Friday, November 20, 2009

Trouble on the Yamuna: the hidden costs of unauthorized construction

Some days it's easy to throw up your hands in frustration!   This week, The Hindu reported that widespread unauthorized construction is underway on the banks of theYamuna in Jaitpur.  The area in question is supposed to be a "green zone".  Moreover, the Delhi High Court has banned construction up to 300 meters of the Yamuna, and a Sub-Divisional Magistrate has already issued several restraining orders this year on construction in Jaitpur village. But authorities are not paying attention.

How do developers get away with such blatant flouting of the law?  According to a source quoted by The Hindu, it's as simple as this:
  1.  Buy land cheap from a farmer.
  2.  Pay Rs. 5 lakh to the police.
  3.  Build a five story building.
  4.  Sell the building for a pretty penny.
Sometimes we forget that, as common as it is in Delhi these days, paying money to a police officer or government official over and above his or her salary is nearly always called something other than a tip!

Of course, building on the Yamuna is bad for a number of reasons other than the corruption that makes it possible.  First, there is the fact that we are cutting into farmland, which we need for food production. And let's not forget that unauthorized construction on and near the river bed invariably means that more untreated sewage and waste will end up in what is already a very sick river.

Then there is safety: the Yamuna flood plain is called a flood plain because it is a plain where floods happen; it is also less stable when it comes to earthquakes.  Of course there is also the fairness issue: development in this area apparently got under way right around the time that the government was clearing jhuggi clusters from the banks of the Yamuna;  why is it that big developers are allowed to build while poor people are forcibly removed?

For what it's worth, I fired off a letter to Chief Minister Dikshit.  It wasn't easy, as her publicly listed email was incorrect; it had an extra full stop in it.  After a lot of trial and error, I prevailed--I think!   Why don't you send a letter too?  You have permission to copy as much of mine as you like; I doubt they actually read them, but somebody has got to be keeping some kind of tally. In any case, sometimes a few letters can go a long way toward solving a "small" issue like this.  And if you are not from Delhi--that will really get Smt. Dikshit's attention!  Corruption, pollution, disregard for environmental laws--is this what makes Delhi a World Class City?

Here's the email address:  And here's what I wrote:

Honorable Smt. Dikshit:

I was reading The Hindu last night and saw it reported that the Delhi police are taking money from developers in return for permission to build unauthorized constructions on the bank of the Yamuna in and around Jaitpur! This construction is continuing in spite of restraining orders from the Sub-Divisional Magistrate.  This is unsafe, as you know, as the Yamuna is prone to flood.  It is also bad for our environment.  For more information, you can read the article on-line yourself here:

How can Delhi be seen as a World Class City if we allow this kind of thing to occur?  I also find it ironic and sadly telling that these constructions began, according to The Hindu, right around the time that your government was clearing jhuggi clusters from the banks of the Yamuna.  Why is it that big developers are allowed to build while poor people are forcibly removed?

I trust you will address this at the earliest.

Yours humbly,

Hari Batti

I promise something more cheerful tomorrow. In fact, tomorrow, I will report on one of the many reasons why Delhi is, in my most humble opinion, a World Class City!  Now go fire off that letter to the CM!


  1. Great job of sending the letter! Even if no one responds, it's important for the top guys to know that someone still cares enough to take action. Drops in the ocean, but still at least it's something

  2. It can't hurt. It is depressing how this kind of thing is so commonplace these days--it's disturbing on so many levels. It will take more than a few letters, but I don't think a few letters hurt; she's got to know that for every person who says something there are thousands who are silently outraged.

  3. I have been racking my brain for 5 hours to think of something clever to say re: Chief Minister Dikshit. I'm sure it has all been said before.

  4. Yes, I'm sure she's heard a lot of earfuls, clever and not so.


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