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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Between two states, a jheel awaits revival push

In September last year, NGT directed that Haryana and the NCT of Delhi must jointly prepare an EMP since the jheel is a transboundary waterbody.

Written by Abhinaya Harigovind | New Delhi |
Updated: September 23, 2021 10:36:10 am
Inundated paddy fields at Rawta. (Photo: Abhinaya Harigovind)

Straddling Haryana and Delhi, the Najafgarh jheel, a wetland of immense ecological significance, awaits a push for revival from both sides of the border.

The Delhi government wrote to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on August 26 this year to clarify whether it should go ahead with the implementation of its Environment Management Plan (EMP) on the Najafgarh jheel, submitted to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) earlier this year, or if it must wait for Haryana to submit its plan.

In September last year, the Tribunal directed that Haryana and the NCT of Delhi must jointly prepare an EMP since the jheel is a transboundary waterbody.

When the NGT considered the issue in June this year, it noted, “The State of Haryana has neither prepared EMP nor given any explanation for not doing so. The Delhi government has prepared the draft EMP but execution thereof has to be ensured after completing the EMP.”

The Tribunal then directed the chief secretaries of Haryana and Delhi to “coordinate with concerned departments to ensure further remedial action expeditiously which will include ascertaining status of existing water quality, preventing entry of untreated sewage into the lake, preventing and removing encroachments”.

R K Chauhan, the joint director of the Department of Environment and Climate Change, Haryana, said that the EMP for Haryana was being prepared and would most likely be submitted to the NGT by the next date of hearing. The matter will be considered by the NGT next on October 4.

It has been seven years since the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) first took the matter of the lake’s rejuvenation to the NGT and three years since it filed a second application saying that both the Delhi and Haryana governments had not taken any remedial measures.

Meanwhile, the Wetland Authority of Delhi has turned parts of the EMP into an action plan that it can begin executing from October, if the MoEFCC gives its go-ahead. The action plan includes assessing current and historical water quality of the jheel, identifying and quantifying sources of pollution, and identification of all drains polluting the jheel. Immediate measures like constituting a Najafgarh Wetlands Committee, commissioning a species inventory and a hydrological assessment to determine groundwater recharge and silted-up areas have been included in the action plan.

These measures were recommended in the EMP by a team of experts constituted to develop the plan. The EMP had also suggested a two-layer buffer zone around the lake which will serve as a flood absorption area, besides completely curtailing construction activity in and around the wetland on grounds of seismic and liquefaction risks.

A senior official of the Delhi government said that notifying the jheel as a wetland, a significant step towards protecting it, could be taken only after the two plans are merged and a brief submitted to the Union government for notification.

The jheel is located in the basin of the Sahibi river, now called the Najafgarh drain, a 51-km long stretch in Delhi. The masterplan of Delhi shows an area of 890 acres as the Najafgarh jheel. Agricultural land constitutes a large chunk of the villages flanking the wetland. On Sunday, several of the farmlands at Rawta village along the interstate boundary were flooded with rainwater. “Heavy rainfall this year has left fields completely inundated. Water flows in from the Haryana side,” said Kishan Singh, a farmer with around 40 acres of land. Several acres of his paddy field were immersed in water on Sunday, and the crop destroyed before the harvest. “Farmers here would grow two crops a year. Growing even one crop is now becoming difficult with the fields getting flooded,” Singh said.

The EMP states that “the natural inundation regimes of Najafgarh Jheel have been fragmented by upstream water diversions and construction of embankment along the left margin. On the Delhi side, the grasslands which prevailed in the sixties have been cleared for agriculture. On the Gurgaon side, wetland margins have been developed for settlements and agriculture.”

Parts of the drain and lake were smothered with a carpet of water hyacinth on Sunday, which may indicate toxicity, according to the EMP. Continuous discharge of sewage from Gurgaon and villages of Delhi has led to poor water quality conditions in the wetland, the EMP notes.

Neha Sinha, who works with the Bombay Natural History Society, and is a part of the expert committee that developed the EMP, said, “The two states need to work together. Most of the water is in haryana. The existing uses of the area like fishing and planned horticulture will have to be factored in, since it’s a multiple-use wetland. The area needs to be managed for its birds. It seems to be part of a larger wetland complex with birds moving from Basai, Sultanpur and Najafgarh,” she said. The area has a resident population of greater flamingos in the lake and in the fields in the villages.

The EMP notes that the jheel is inhabited by 281 bird species, including resident and migratory ones. The threatened species found in the area include the Egyptian vulture, the Sarus Crane, and the Greater Spotted Eagle. Flocks of birds also throng the trees beside some parts of the drain.

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