Save River Yamuna sign now

Dr Man Mohan Singh,
Honble Prime Minister of India
Government of India
Raisina Hills
New Delhi.

Respected Sir,

Greetings from Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan (Yamuna Forever Campaign), which is a consortium formed in February 2007 of NGOs and individuals in the city aiming at the revival of river Yamuna as the life line river of the city.
Sir, we have since early 2007 tried to highlight the fact that the rivers flood plain in the city is beyond any compromise on account of the river Yamuna being prone to floods and that the flood plain ensures a steady recharge of ground water (which is a major source of water supply in the city) every monsoon.

In the context of the above we request you to kindly peruse the enclosed report on the flood scenario in river Yamuna in Delhi during August 08 and now again in September 08 (Report enclosed).

Sir, it is no coincidence that the country has seen wide spread incidences of floods in most Himalayan rivers during the current monsoon season of 2008. It is a matter of record that these floods are part of almost a decadal cycle whereby severe floods have been seen in these rivers in 1947, 1967, 1977, 1978, 1988, 1995, 1998 and now in 2008. Records testify that the river in Delhi has crossed the danger mark almost every other year during the monsoon since 1963. (Source: DDA, New Delhi as quoted in CWPRS Technical Report No 4428, February 2007).

Clearly the flood plains in these rivers which form an integral part of any river ecosystem deserve full security as a matter of policy and legislative action.

It is an unfortunate fact that the rivers in our country have been taken for granted till date for lack of any appropriate national policy or law. The result has been widespread incidences of abuse of rivers in form of rampant pollution and indiscriminate encroachment over their flood plains by vested interests not excluding agencies of the state themselves. This is when both the Supreme Court of India and various High Courts have time and again expressed deep concern and directed corrective actions.

In the capital city of Delhi, the rivers flood plain has, since 1980s seen encroachment in form of buildings and structures created by private (Akshardham being the most visible of them) as well as various state agencies including the DDA and the DMRC. The most recent instances are the under construction Games Village by DDA over almost 50 ha and Yamuna Metro Depot by DMRC in the flood plain. The floods of 2008 in river Yamuna in Delhi underline the fact that all these structures are ill located in a flood prone and risky site.

The devastating floods in 2008 in river Kosi, river Mahanadi and river Ghaggar not to mention river Yamuna, calls for urgent actions at the highest possible level of governance in the land. Hence this appeal to your honour!

We request you in all humility that

In view of the fact that there are still almost two years to go for hosting of the Commonwealth Games In Delhi in October 2010, please change the existing highly risky, enormously expansive and most unsuitable proposed site for the Games Village in the rivers flood plain to inexpensive and suitable alternate site in the city. It is notable that there are two more monsoon seasons (during which recurrence of floods in the river cannot be ruled out) to face in 2009 and 2010 before the Games are held in 2010.

We are aware that a lot pf people might find our appeal for a change of site of the Games Village (a residential facility only) as time barred, quixotic and hence laughable as almost quarter of the work at the site has already been completed.

Sir, but the fact is that notwithstanding our humble efforts including appeals to all concerned including your good self, since early 2007 and a pending court case (at the High Court of Delhi) against the impugned structures in the river bed, the river itself has now spoken (as is evident from the enclosed report) and shown that the said structure/s in the river bed were ill conceived, wrong, risky and hence entirely avoidable.

In any case we hope that you would agree with us that the paramount duty of the state is to prevent a social, criminal and environmental wrong from happening soonest it is established beyond doubt as is now the case with the said structure/s in the river bed. The abandonment of the construction of the then Players Building (meant to host the players and officials) in the river bed almost mid way during the preparatory phase of Asiad 1982 clearly shows that relocation of Games Village now (when almost 2 years are still at hand) shall not be unprecedented.

We hope that your honour would find merit in our appeal. In case any elaboration is called for it would be our pleasure to present the facts as submitted above in person and in much greater details to your honour.


(A Report by Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan)

Delhi has a history of floods in river Yamuna.

Regular flood monitoring in river Yamuna in Delhi started only in 1958 after the construction of the Yamuna Pushta (Left Marginal Bund) and the danger level was then fixed at the Old Railway cum Road Bridge at 672 ft which on conversion to the metric system became 204.83 m. The warning level has been fixed at 204 m.

Prior to 1958, although old timers recall that it used to flood almost every year during the monsoons, floods of 1924 and 1947 in the city is notable for the spread and damage.

Since then the notable flood years in Delhi have been 1967 (206.19 m on 29 July 67);

1975 (206.00 m on 12 September 75); 1978 (207.49 m on 6 September 78); 1988 (206.92 m on 27 September 88); 1995 (206.93 m on 8 September 88) and 1998 (206.18 m on 21 October 98).

The flood in 1978 is considered as the highest flood in recent memory and hence is assumed to be one in 100 yr floods. Floods in rivers are generally known to have a 10 yr, 25 yr, 50 yr and 100 yr cycle. Not many people unfortunately appreciate the fact that floods are as much a natural phenomenon during monsoon months (rainy season) as are high or low ambient temperatures during summer and winter months.

From the above it becomes clear that till 1998 there has been an almost decadal (Once in every ten years) incidence of major (high) flood in river Yamuna in Delhi, when the flood level has touched or crossed the 206 m mark at the Old railway Bridge in the city. And the fact is that the city remains vulnerable to floods between the months of late July till October, with the most major (high) floods reported in early September.

How does it flood in river Yamuna in Delhi?

Not many know or appreciate the fact that the flood and subsequent damage there from in Delhi, post 1958 is as much man-made as from natural causes. 250 km upstream of Delhi is a barrage over the river at Tajewala (now rebuilt at Hathnikund) at a place where the river enters the plains from the hills. Built and managed by Haryana, two canals namely the Western Yamuna Canal and the Eastern Yamuna Canal emerge from the Barrage and diverts almost the entire non-monsoonal flow in the river towards Haryana and UP respectively.

But during the monsoon months when the water inflow into the barrage due to heavy rains in the rivers catchment in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, over strains the holding capacity of the barrage, excess water is released into the river which reaches Delhi and its upstream and downstream in form of sudden floods. It is estimated that it takes anything between 36 to 48 hours for the water released from Hathnikund to reach Delhi.

So, if the floods are man made then why are there natural cycles of 10, 25, 50 and 100 years between successive high floods in Delhi?

This is because the floods depend on the amount of water that gets released at Hathnikund barrage and the amount of this water depends on the intensity and duration of the rainfall in the rivers catchment which ofcourse has a natural cycle as above. The amount of water in the river also depends on the snow melt that starts to take place from late August onwards and whose volume also depends upon the ambient temperatures and the amount of snow fall that had taken place in the higher reaches during the preceding winter months. The peaking of snow fall and rainfall in the catchment also has some kind of a natural cycle that combines to produce high floods.

Records tell us that discharges of the order of 7 lac cusecs (cubic ft per second) in 1978 (on 3.9.78); 5.77 lacs cusecs in 1988 (on 25.9.88) and 5.36 lacs cusecs in 1995 (on 5.9.95) from Tajewala (since reconstructed at Hathnikund) barrage produced the highest floods in recent times in Delhi.


The year 2008 is ten years from 1998.

It snowed heavily during the winter months of 2007 with snow fall in western Himalayas stretching up till the month of March 2008 in some areas.

The summer in north India and in Delhi in particular was unusually subdued in 2008 with sporadic rain fall happening throughout the months of May and June, these being the peak summer months. And then there was early onset of monsoon in the city. North India and in particular the Yamuna catchment regions of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh received and is continuing to receive heavy monsoon rains, as we write.

Clearly all climatic conditions point to it being at least a decadal flood year in river Yamuna.

So, it came as no surprise when the water in the river started to rise in the city from early August and flood warning was posted in the city on 16, 17 August 2008. The peak of 205.71 m was reached on 20 August 2008 by which time deep flood waters could be seen in areas immediately downstream of the Wazirabad Barrage in east bank with flood waters gradually spreading over the entire available flood plain between the ring road in the west and the Yamuna Pushta (Left Marginal Bund) in the east. While residents of Jhuggi Jhompris all over the flood plain relocated themselves away from menacing flood waters, the villagers of Usmanpur, Garhi Mendu and Bela Estate were specially impacted as flood waters entered their houses and submerged standing crops. Even the residents of Mukherjee nagar were impacted as a result of backflow in the drain which had been closed by the authorities to prevent the flood waters entering the city from the several drains (22 in all) falling from the city into the river.

Again from 20 September 2008 onwards flood warnings for Delhi came to be sounded as following heavy rains in Himachal, Uttarkhand and Punjab, around 3.80 lac cusec water had been released from the Hathnikund Barrage. It was almost double of what had been released in the month of August 2008 but still short of the 5 lac cusec figures from 1988 and 1995. The full fury of the floods was experienced in Delhi on 22 and 23 September 2008 and by 24 September the flood waters were again all over the available flood plain in the city and knocking at all the embankments standing in the river bed. The authorities had to resort to use of physical barrier like sand bags to prevent flood waters spilling on to the ring road near ISBT, while the Tibetan market and the entire Qudsia Ghat area went under deep water.

Once again in a short span of a month the life for people in Usmanpur, Garhi Mendu, Bela Estate and Chilla Saroda Khadar came to be upturned with most of them finding refuge at high places on the Yamuna Pushta and on the road sides. Farmers of course lost all that they had grown in the flood plains. This time around the flood waters which had barely touched the embankment next to the ongoing constructions like the Games Village and the DMRC depot during the August floods saw deep waters standing next to them. (Kindly log in the pictorial report). The only saving grace was that the flood waters did not rise above 206 m at the Old Railway Bridge and hence Delhi was spared the flood mayhem second time around but not without a real scare.

Kindly peruse a pictorial report on the spread of flood water in the city as documented on 17,18,19,20 and 21 August 2008 and 22, 23 and 24 September

But what of course is surprising is the spread and damage experienced in the flood plain from a rather medium level flood of 205.71 m as against all previous high floods of 206 m and above, as can be seen from the pictorial report as enclosed.

Clearly the observations made in the NEERI 2005 report that the river has lost its carrying capacity and hence its remaining flood plains should not be compromised in any manner are proving to be prophetic.

Allow us to add that all the impugned structures in the river bed (which could result in turning a medium level flood into high floods in terms of damage therefrom) like the Shastri Park Metro (DMRC) Complex, Akshardham, Yamuna Metro Complex (under construction), Games Village (under construction), POWER GRID (Transco Ltd), and pseudo Bridges like DND Flyway, Gita Colony bridge cum road etc have come up only after 1998 and hence it is only this flood which can and will show their impact on the flood situation in the city. We hope that this report would be able to throw some light on the ground realities as on September 2008.

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Kathrine DorseyBy:
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