Delhi’s floodplain restoration plan: Study on bottom-up mapping of Yamuna is out; Check details

The mapping exercise considered a basti as one with 15 or more houses, while five people was considered as the average household size.

yamuna floodplains
The Bottom-Up Mapping of the Yamuna report aimed to ascertain who lives on the floodplains in Delhi and their livelihoods. (Reuters)

Fifty-six slums (bastis) with 9,350 households and 46,750 people live on the Yamuna floodplains or Zone O of Delhi’s master plan, a new report has found.

Of the total, a little over half the households (4,835) rely on farming as a livelihood, while the others rely on fishing, daily-wage work, animal herding, and nurseries.

The Bottom-Up Mapping of the Yamuna report was prepared by Social Design Collaborative, MainBhiDilli campaign members, and the Basti Suraksha Manch. The report aimed to ascertain who lives on the Yamuna floodplains in Delhi and their livelihoods by mapping the 22-km stretch of the river flowing through the city.

The mapping exercise considered a basti as one with 15 or more houses, while five people was considered as the average household size. The team did not conduct a door-to-door survey and said a 10% margin for error had to be factored in.

During the presentation, the team said the 56 bastis did not feature in the list of Delhi’s JJ clusters. The average basti size on the floodplains is 153 households. The report also notes the evictions along the floodplains, including ones going for the Delhi Development Authority’s floodplain restoration project.

A three-member expert committee constituted following the National Green Tribunal’s orders in 2013 said all farmhouses, cattle farms, and nurseries on the active floodplains had to be relocated.

The development authority’s floodplain-restoration plan includes cycle tracks, walkways, planting trees, creating wetlands, and ecotourism activities along the entire river stretch in Delhi. The first phase involves removing encroachments along the stretch.

The team worked over nine months and involved the communities in the bastis to answer questions on the number of households, their livelihoods, the vegetables they grow to prepare the report.

Farmers grow wheat, flowers, and rice near Palla and the Hiranki village, while those downstream grow seasonal vegetables such as spinach. Cauliflower, mustard, fenugreek, brinjal, potato, carrots, and tomatoes are also grown. The vegetables are taken to the local mandis as well as larger ones in Ghazipur and Azadpur.

The team noted at the presentation that Zone O supported a large variety of nature-based livelihoods with very low ecological footprint. Yet, they were being evicted for the region’s ecological rejuvenation.

In 2015, the National Green Tribunal issued an order while hearing a plea related to the Yamuna pollution that said agricultural activity needed to be stopped till the river was restored to its original status. The worry at the time was that the farmers were using the polluted water from the river to irrigate the farmlands. Members of the organisations conducting the study, however, said that the farmers used groundwater for irrigation.

The study found that most floodplain residents had migrated from Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan, and West Bengal. While some bastis are over eight decades old, others have been around for nearly three to four decades. Land use along the Yamuna floodplains is diverse and includes nurseries, forested areas, farmland, houses, and mandis.

The report used GIS mapping and Google Earth imagery to note that farmlands along the floodplains had gone down to 3,330 hectares in 2020 from 4,850 hectares in 2000. The study found evicted farmers shifted their livelihood to daily-wage work.

The study makes several recommendations, including integrating farming with the riverfront development project, making farming viable by making welfare schemes available to the farmers along with organic farming training. It also called for rehabilitation in case of evictions.

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