With less than three years left for New Delhi to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games, green campaigners have intensified their attack on the government for ignoring the environmental threat posed by the construction of the Games Village on the bed of River Yamuna.
A group of environmentalists and organizations - who had launched the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan (YJA), a campaign for the revival of the river Yamuna - are saying that the village will endanger the Yamuna eco-system, which is hinged on the riverbed and flood plains.
In their recent letter to Suresh Kalmadi, President, Indian Olympic Association (IOA), the YJA has mentioned that according to the groundwater map of Delhi, the Yamuna flood plain (including the site of the proposed village) is amongst the last remaining sources of groundwater recharge. This will be lost in case of excessive development work in the area.
Indiscriminate urbanization has already eaten up a large part of the recharge area. So far, the Akshardham temple complex sprawls over a 100 acres of the bed and another 30 acres is set aside for a Metro (intra-city train) depot. The Games Village will now cover the remnant of the riverbed in that section. Campaigners are demanding that the site, which is also a seismic zone, be immediately changed and that a law be passed to protect and conserve the river.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data lists the Yamuna as the most polluted river stretch in the country. At present, the Yamuna is clogged with industrial effluent and human waste, as numerous drains discharge their toxic contents into its waters. Moreover, the 1,376 kilometer-long river has also been desecrated all along its route by the myriad settlements and factories. In addition, women perform their household chores on the banks, dumping in harmful detergents and garbage.
While environmentalists continue to raise public opinion, the government is pitching the ambitious sports project as a model public-private partnership venture. The Commonwealth Games, originated as the British Empire Games in 1930, are held every four years in a commonwealth country. Like the Olympics, these games are termed a hallmark event as the infrastructure and facilities built for the event are geared to serve the host city - long after the event. Thus, Delhi will witness large-scale construction work, such as fancy accommodation for an estimated 8,000 athletes and officials, stadia, hotels and recreation facilities, bus corridors and metro lines, a shopping mall, and even a tunnel link from the Games Village to the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium. The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has been appointed as the nodal agency to plan and oversee the construction.
However, YJA alleges that the Games Village site violates the terms of the Report of the Commonwealth Games Evaluation Commission for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, on the basis of which the IOA won the bid to host the 2010 games. A select committee of the London-based Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) evaluates each contending city and presents its assessment, based on inputs from each contending federation, to the voting members before the crucial vote for electing the host federation and the host city.
This report states that the Games Village would be close to the airport, city centre and venues. The report also states that environmental considerations would be kept in mind. However, the riverbed is at a great distance from the Delhi's international airport and the Yamuna eco-system is severely endangered. Media reports have quoted Union Sports Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, as saying, "The government does not have enough money for social development programmes but has sanctioned Rs 7,000 crore (Rs 70,000 million) for hosting the Commonwealth Games just to improve India's image internationally."
Mega plans of turning Delhi into a world-class city are unfortunately piggybacking on the Games. Campaigners are horrified that a 10-day event can be permitted to permanently denude India's heritage. The DDA, however, promises to develop other green areas in recompense. The Environment Ministry has given the project its clearance, recently, even though it flouts court orders as well as government policies.
The elaborate beautification projects also entail dislocating myriad slums near the river. A couple of years back, the Delhi High Court had directed a committee, headed by retired Justice Usha Mehra, to remove encroachments from the river bed, stating: "We direct the Committee to take up in right earnestness and day-to-day basis the task of removing encroachments up to 300 meters from both sides of the river Yamuna... No encroachment either in the form of 'jhuggi jhopris' (shanty clusters) or in any other manner by any person or organization shall be permitted."
While the committee supervised the removal of slum clusters along the river, residential apartment blocks and government structures were left untouched. Campaigners see this as an indication that government-authorized encroachments are being overlooked even if illegal. And, the Games village falls under this category.
Says Manoj Mishra, Convenor, YJA, "Over 11,000 slums were removed last year after Delhi High Court ordered clearing encroachments in the area. However, now the IOA is planning to add permanent structures in the name of the Village in the very same area, leading to an irreversible construction spree along the river. We fear the river bed as well as the flood plains are under increasing pressure for conversion into alternate land use for various purposes, driven primarily by the need for economic growth."