The first city plan for Delhi after independence, first drawn up in the 1960s, was a fatal flaw, which has only worsened over the years as the crisis has flooded large parts of the city, an expert urban planner told NDTV.
In an interview with NDTV, former Delhi Development Authority (DDA) commissioner AK Jain said that “Delhi’s first master plan after independence was drawn up in 1962” and it made a “mistake” by treating the flood-prone Yamuna. Zone as a “Vacant Lot”.
“Delhi has been built and rebuilt many times over the past 1,000 years,” Mr. Jain said, but in its development, the city has faced a chronic geographical challenge: “There is a river on one side and a mountain on the other. Delhi has always been settled between them.”
British architect Edward Lutyens recognized the risk of flooding along the banks of the Yamuna when the British decided to make Delhi their capital. Construction proceeded despite concerns that the site was “flood prone and susceptible to malaria outbreaks” because “King George V had already laid the foundation stone.”
In the following years, numerous infrastructure projects were constructed in this vulnerable area, including ring roads, power stations and buildings such as Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, Delhi Secretariat, Delhi Transport Corporation depot and landfills. “That’s why you see the ring road flooded this time,” explained Mr Jain.
The area was eventually classified as Zone O, an area of about 100 square km, which was preserved without any further building permits. Despite this, “around 100 unauthorized colonies have come up” in the region, expanding Delhi’s footprint in this vulnerable area, the former DDA commissioner said.
Mr. Jain said recent developments in the city’s master plan have exacerbated the problem. The new plan proposes that the Yamuna area will be regulated to 63 square kilometers, and the remaining area, where unauthorized colonies have sprung up, will be regularized, reducing the area of the river by 40 percent.
“This will make flooding more intense,” warned Mr. Jain, adding that Delhi’s drainage system would have to be completely overhauled. “The water is not receding because many drains are experiencing backflow as the water level in the river has risen,” he explained.
The city’s current drainage system, designed for a population of 30-35 lakh in the 70s, is now overwhelmed by today’s population of 2 crore. Mr. Jain emphasized the urgency of expanding drainage systems and repurposing rainwater as a resource that should be allowed to percolate into the soil. “For this, the built-up area should be kept to a minimum,” he said.
For nearly a week, large parts of Delhi have been inundated due to the highest river levels in 45 years following unusually heavy rainfall, much of it flowing from the neighboring state of Haryana.
This has led to evacuations, inundation of historical monuments, inundation of roads and reports of at least three deaths due to drowning. Authorities and relief workers have struggled for the past two days to open jammed floodgates and repair broken drain regulators to manage water levels.