Editorial 1 : The anatomy of the Yamuna floodplains


Battered by heavy rains, the Yamuna looks slow, sluggish and swollen. Last week, the water levels hit a 60-year-high, gushing through elite neighbourhoods built close to the floodplains. Waters advanced towards the Taj Mahal for the first time in half a century.

Importance of Yamuna

  • We talk about rivers in isolation, but floodplains are inseparable from the river channel.
  • The river system includes both water and land. Yamuna is a lifeline to five States, and its floodplains are a charging point.
  • Yamuna courses east of Delhi, entering the city from Palla village and exiting at the Okhla barrage.
  • Farmers near Palla and Hiranki villages traditionally grow rice, wheat, and flowers on the rich silt deposited by the river.
  • The floodplains are two km wide on each side. The floodplain along Yamuna’s 22 km run in Delhi, designated as the O zone by the Delhi Development Authority, has an area of approximately 9,700 hectares.
  • Zone O supports a large variety of nature-based livelihoods with a low ecological footprint.
  • Between Palla and Okhla, the composition of the floodplains changes from farmlands to slums, colonies, flyovers and bridges.
  • A river has the “right to expand” and needs to breathe through its flood plains. Any attempt to concretise constricts its air supply.
  • As part of river systems, floodplains slow water runoff during floods, recharge groundwater and store excess water, replenishing the city’s water supply.
  • When you have sluggish flow, the surplus water stored in the floodplain is released back during the non-monsoon season.
  • If you lose the floodplain, you also lose the storage of water.
  • Delhi recorded similarly devastating floods in 1978, 1988 and 1995 which inundated floodplains, adversely impacting their health.

Delhi’s Master Plan outline

  • The Yamuna floodplain was designated as a protected area free from construction in the Delhi Masterplan of 1962.
  • The Central Ground Water Authority in 2000 also notified the floodplains as ‘protected’ for groundwater management.
  • The draft Master Plan For Delhi 2041 divides Delhi into 18 zonal areas, designating Yamuna’s floodplains as ‘Zone O’, delineated in two parts: river zone (active floodplain) and riverfront (regulated construction is allowed).
  • The South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) in 2020 found large parts of the Yamuna floodplains and riverbed were “grossly abused” due to lax implementation
  • The areas proposed under the Yamuna Riverfront Development (YRDF) plan — which proposes biodiversity parks and ‘recreational’ activities — were within the active floodplain, which could affect the topography, increase pollution and affect flood-carrying capacity.
  • The layers of sediments of floodplains create aquifers contributing to the river channel, which in turn rejuvenates the groundwater. But encroachments stop this two-way exchange.
  • The river is unable to transport flood waters downstream during monsoons, wet the lands or deposit soil along its banks to preserve the riverine ecosystem.

Role of encroachments

  • Floodplains also protect against devastating flash floods by allowing excess water to spread out and storing that surplus.
  • However, encroachments restrict the river to a small channel. Any intense rainfall activity swells the river, expanding in height not in width, eventually spilling over with devastating intensity.
  • Climate change has intensified rains in frequency and severity, and seen in the Yamuna floods, runoff water comes as a huge gushing flow in a small span of time.
  • Floods are inseparable from the hydrological cycle and are required for sediment transport, cleaning the riverbed, rejuvenating the river itself.

Way forward

  • The concept of floodplain zoning is not mainstreamed in the Master Plan and authorities haven’t yet taken cognisance of the river’s right to expand.
  • This gap, along with poorly implemented policies, frees up river land for private and public real estate.
  • A model draft Bill for defining floodplains and zoning was circulated in 1975. Only four States have drafted a National Floodplains Zoning Policy so far.
  • Action can be focused on creating climate-resilient infrastructures, de-silting drains, creating green areas and improving drainage systems.

Editorial 2 : The hornets’ nests in the Forest Amendment Bill


The Lok Sabha passed the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, on July 26, with no substantive changes from the original version introduced in March.

The problem areas

  • The 2023 Bill commences with a promising Preamble, expressing a commitment to achieving net zero emissions by 2070, creating a carbon sink, increasing forest cover, and improving the livelihoods of forest-dependent communities.
  • The Forest Conservation Act of 1980, which this Bill aims to amend, admittedly and justifiably adopted a rather protectionist stance which made forest clearances time consuming and costly to obtain.
  • Three points that emerge from the Bill have caused considerable consternation among environmental experts: the narrowed definition of forests under its scope; the exclusion of significant tracts of forest areas; and the granting of sanction to additional activities that were regulated earlier.
  • The Bill will significantly restrict the application of the landmark Godavarman judgment of 1996 which had extended the scope of the 1980 Act to the dictionary meaning of ‘forest’ — that is, areas with trees rather than just areas legally notified as forest.
  • The present Amendment restricts the Forest Conservation Act to only legally notified forests and forests recorded in government records on or after October 25, 1980.
  • This change could potentially impact around 28% of India’s forest cover, encompassing almost 2,00,000 square kilometres.
  • Perversely, States that have refused to identify important forest areas despite the Godavarman judgment, may now be free to allow the destruction of these forests for construction and development.
  • Furthermore Bill excludes some of India’s most fragile ecosystems as it removes the need for forest clearances for security-related infrastructure up to 100 km of the international borders.
  • These include globally recognised biodiversity hotspots such as the forests of northeastern India and high-altitude Himalayan forests and meadows.
  • Also the Bill introduces exemptions for construction projects such as zoos, safari parks, and eco-tourism facilities.
  • What is worrying is that the Bill also grants unrestricted powers to the Union government to specify ‘any desired use’ beyond those specified in the original or amended Act.
  • Such provisions raise legitimate concerns about the potential exploitation of forest resources without adequate environmental scrutiny.

Disenfranchising forest people

  • Another important concern is that the Bill makes no reference to other relevant forest laws.
  • For instance, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest-dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 finds no mention.
  • Instead, the exclusion and ease of diversion of forest areas will mean that forest people’s institutions no longer need to be consulted.
  • If India is to meet its net zero carbon commitments and increase forest cover (as the Bill envisages in its Preamble), it would be wise to further the participation of forest people, rather than disenfranchise them.

Exclusions that raise eyebrows

  • The system of forest clearances under the FCA (1980) may have been flawed but this Bill does little to rectify these deficiencies. Instead, it just excludes certain privileged sectors from its ambit.
  • When democracy’s gears grind a little too slowly, it is better to fix them than to dismantle them.
  • These systems provide an essential check to assess the impact of projects which change land use and to mitigate the impacts resulting from environmental destruction.


The objective of fast-tracking strategic and security related projects is a fair ask. Administrative processes can and should be speeded up and needless delays in environmental clearance avoided. However, giving blanket exemptions from regulatory laws is not the answer. Forests and other natural ecosystems cannot be considered a luxury. They are an absolute necessity.


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