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Why does Delhi drown in every Monsoon?

Kavita Sharma

The second Sunday of July in Delhi recorded unprecedented rainfall of 153 mm which was highest in a single day in 40 years for this month. Heavy rain lashed the capital for days after that and continuous rain in the hills at the same time resulted in floods which inundated the national capital Delhi.

Although flooding in Delhi is not an exceptional phenomenon and river Yamuna every monsoon season either touches or crosses the danger mark, but this year the flooding of Delhi was unusual and unprecedented. Besides the low-lying flood plains of river in Delhi, this time the flood water percolated through the areas unknown for flooding. This is more surprising with the fact that the capital Delhi received much less water through Yamuna river this year in comparision to the last major flooding of 1978 in Delhi.

As a phenomenon, river Yamuna in Delhi swells due to two reasons. One is through the natural cause of heavy rain and other is the sudden swelling of water in the river due to the excess water released from Hathnikund dam. During the last flooding of Delhi in the year 1978 around 7 lakh cusec water was released in Yamuna which is much less then to around 3 lakh cusec released this year. So why did Delhi submerged under the water covering way beyond its traditional flooding spots with much less water flowing through its river than last time?

Every monsoon season poor drainage management of the National Capital Delhi is blamed for the flooding but the experts have many recommendations besides reviving the water bodies of the city and desilting of drains to mitigate flood effects.

Reasons of flooding in Delhi

The primary reason behind rise of water level in river Yamuna is release of water from Hathnikund barrage in Haryana. This barrage receives huge amount of water from Himachal and Uttarakhand during the monsoon rains.

The poor drainage system of Delhi has been discussed by every government since 2009 but nothing concrete has been done till now. The Lieutenant Governor Tajendra Khanna had asked civic agencies to prepare a master plan for Delhi’s drainage system then. The former Chief Minister of Delhi Shiela Dixit had also asked IIT Delhi to prepare a drainage master-plan for Delhi.

IIT Delhi in its final report in 2018 had recommended that the practice of puncturing sewer lines and discharging sewage into storm drains should be immediately stopped. The priority should be given to separation of sewage and flood water drainage system, the report said. However the report was rejected by the technical staff of the government stating discrepancies in the data given by the IIT Delhi. Therefore the master plan of Delhi’s drainage system remains pending.

Poor infrastructure to be blamed for Delhi Flood!!

According to retired IAS officer Ramesh Negi , who have worked in MCD, Jal Board and urban departments department of Delhi, half of the Delhi is unplanned and all these departments are responsible for it. Many areas of Delhi are full of garbage waste and construction waste. In Many areas of East Delhi, civil lines and outer Delhi, drains are covered. Most of the Jal Board members suggest that flood plains, wetlands and water bodies have to be made free from encroachments.

Experts insist that emphasis should be laid on drainage system, besides conserving the rain water. The two main reasons according to exerts for Delhi flooding are the, -rampant concretization of the surface creating more runoff and -incapability of the landscape to handle weather impacts.

According to the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), the Yamuna floodplains in Delhi is around 97 square kms or 7% of the city area. But much part of it has been encroached upon by the settlements and large development projects which have hindered the free flow of the river. The city’s 2041 master-plan proposes to regularize some of these settlements and projects by regulating it. The excess water released from a nearby barrage and heavy rainfall triggers the flood in Delhi.

Wetlands conservation can be an important step

In order to regulate the speed of water wetlands perform a major role. These wetlands can be of different kinds lakes, swamps , marshes or artificial reservoirs etc. wetlands are slow water and when water enter them they release sediments and it gets a accommodating space to spread.

According to the city’s wetlands Authority, Delhi has a total of 1040 water-bodies and wetlands but that are not officially notified. According to a report published in The Hindu newspaper the Wetlands Authority received requests from agencies to delist over 200 wetlands because they have dried up or encroached. “We are in the process of notifying some wetlands, without notification there can be no planning and funds can also not be allocated for their protection, says Madhu Verma an Environmental Economist, who chairs a technical committee advising the Delhi wetlands Authority.

According to Himanshu Thakker , who is the Co-ordinator of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) the water released from Hathnikund barrage does not explain the extent of flooding the city, he attributes concretization of the floodplains and destruction of water bodies within the city.

Thousands of people live on the floodplains of the Yamuna, many of them have converted the agriculture land for their livelihood. The Akshardham temple in East Delhi has been built on the floodplain with post facto environmental clearance. The Common Wealth Games village also came up on the floodplains.

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