Ambiguity has been the hallmark of the Save Yamuna project. While the Centre and the states have initiated programmes and marches, allocated funds and organised events to save the river, both have treated the banks of the river indifferently, ultimately endangering the health of the river itself. The nexus between the land mafia, politicans and police has allowed unchecked construction on the banks of the Yamuna in the national capital. A Times of India report, using aerial shots of the banks from 2002 and 2017, shows how irreversible damage has been allowed to occur. Satellite maps show that encroachment has raced on the riverbed, narrowing its floodplains and making the national capital vulnerable to flooding. More important, the comparison shows that a whole new colony, Vishwakarma, has come up on the riverbed. What’s worse, it isn’t still clear whose responsibility the Yamuna’s banks are—the South Delhi Municipal Corporation and the Delhi Development Authority have both shrugged off responsibility.
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But illegal construction is only part of Yamuna’s problems. The Yamuna Action Plan was launched in 1993, but despite several protests, the government in 2007 allowed the Commonwealth Games Village to come up on the river bed. The courts aren’t blameless either. Despite PILs and representations of how important the banks were to the city’s water tables, the apex court allowed construction of the Village. Similarly, in the case of the Art of Living event, while courts allowed the event to go on, it was only later that the National Green Tribunal imposed a penalty on it for wreaking havoc on the floodplains. So, more than the marches and Save Yamuna events, what courts and the government need is targetted response to the problem, and not go for whenever it suits the environment policy.