By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 18 May: Uttarakhand High Court seeking response from the state government regarding encroachments on Rispana and Bindal rivers which flow through the capital city of Dehradun within three weeks, has given a fresh lease of hope to the environmentalists that it may once again direct the government to clear encroachments on the riverbanks and riverbeds of these two rivers. However, this is going to prove a major challenge even if the exercise is taken in full earnest, when in reality, there appears to be total lack of political as well as administrative will towards taking up this exercise. It may be recalled that the High Court has issued notices to the Centre, the state government, MDDA, the district magistrate of Dehradun as well as the Pollution Control Board seeking response from them within three weeks on the petition filed by a local municipal corporator Urmila Thapa seeking removal of encroachments in and around these two rivers. It may further be recalled that last year, hearing a complaint filed by journalist Manmohan Lakhera, the High Court had directed the state government to clear all encroachments on roads, in and around the riverbeds of Rispana and Bindal rivers of Dehradun. While the process had started towards this, the government had brought in an ordinance giving a three year respite to encroachers in and around the riverbeds of Rispana and Bindal on a ‘humanitarian’ ground. The government had then asserted that it would take up rehabilitation of all the affected families before removing them from encroached riverbanks and riverbeds. Considering the fact that a population of over two lakhs is living in the catchment area of these two rivers and the fact that there are over 11,000 identified pucca buildings encroaching the riverbanks and the riverbeds, it is going to prove a major challenge for the government to rehabilitate the affected families and clearing the riverbeds of encroachments. In addition, there are over 40 thousand buildings falling in the catchment area of these two rivers including over 7000 such buildings which are duly registered in the Nagar Nigam and the owners are even paying house tax for these properties! Any government decision in clearing these encroachments is going to result in a big political issue and how will the government deal with this huge political issue, is impossible to assess! Though, the government has given itself “three years” to do, the fact remains that not much has happened in this one year that has passed since. Apart from identification of slum colonies, and 11,000 odd buildings that encroach the riverbeds, nothing else has happened. If the government was at all serious towards its declared commitment, land ought to have been identified and the titles transferred to the authorities concerned for rehabilitation of the families that would be affected by clearing the riverbanks. Sources in the government and the district administration confirmed that no such action had been initiated as yet by the government and the district administration. Ironically, Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat had publicly promised rejuvenation of both the rivers and not only this, a Centre sponsored project for the development of riverfronts (of Rispana as well as Bindal rivers) had been approved at the cost of Rs 750 crores. The project will be a non starter if the rivers are not rid of encroachments and the titles of riverbed land coming under the project are not transferred to the MDDA, sources in the government admit! It may be recalled that of 129 identified and earmarked slum colonies in Dehradun district, majority of them are located along the Rispana and Bindal rivers. Not only this, untreated sewage is directly flowing into these rivers at many places, thus polluting these two rivers even more. According to a recent study, the level of pollution in the rivers is about 80 times more than the acceptable levels. Plastic pollution is another major problem since these two rivers are choking with polybags. While 13 km stretch of Bindal passes through Dehradun, about 18 km stretch of Rispana passes through Dehradun. A recent study identified that over 180 major nullahs fall into Rispana and about 150 major nullahs fall into Bindal river. Most of these nullahs carry with them all kinds of effluents including untreated sewage. For any rejuvenation of these rivers, all these nullahs will have to be diverted away from the rivers! Not only this, there are over a hundred government properties including the present Vidhan Sabha building, Doordarshan Office and scores of government office buildings which are located in the catchment area of these rivers, many of them on the riverbed itself! In case, the High Court does order clearing of the encroachments, apart from the political hurdle, lack of adequate funds for rehabilitation of the affected population as well and relocating of government property will be another major challenge. In addition, Dehradun is locked by forests all around it and therefore there is a big paucity of available land to undertake such massive exercise!