NGT directs Delhi, Haryana to enforce Najafgarh jheel restoration plan

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The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed Delhi and Haryana to enforce the Environment Management Plans that the two governments have prepared for the rejuvenation and protection of the Najafgarh jheel, a transboundary wetland.

The implementation of these action plans is to be monitored by the National Wetland Authority through the respective State Wetland Authorities. A status report on it is to be submitted to the NGT as on July 31. The NGT order also stated the outlet of the Najafgarh jheel, which leads to the Najafgarh drain, should remain free from sewage before it joins the Yamuna river.

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) first took the matter of restoration of the Najafgarh jheel to the NGT in 2014, and then filed an execution application before the tribunal in 2019, noting that no remedial measures had been taken. The NGT had then directed Haryana and Delhi to prepare an Environment Management Plan for the jheel.

The plans submitted by the two governments were integrated into a single framework that was approved by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in December last year.

According to this plan, the top priority would be to notify the Najafgarh jheel and its area of influence under The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017. The rules prohibit and regulate certain activities within wetlands and their ‘zone of influence’. Within notified wetlands, conversion of land within the area for non-wetland uses, and permanent constructions within 50 metres from the mean high flood level are prohibited.

The ‘zone of influence’ or ‘no-construction buffer zone around the jheel covers 4,740 hectares (2,600 hectares in Delhi and 2,140 hectares in Haryana). The ‘zone of influence’ is meant to be a buffer zone for holding seasonal floods where seasonal agriculture can be practised, but no construction activity will be permitted. “The area is also a hazard zone for construction due to high seismicity and soil liquefaction risks,” the plan notes.

In Delhi, the Najafgarh Jheel and its surrounding areas include parts of the villages of Rawta, Gumanhera, Jainpur, Shikarpur, Jhatikara and Devrala. According to the plan, “The land falling under the jheel are private lands and gram sabha lands.” The plan also notes that some parts of newly built-up areas in sectors 107 and 108 of Gurgaon fall within this boundary of the wetland, and since they are built on the wetland, they are routinely submerged.

Manu Bhatnagar, principal director, INTACH, said, “A wetland on private land is still a wetland, and the ownership of the land does not matter. These lands are inundation zones.” On the Delhi side, the land in this area is mostly farmland, he added. At Rawta, farmland near the jheel is routinely inundated, and in 2021, around 500 acres of land was submerged in floodwaters, according to the plan. Objections to the area to be notified as wetland will be considered when the draft notification is issued, Bhatnagar said.

In addition to notification of the wetland, the integrated plan lists immediate measures to be taken including demarcating the boundary of the wetland using geo-tagged pillars, and commissioning a hydrological assessment and species inventory. Medium-term measures to be implemented in two to three years include in-situ treatment of major drains meeting the Najafgarh jheel, regular monitoring of the waterbird population, and relocating flow obstructions such as power sub-stations. The jheel is known to be a habitat for migratory and resident waterbirds.

The plan submitted by the Delhi government also proposes a detailed estimation of sewage generation in the area considering 15 years of projected population, and identification of all drains contributing to pollution in the jheel.

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