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Home > 2021 > Master Plan of Delhi 2041 & Environment | Jeevesh Gupta

Mainstream, VOL LIX No 31, New Delhi, July 17, 2021

Master Plan of Delhi 2041 & Environment | Jeevesh Gupta

Friday 16 July 2021


by Jeevesh Gupta*

The Great Greek philosopher, Socrates, once said, “By far the greatest and most admirable form of wisdom is that needed to plan and beautify cities and human communities”.

While the DDA has been opaque about sharing the promised versus achieved status for previous master plans, the new master plan which comes up every 20 years is nothing but old wine in a new bottle!

The subject of Environment has managed to shift from chapter 9 (page 96) of Master Plan of Delhi (MPD) 2021 to section 1 (page 12) of MPD 2041 draft. If this shows DDA, MOEFCC and Delhi government’s seriousness towards environment and climate change then we are surely closing towards the doomsday sooner than later at a much faster pace. MPD 2041 does not provide positive change in environment against work done since MPD 2021 analysis. The reason is very simple, leave aside improvement on the environment parameters including air pollution, dying water bodies, declining ground water levels, contribution of CO2 to the atmosphere and water pollution, there has been a substantial increase in all different pollution levels since 2001.

The following table bring the reality of Delhi’s environment more clearly:

Table I

PARAMETER MPD 2021 (planned) Actual situation MPD 2041 draft (planned)
Green cover of Delhi green cover is to be provided at the rate of 15% of the total land (section 9-6 of MPD 2021) When one looks at MPD 2021, it gives 150 sq km as the green cover of Delhi in 2001 whereas Delhi state action plan on climate change gives the 2001 green cover figure as 85 sq km. Both the documents claim that this cover has increased to approx. 300 sq km in 2017. While government claims that lacs of fresh saplings are being planted but at least 90% die due to non-availability of water and proper care. In most cases plantations are done in car parkings or public areas where these saplings get killed the very next day after the “green drive”. The city has made rapid strides in improving the green cover, nearly doubling it in the last two decades approximately from 150 in 2001 to 300 in 2017. Presently, it is among the greenest cities in the country with a mix of natural and planned greens. Almost 20% of the land area is under green cover, as per Department of Forests, GNCTD. (pg 13, MPD2041 draft)
According to India State of Forest Report 2019, the forest cover of Delhi actually is 195.44 sq km which is 13.18% of total area of Delhi. MPD2041 claiming the green cover as 20% of total area actually reflects on the declining quality of our green cover which lies unaddressed till date. (Table 2.4, pg. 24, ISFR Report 2019)
Declining ground water levels Rain water harvesting and waste water recharging shall be mandatory with provision for storage for surface run-off water to improve the depleting ground water levels. (point x, section 4-22)
The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) assessed the total groundwater potential to be 292 million cubic meters (MCM) in 2003 as compared to 428.07 MCM in 1983, showing an overdraft and reduction of around 130 MCM over the past 20 years.
RWH either does not exist in most part of Delhi or is non-functional due to blockages and non-maintenance. Every year most of the rain water flows into the drains and goes back to the river.
Ground water continues to being consumed at an ever increasing pace. As per the latest 2019-20 ground water report by central ground water board (CGWB), 52.9% of ground water in Delhi is 10 mbgl* out of which 16.5% is between 20-40 mbgl and 8.2% is higher than 40 mbgl.
Ground water recharge by using treated wastewater by developing aquifer recharge ponds and lakes in the Yamuna floodplain greenways along natural drains, biodiversity parks and land pooling areas. (point 13.3.2 (iii), page 95, MPD2041 draft)
Central Ground Water Board has assessed that potential annual rainwater run-off of 24.39 MCM out of the total of 175 MCM available for recharge areas in Delhi. This is proposed to be realized through construction of check dams and artificial recharge structures in rainwater drains. Annual potential of rooftop rainwater harvesting is assessed to be about 14.69 MCM (3,236MG). (point 5.1, page 334, MPD2041 draft)
River Yamuna and its restoration project The major source of pollution in the river to the extent of about 80%, is the discharge of treated and untreated waste water through the 22 major drains, which flow into the river. (Page 9-5 of MPD 2021) The BOD load** per day has substantially gone up from 130 Tons per day in 1993 to 270 Tons per day in 2008 whereas the incurred cost towards Yamuna went up from 20 crores to 5680 crores during the same period. Even in 2019 the BOD load per day remains at 264 Tons per day while the costs have only gone up.
Even after 28 years and YAP (Yamuna action plan) I,II and III having been implemented with Japanese grant, solution to Yamuna’s pollution is not in sight.
Water pollution in the Yamuna and other water bodies, has resulted in disappearance of aquatic life and disturbed the water ecology. The 22 km stretch of Yamuna from Wazirabad to Okhla in Delhi, which is less than 2% of the river length, accounts for about 70% of the pollution load in the river. (page 14 of MPD 2041 draft)
Other Surface Water bodies of Delhi A large number of the traditional water bodies in the form of ponds, etc. (excluding areas of unintended water logging along railway tracks, highways and canals etc.) have been encroached or have otherwise become defunct. (Page 9-2 of MPD 2021) In order to address these issues, DJB has taken up the work of revival of 240 water bodies with an aim to recharge ground water. The scheme amounting to Rs. 37,678.92 lakh to revive 155 water bodies was approved by DJB in December 2018, out of which, work for 50 water bodies have already been awarded. (Section 5.2, page 335 of MPD 2041 draft) However, the area under blue assets has reduced over the past decade due to encroachment, pollution and natural drying up of water bodies. Rejuvenation of blue assets is one of the key actions required in the city. (page 13 of MPD 2041 draft)
MPD 2041 draft repeats the same statement about encroachment which was also mentioned in MPD 2021 but there is no data provided on how many such encroachments have been removed to revive the water bodies. There is also no mention of diversion of rainwater into water bodies which are currently dry and can be revived.
Air Pollution and its health impact The three main sources of air pollution in Delhi are vehicular emission (around 70 percent) industrial emissions (around 20 percent) with a major element of this coming from the three thermal power plants, and from other sources such as diesel generator sets and domestic cooking, burning of biomass, etc. (page 9-3 of MPD 2021) • Closure of thermal power plants
• Shift from diesel to CNG
• Enhancement in public transport with the addition of Delhi Metro
• Shift of industry to outside Delhi
• Construction of KMP highway so that all heavy vehicle can bypass Delhi for transportation between various states.

Despite the above measures, air pollution is turning out to be the biggest health hazard and cause of increase in chronic lung diseases leading to highest % deaths vis-à-vis total deaths due to any disease in Delhi.
A major cause of concern for Delhi is the poor air quality index throughout the year. A large fraction of air pollution in Delhi comes from outside its geographic boundaries, implying that regional level action would be necessary. Indigenous (within city) PM2.5 pollution is 26% and 36% during the summer and winter, respectively, out of which 45% is because of dust (Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises). This highlights the need for dust management during construction activities and enhancing dense forest cover. 20% of the total air pollution in Delhi is from the transportation sector. Rest is emissions from households, waste burning, industry and diesel generator sets. (page 13, last paragraph, MPD2041)

*mbgl stands for meters below ground level

**BOD is a measure of the amount of oxygen required to remove waste organic matter from water in the process of decomposition by aerobic bacteria.

Has Delhi’s Green Cover actually increased and does it compensate the green cover requirement vs city’s population?

Delhi has lost its green cover (full grown trees) in the name of development in the last 2 decades during the tenure of MPD2021. Whether it is the Delhi Metro, different road projects, redevelopment of 7 GPRA colonies trees are being cut in the garb of compensatory afforestation of 1:10 (10 trees to be planted against 1 cut).

Table II

Project Year Tree Cover lost/to be cut (no. of trees) Current Status
Delhi Metro 2001 - 2021 47855 (already cut) 11454 (to be cut) 31855 trees cut – phase I & II 16000 trees cut – phase III 11454 trees to be cut – phase IV
7 GPRA colonies of South Delhi* 2017 - 2021 16573 (was planned but after public protest and delhi high court intervention tree felling was minimalised) For the Sarojini Nagar part out of 11913 trees – 3500 to be transplanted & 8413 to be retained at project site. For the Netaji nagar part out of 3906 trees-1600 to be transplanted & 2306 to be retained at project site. For Kasturba Nagar part no tree cutting permission but 405 trees will be transplanted. For Sriniwaspuri part no tree cutting permission but 1239 trees will be transplanted. For Nauroji Nagar (1465), East Kidwai Nagar** (1796), Thiagraj Nagar (108) and Mohammedpur (447), a total of 3816 trees were cut in these colonies which could not be saved by the green brigade of Delhi.

*project was put on hold by the Delhi High Court and has been given a go ahead after re-planning done by NBCC giving a break up as per above table thus reducing the cutting of trees.

**East Kidwai Nagar was a separate project from 7 GPRA Colonies in the same vicinity which has been constructed already. 

The quality of green cover of Delhi has declined badly due to chopping of age old full grown trees which is being claimed to be replaced through 1:10 compensatory afforestation. After the high court intervention in the 7 GPRA colonies project, NBCC resorted to translocation/transplantation and submitted to the honble court that they will not resort to tree cutting as detailed in Table II. They also submitted that in case the trees translocated do not survive, they will carry out 1:10 afforestation in lieu of the loss.

What a full grown tree is being replaced by, are saplings. In most of the cases, either the compensatory afforestation is not carried out at all or no care is taken of planted saplings. Transplantation is also an eye wash because it has been proven as a failure globally and whatever trees have survived are those which were translocated very close to the original location. The cost of transplantation is exorbitantly high and infrastructure required is not available with the concerned department but it continues to take place successfully on papers!

 It has been observed by High Level Committees on Environment Laws that the quality of forest cover has declined between 1951 and 2020 which is an area of concern. The latest India State of Forest Report (ISFR) released in 2019 includes an area with less than 10% space under tree canopy to be a part of the green cover which has been widely challenged by environmentalists. Despite this addition, Delhi’s green cover is 13% of the total areas as per ISFR whereas the Delhi government’s figures of 20-21% is highly inflated to show Delhi as greener than ever before!

Is DJB and DDA actually doing anything to bring up the water levels?

The non-maintenance of RWH pits, storm water drains and concretisation is leading to very low levels of positive addition to the ground water levels in Delhi. As mentioned in Table I, the levels are not just declining but the ground water is also getting polluted due to untreated water being pumped into water bodies and used for ground water recharge. The chemical levels in water in many locations has been identified as higher than normal which is a health hazard for the city.

As per Delhi State Action Plan on Climate Change released by Delhi Government in 2018 (page 105), “The groundwater table in Delhi has depleted to 20 —30 metres in various areas across the city. Compared to a level of 30 — 40 feet at the time of independence, the water table has dropped to 350 feet at certain places. It is said to be falling at the rate of 10 feet per year on an average. Groundwater levels have depleted by 2 — 6m in Alipur and Kanjhawla blocks, 10m in the Najafgarh block, and about 20 m in Mehrauli block. In addition to the quantity, the quality of groundwater is also deteriorating and in several places it has been found to be unfit for human consumption. The salinity of groundwater is increasing in south-west and north-west Delhi while nitrate content is also found to be more than 1,000 mg/l.

The plan also mentions on page 189 that, “Groundwater in Delhi was found to contain high amounts of nitrates and fluorides in addition to heavy metals in a recent study performed by NEERI.”

Will we ever see a Thames in River Yamuna?

Yamuna Action Plan (YAP) I, II and III have miserably failed since the 1st plan was released for execution. As claimed by the executing bodies, the population of the city has always outshot the increase in Sewerage/industrial affluent treatment plants. The table below gives a very clear picture of how polluted river Yamuna is despite more than 5000 crores Having been spent through the YAP I (1993-2003) and II (2003-2013) while more than 1656 crores (est.) is expected to be spent in YAP III.

Table III

Water Quality of Yamuna (measured in BOD* per lt) Norm: 3mg/lt
Delhi points of measurement 2003-04 Dec 2020
Palla 1-3 mg/lt 3 mg/lt
Nizamuddin 5.56 mg/lt 19 mg/lt
Okhla 7 mg/lt 16 mg/lt

*BOD is measured in mg/liter*

Page 16 of MPD 2041 draft mentions as follows: “Pollution of surface water bodies and ground water to be addressed on priority: i) Water quality improvement to be taken up for river Yamuna, and various natural drains, lakes and baolis, by checking the outfall of untreated wastewater from surrounding developments. Concerned agencies to implement projects in this regard. ii) Steps shall be taken by DJB in coordination with the Irrigation and Flood Control Department (I&FC) to ensure time bound removal of existing pollutants using natural non-mechanized systems as per feasibility. iii) Water quality shall be monitored periodically along the entire length of drains by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) as per applicable procedures and protocols”. All these are a repetitive list of measures copy-pasted from previous master plans which have shown no results due to high levels of corruption, red tape, poor planning and execution.

Where are the water bodies of Delhi and is the claimed restoration on track?

As per Delhi Parks and Gardens Society (under the ministry of Environment, Govt of NCT of Delhi) there are 969 water bodies out of which majority are under DDA (287) and BDO (611). Leave aside sharing figures of how many lakes have truly been revived, DDA/Delhi Government/NGT have not even defined “revival of a water body”.

One of the senior environmentalists, Mr. Diwan Singh, who has been working on lakes in sector 23 and 24 in Dwarka (South West Delhi) says that its wrong for DJB to pump treated water into water bodies because this water is not being treated completely and leading to contamination of underground water. He says that the 1st step should be to define what “revival” means and what should be the minimum benchmarks to call a water body as having been “revived”. One of the big issues is that storm water drains are not cleaned which leads to rain water getting dirty and this water goes into the lake. According to him, water bodies are only being developed or revived on paper and the ground situation of water bodies in Delhi is very dismal. When asked about encroachment of water bodies, he cites his own study where he found that 80% of the water bodies have been encroached by no one else but the government itself!

As mentioned in table I, revival of 155 water bodies was approved by DJB in 2018, out of which, work for 50 water bodies have already been awarded. The word awarded carries no meaning till we know the breakup of the work being done and more importantly how clean rain water will be diverted to the lake.

MPD 2041 draft does mention about including communities but there is no concrete plan of handing over water bodies to people of that particular area for revival after basic works are carried out by DJB. If communities are not involved, water bodies shall never revive in Delhi. They will surely continue to be repaired or constructed lying either dry, filled with garbage or slowly encroached over a period of time.

Will our future generations be able to breathe freely?

Instead of planting more trees and making at least residential/commercial building construction dust free, Delhi is installing smog towers and then the government has the audacity to count that as their achievement!

Delhi citizens are breathing more and more poisonous gases with every passing year including Sulphur dioxide and Nitrogen dioxide. In the late 1980s, more than 90% of lung cancer patients were smokers, typically men in the 50s or 60s. But one 2018 study found that 50% of lung cancer patients in North India are now non-smokers — and that more than 21% of patients were below the age of 50.

To show the impact of breathing in the polluted city of Delhi, the Lung Care Foundation, Help Delhi Breathe, Jhatkaa and Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi set up a giant billboard of artificial lungs in 2018. The lungs were made of HEPA filters and had an exhaust fan behind them to mimic the act of breathing. On day one, when this lung replica was uncovered, it was white. To our horror and surprise, in just six days — breathing the same air that we breathe in Delhi — the lung replica had turned black. If this artificial lung can become black in only six days, imagine what is happening to our lungs, breathing the same toxic air over 25,000 times a day from the first breath of our life!

According to another study by Berkley Earth, exposure to 22 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) of PM 2.5 pollution is equivalent to smoking one cigarette. This means that I, a so-called non-smoker, may as well have smoked 2,372 cigarettes each year just through breathing the air in Delhi, which has an annual average PM 2.5 of 143 µg/m3.

Delhi and its citizens are breathing poison as the clock of life ticks and nearing death faster than ever before. The Master plan of Delhi 2041 draft does talk about a graded plan for controlling vehicular pollution and advanced air pollution monitoring systems but it still does not provide any solution for controlling the dust on the roads and dust generation due to construction activities along with a serious threat to Delhi which is aviation pollution. Capping the number of personal vehicles in Delhi is the need of the hour to reduce congestion on the roads and bring down the burning of fossil fuels.

Increased construction in the city and Sale of all Motor Vehicles might be a sign of Economic growth but we all are bearing an irreparable loss for it in the form of our declining health and are also putting our future generations at a higher risk than ever before.

Dying Delhi

Delhi Liveability index has been introduced for the first time in the master plan. A formula has been provided on page 157 of the MPD2041 draft and most of the KPIs are related the most concerning issue of environment:

  • Reduction in Indigenous Air Pollution
  • Water Pollution Control
  • Green Cover Enhancement
  • Rejuvenation of Water Bodies Chapter code PME157
  • Flood Risk Reduction
  • Wastewater Reuse
  • Groundwater Augmentation
  • Reducing Landfill Stress
  • Converting Waste to Wealth
  • Share of Renewable Energy in Total Usage

While MPD2041 draft does manage to provide this “fancy” all-inclusive formula for evaluating the liveability of Delhi, it completely fails to provide practical, sustainable and implementable solutions to these woes. Till then Delhi is dying and we all are seemingly witnessing it with closed eyes. Remember we will all be equally responsible to our future generations.

* (Author: Jeevesh Gupta is Founder, Campaign For Differently Abled, )

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