Issue :   
February 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.  Happy Diwali to all our subscribers and Distributors       February 2017 Edition of Power Politics is updated.   Happy Diwali to all our subscribers and Distributors       
Issue:February' 2017


Filthy flows the Sahibi

Anuradha Dutt A signboard proclaiming Haritima resort, outside a tourist complex between the outlying villages of Chhawla and Kanganheri, is misleading as the place has as yet not opened to visitors.

Haritima resort Conceived by Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation as an adventure sports complex and eco-park with leisure facilities, it is located near the noxious Najafgarh Nehar or Nullah in Southwest Delhi. Water sports, boating, ballooning, shopping and an open air theatre are proposed to be factored into recreation options. Air conditioned tents for tourists' stay are to be set up.
The Union Ministry of Tourism has pledged financial aid. In order to make the Najafgarh drain fit for rowing/canoeing and slalom, recognised in the Olympics and Asian Games, water treatment is to be prioritised as per international sporting standards. This is intended to give a tremendous boost to efforts to restore the nullah, infamous for being one of the capital's most polluted drains, as a rivulet. But on the ground, nothing seems to have been done to clean up the channel.
The story of Najafgarh Nehar or Nullah, which originates in the Sahibi river in Rajasthan before snaking its way through Haryana into Southwest Delhi and then emptying into the Yamuna, is a record of abysmal neglect by policymakers and Delhi Jal Board. Reduced to a smelly carrier of untreated sewage and industrial effluent, it still manages to attract thousands of migratory birds during winter from other states as well as countries beyond India's northern borders.
Local thorn brush and wetland birds are found in all seasons. Neelgai, monkeys and other forest creatures seek refuge in the thick tree cover lining the nehar while birds cluster together in the murky water. This serene spectacle is marred by floating garbage and refuse piled up on the slope leading down to the nullah..

Haven for birds

There are myriad species of birds: Warblers, Shrikes, Flame-back Woodpeckers, Hoopoes, Spotted Owlets, Indian Rollers, Wagtails, Bull Bulls, Green Pigeons, Shikra, Drongos endangered Painted Stork, Sarus Crane, Black, White and Glossy Ibis, Black-tailed Godwit and Black-necked Stork, Waders, Painted Storks. Other birds include Purple More Hens, Graylag Geese, Comb Ducks, Pintails, Bar-headed Geese, Pied Avocet, Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Shelduck, Common Coot, Red-Crowned Ibis, Gadwal, Ruff, Eurasian Spoonbill and Greater Flamingoes.

In view of the city's rapidly shrinking forests and depletion of the Yamuna's ground water by urban encroachments on the flood plains, one might have expected policy-makers to optimise conservation of existing natural resources so as to reduce pollution, augment water supply and improve quality of life.

The Delhi government's biggest challenge during the parched summer months is arranging for sufficient water to meet burgeoning demands. Environmental experts have since long been advising administrators to revive the wetlands, lakes and other water sources that have diminished or become receptacles for the city's garbage, industrial effluent and human waste. The nehar has featured in plans as a potential water source for West Delhi colonies and contiguous areas in Haryana.

Yamuna revival plan

This would hinge on prevention of untreated sewage and factories' residue being emptied into the channel, part of the larger plan to clean up the Yamuna as it flows through Delhi by thwarting such discharge into the river from drains. Najafgarh Nullah is one of the major ones.

The Aam Aadmi Party government in the capital is reported to have formulated the 'Yamuna Turnaround Plan'. A Delhi Jal Board official was quoted last May as saying that the proposal "looks at the river in a holistic way and covers all aspects to maintain the health of its ecosystem such as stopping the sewage and industrial effluents from entering into it, identifying all the point and nonpoint sources of pollution, ecological development of the riverfront, creating and reviving water bodies for water recharge, creating public spaces for cycling, walking and recreation, even restoring the polluting drains that merge into the river".

The plan envisages upgrading sewage treatment plants for efficient functioning; desilting the drains and Yamuna; making ten reservoirs; and creating large ecofriendly public spaces and riverfront. The cost of implementation is estimated at Rs 6,000 crore.

Najafgarh jheel

A view of the nullah The Delhi government wants the Union Water Resources Ministry to pitch in since it already has a decades-old plan to clean up the Ganga, Yamuna and other rivers. Cleaning up the city's drains, with the focus on the main ones, including Najafgarh Nullah, is a central feature of the scheme. Just upgrading the sewage treatment plant at Najafgarh drain is expected to cost Rs 1,400 crore, with an additional Rs 800 crore required for dredging the channel, and Rs 500 crore for constructing cycle tracks and walkways alongside.
Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) had proposed to Delhi Development Authority and Haryana Urban Development Authority that Najafgarh Jheel, a large water body, linked to the nehar and which spilt into Haryana from Delhi, be revived.
The lake shrank drastically after the nehar was widened for flood control purposes in Southwest Delhi, and a bund was built four decades ago, which blocked water flow into the lake on the Delhi side.
INTACH's plea is that "the jheel, if revived would not only be a huge reservoir catering to the needs of the residents of Delhi and Gurgaon, it would also be a very important source for recharge of the groundwater aquifers".
The organisation ascribes the fact of the lake becoming "nearly extinct" to "the acts of omission and commission of the various respondents": that is, Haryana and Delhi governments, and the Centre. The lake is marked in the Delhi master plan 2021 but so far, no measures have been undertaken to revive the jheel. The Haryana government recently informed the National Green Tribunal that the jheel would be identified as a wetland after denying that it existed at all.
Its revival would serve to create a valuable bio-sphere in the arid concrete jungle, providing a natural habitat for birds, animals, snakes and other creatures that have been driven to the edge by relentless urban expansion.
"There are more than 200 storm water streams in Delhi, of which Najafgarh is the largest. Really, it is a river in its own right. And unless it is restored in its all glory there is little hope for the rejuvenation of river Yamuna in the city. Najafgarh nullah at 2000 mld brings the most water to river Yamuna within the city limits. Today it is all toxic waste water, a mix of sewage (treated and untreated), industrial effluent and surface run off. Once Najafgarh drain starts to carry good clean water from its restoration as a riverine system, the river would rejuvenate to a great extent," notes Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan Convenor Manoj Mishra.

Drishadwati river'

Bird perched on the dirty water of the nullah Plans to restore both the nehar and the jheel also draw attention to the civilisational ethos associated with Sahibi, which is identified by some Hindu scholars with the Vedic Drishadwati river, just as they see the Ghaggar that flows through Haryana as corroboration of the existence of the ancient Saraswati river in the remote past. For them, this is not myth-making but a glimpse of India's antiquity.
Myriad Indus Valley Civilisation sites, now renamed Indus-Saraswati Civilisation by Hindutva advocates, are believed to have developed along the course of the Saraswati but were abandoned when the river began to dry up, shift course or became a subterranean flow. Similarly, Drishadwati once hosted Indus Valley sites on its banks; and later, Vedic rishis are believed to have meditated there and composed richas.
In this idealised view, Brahmavart, expanse of land where the Vedic ethos was born and flourished, as per Hindutva scholarship, spread out between Saraswati and Drishadwati. Gazing at the stinking, turgid mess in the Najafgarh nullah and putrefying garbage in its precincts, it is difficult to believe that this swathe of land and water channel, fallen into such a wretched state, could have been part of Brahmavart. Trees densely lining the motorable road along the nullah and birds converging below somewhat redeem the squalour.