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Delhi HC calls for one agency to manage all 22 open drains | Latest News Delhi

The Delhi high court on Wednesday told the Delhi government to assign the management of all open drains in the city to one agency and the Delhi Development Authority to remove encroachments on the Yamuna floodplain — directives aimed at addressing the recurring problem of waterlogging of city roads, and helping the rejuvenation of the river.

Sewage water floods a road in Maharani Bagh on April 3. (Sanjeev Verma/HT Photo)

“Delhi has been facing the fury of river Yamuna year after year with last year (2023) being particularly bad. Waterlogging, flooding and related collapse of civic services have become perennial issues. Clearly, the efforts have not yielded much result despite decades of judicial pronouncements and half-baked attempts by city administration to address endemic issues,” a bench led by acting chief justice Manmohan said in an April 8 order released on Tuesday.

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Drains and roads in Delhi are managed by multiple agencies such as the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the Public Works Department (PWD), and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). Experts have often cited the multiplicity of authorities as one of the major reasons behind the recurring problem of waterlogging.

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The bench, also comprising justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora, lamented the “absolute lack of coordination” between different agencies. “A mechanism to address the same with a unified command at an appropriate level of seniority, that can ensure interdepartmental and inter-government coordination seamlessly, is the need of the hour,” the bench said, issuing a slew of directions in a matter registered by the court on its on its own motion.

The directions aimed to streamline drainage management, mitigate flooding, and enhance water quality in the Yamuna. A key directive is for the Delhi government to assign the responsibility of managing all 22 open drains falling into the Yamuna to a single department or agency.

“There is no incentive for efficient management of the drainage system due to this administrative chaos. The city and its citizenry wait with apprehension when monsoons are approaching due to this mismanagement of drains while the administrative agencies have been adopting an Ostrich-like approach wishing the flooding won’t happen. There is a need for a vision by the administrators to manage the present needs and anticipate the future,” the high court bench said.

The court also directed the government to finalise the Drainage Management Plan (DMP) prepared by IIT Delhi in 2018 and finalise detailed project reports by September 15. Delhi’s drainage master plan was last updated in 1976. The first credible attempt to update the plan was initiated by the Aam Aadmi Party government in 2021 with the appointment of the Public Works Department as the nodal agency. In 2022, the Delhi government announced the appointment of two consultants but efforts are yet to translate into gains on the ground.

Expressing concern over encroachments on Yamuna’s floodplains and the slow progress in resolving related cases, the court instructed the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to ensure the removal of encroachments. The bench noted that there was a pile up of 44 cases pertaining to encroachment on the Yamuna floodplain before it.

The court also emphasised green development along the Yamuna’s banks, proposing wetlands, public spaces and parks to enhance ecological restoration and public engagement.

The court urged DDA to engage with relevant authorities to address the river’s deterioration for aquatic life and flood management. “The riverbed is so high and the river so shallow that it can no longer support aquatic life. Because of the high riverbed, every monsoon sees an overflow of the river water, many a times causing floods. We have been informed that the river has been consistently becoming shallow and hence lacks the capacity to carry excess water during the monsoon or maintain life during the rest of the year,” the court said.

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