encroach this floodplain, it could create havoc."
The controversies surrounding the Commonwealth Games started with ugly fights between the Indian Olympic Association and the sports ministry, which was then led by Mani Shankar Aiyar. To get ready for the Commonwealth Games, the ministry gave Rs 300 crore but only after saying in its sports policy document that it's not impressed with the idea of having mega event. Aiyar criticised the government's plan to spend (he thinks it's a waste) $1.150 billion (Rs 4600 crore) on the sports events.
He explained how money could be better spent on developing sporting infrastructure across the country.
However, Delhi is buzzing with the development plans that need to be completed before the athletes arrive in 2010.
It will be getting around 1500 MW of power by 2010 and all the flyovers and stadiums of Delhi will have a new look. Delhi's history will be displayed on places around flyovers which will have aesthetic decoration.
Around the airport, more than 3000 rooms are being built. The Commonwealth Games of 2010 have accelerated the real estate boom.
The consortium that is building the new airport has been allowed to commercially develop 5 per cent of the total 5,000-acre area earmarked for the Delhi Airport. A total of 250 acres of land will be used for commercial purposes.
Many activists are actually worried about the crass commercialisation of the great sporting event.
Despite protests, the Delhi Development Authority board has refused to budge and has said that the building of Sports complex on Jamuna riverbed will be completed on time.
Activists strongly argue that the residential complex should be build around Dwarka where India's biggest convention centre is coming up. Dwarka is a new attractive area of New Delhi where Real estate market is booming.
JJA convenor Manoj Mishra has argued many times that since Dwarka is close to the airport and is also connected by the Metro, the residential premises must come up there and that the Jamuna must be saved.
Nayar and like-minded activists have been meeting all important people concerned with the construction to explain them the environment risks involved in the project but they have been shocked to see the involvement of some big names of New Delhi behind the project.
Nayar says: "We met Delhi's Lieutenant-Governor Tejinder Khanna and he finds reason in our case but thinks that it is too late to stop the construction. Then, we went to see Arjun Singh [Images] who is heading the Cabinet sub-committee that overlooks the plan. But, we have not got positive response."
Nayar adds, "There is a mafia of politicians, builders and bureaucrats that wants this construction to go ahead and make money out of it at the cost of damage to environment."
Thakkar sums up: "After the use of riverbed of Jamuna by Akshardham temple and the Sports complex the risk of Jamuna floods creating havoc in and around Delhi will increase manifold."