Millennium Depot gone but other threats remain

Biodiversity park a kilometre away from depot is example of apathy by authorities

The relocation of the 50-acre Millennium Bus Depot built on the Yamuna riverbed was announced by the AAP government during its brief stay of 49 days, a move hailed by environmentalists.

Environmental groups had been opposing the earlier government’s move to construct the bus depot, which during the 2010 Commonwealth Games was supposed to be a temporary structure. The depot with a capacity for parking 1,000 buses was built at a cost of Rs 60 crore in the area adjoining Ring Road and National Highway-24.

The relocation of the bus depot will now depend on how fast the land-owning agency, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) comes up with an alternative.

“Land is scare in Delhi. We are already short of 400 acre for garbage dumping sites as sought by the government,” a DDA official says.

Ban on construction

According to the DDA’s Zonal Plan, the total area of 9,700 hectare on the banks of the Yamuna in the National Capital Region – designated as Zone-O by the Master Plan – could only be used for recreational purposes such as biodiversity park or garden, but construction of concrete structures are banned.On several occasions, however, there have been infringement of the Yamuna floodplains. For construction of the Millennium Depot, the agency had changed the land use from ‘recreational’ to ‘transport’, conceding to the Congress government’s demand to allow the depot to function there.

The DDA under the Master Plan was also seeking to redefine Zone-O, which could have shrunk the riverbed area by almost half. The National Green Tribunal then passed an order in October 2013, restraining DDA from acting on its plan to redefine the boundaries of the river basin.

“We should not tamper with the fragile Yamuna ecology. Structures that were developed will remain there but no new structures will be built. We will rather develop it for people. Maybe we can set up a park there,” former Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had said while announcing the government’s decision to relocate the bus depot.

Conservation effort: Reality check

Deccan Herald tried to find out what DDA has done so far in conserving the natural heritage on the Yamuna river basin and building biodiversity parks.

Barely a kilometre away from Millennium Bus Depot towards Sarai Kale Khan, a big blue board notifies that the area is under the ‘Yamuna Riverfront Development Project’, an initiative of the DDA to revitalise biodiversity.

On the unpaved, dusty road towards Yamuna, one may see signs such as ‘Lotus Pond’, ‘DDA Diversity Park’ and ‘Smriti Van’ aimed at conservation of natural areas – swamps, marshes and special aggregation of flora and fauna.

“This area is in a mess. After these boards were installed almost two-three years ago, there has hardly been activity here. Except for this small park there is nothing here but the boards,” Anil Sharma says, pointing to the dry vegetation with weed-like grass.He owns some cattle and lives in one of the shanties with metered electricity and water connection.

Sharma says the boards are meant to prevent the area from encroachment. “Whenever the DDA requires land for any purpose, they bulldoze houses,” he adds. A DDA official says it takes time to make progress as the banks of the river are prone to flooding.

There are small and scattered settlements on the Yamuna riverbed, with temples, mosques and gurdwaras. “We have been living here for the past twenty years. People here mostly grow vegetables,” Sunil Yada, another local, says.

The biodiversity programme also intends to promote organic farming and agriculture in a limited way, while taking into account the unauthorised settlements on the floodplains.Construction labourers use the DDA Park for ‘enjoyment’, Sharma says, adding that no visitors come to the area. Near the Millennium Depot, a Delhi Metro bridge over the Yamuna is being constructed. “Police in connivance with sex workers have turned this area into an enjoyment spot,” he says, hesitatingly.

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