Flamingoes in Najafgarh. Photo: Nitya’s Photography/Flickr CC BY NC 2.0
In January 2022, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued an order directing both Haryana and Delhi to implement their respective Environment Management Plans (EMPs) for the Najafgarh jheel (lake) until a comprehensive integrated EMP was prepared by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC). The Najafgarh jheel is a transboundary water body straddling Delhi and Gurugram, which once spanned 220 sq km. In response to the report submitted by the committee (set up by the Haryana government) on the Submergence Area of Najafgarh jheel, and the subsequent discussions held during the meeting between the Government of Haryana and the Union environment minister, an Inter-Ministerial Expert Group was also formed to address the challenges related to the lake.
According to the report presented by the inter-ministerial expert group in June last year, Haryana put forth the claim that the Najafgarh jheel was originally located in the state of Delhi near Chawla and did not exist in its present submerged location in Gurugram, Haryana. The report also highlighted that the built-up area in Gurugram has expanded from 25 sq km in 1990 to 350 sq km in 2022. Consequently, there has been a significant increase in the volume of treated wastewater since 1990. This increase in wastewater generation, coupled with a decrease in unpaved areas for water infiltration, has led to a higher volume of runoff water to the jheel. The report suggests that the submergence in Gurugram is primarily caused by the city’s wastewater from Badshahpur and Dharampur drains, as well as surface runoff during the rainy season.
Additionally, it asserts that the expansion of the submergence area on the Haryana side is due to the absence of a bund (embankment) along a stretch of approximately 5 km in Haryana and 0.9 km in Delhi. As a result, farmlands in villages such as Daultabad, Khedki Majra, Dhankot, Dharampur, Chandu, in Haryana, and Rawta in Delhi have been submerged. The report further notes that the accumulation of silt in the submerged area on the Haryana side, as well as in the Najafgarh drain within Delhi’s jurisdiction, has resulted in reduced water flow through the Najafgarh Drain (or erstwhile Sahibi river) into the Yamuna River.
To address the issue of submergence in the lake area, Haryana devised a two-year action plan that encompasses several measures. These include the construction of a 6-kilometre embankment, the diversion of treated wastewater from the lake, and the connection of Bhadshahpur (L3) and Dharampur (L2) drains from Gurugram to the Najafgarh drain. The Delhi government has been tasked with periodically desilting the Najafgarh drain to ensure an uninterrupted flow of water into the Yamuna River.
As part of the action plan, work has already commenced on increasing the capacity of the sewage treatment plant (STP) agricultural channel from 188 million litres per day (MLD) to 550 MLD. Upon the completion of this project, the treated wastewater currently being discharged through Bhadshahpur and Dharampur drains in the submergence area will be entirely redirected to the STP channel for irrigation purposes to villages in Gurugram and Jhajjar. Moreover, pipelines spanning a length of 110 kilometres have been laid to facilitate the utilisation of treated wastewater in the city’s green and blue areas. These initiatives are expected to significantly reduce the extent of submergence in Gurugram. Haryana believes that an accurate assessment of the actual submergence caused by rainwater or the true extent of the lake area can only be determined upon the completion of the aforementioned project within the next two years. Subsequently, the EMP will be implemented for the naturally submerged areas.
Earlier this year, the NGT addressed the execution application filed by INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) concerning the rejuvenation of Najafgarh lake in Delhi. The NGT disposed of the application by referring the matter to a high-level committee chaired by the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi, which is already responsible for addressing pollution control issues in drains and water bodies affecting the Yamuna river. Additionally, for areas within Haryana, the responsibility was assigned to the chief secretary of Haryana. Furthermore, the NGT ordered the continuation of the Inter-Ministerial Group until the remedial measures proposed in the two-year action plan are completed. This judgment has dealt a significant setback to the efforts aimed at designating Najafgarh lake as a wetland.
Haryana’s action plan involves reducing the inflow of water into the lake by diverting treated wastewater and constructing an embankment. It also aims to drain the existing water in the lake area by connecting drains from Gurugram to the Najafgarh drain and conducting desilting activities in the Najafgarh drain. These measures are expected to decrease the inundation of farmlands in the lake area, making the land available for other purposes. However, the freed-up land is likely to face pressure from real estate development due to its proximity to Delhi and the high land values in the area. This trend is evident from the significant increase in the built-up area, which has risen from 1.3% in 1991 to 10.4% in 2020.
Environmental activists and experts have expressed concerns about the construction of an embankment, as they view it as detrimental to the lake and exacerbating urban flooding issues in Gurugram. The jheel serves as the natural slope and depression of Gurugram, providing the only outlet for floodwaters towards the Yamuna River. Constructing embankments would retain more floodwater within Gurugram, particularly considering the increasing frequency of extreme rainfall events, as highlighted in Haryana’s EMP. This approach would have negative impacts on both the lake and the Yamuna river downstream.
Manoj Misra, who passed away on June 4 and was the convenor of Jamuna Jiye Abhiyan, had earlier urged the NGT to take notice of Haryana’s two-year action plan. He pointed out that the plan not only contravenes the NGT’s directions in the ‘Maily se Nirmal Yamuna’ case but also goes against the Supreme Court’s 2011 Jagpal Singh case, which prohibits the destruction of any water body in the country. Misrra asserted that Haryana’s action plan aims to alter the natural drainage and hydrology of Gurugram, depriving the existing Najafgarh lake and draining the benefits of such drainage outfalls. Moreover, he highlighted that these actions would disregard the hydrological requirements of the Yamuna river downstream of the barrage at Wazirabad in Delhi, which necessitate releasing a minimum of 250 million gallons per day (MGD) of water into the river to maintain its natural flow. Misra urged the Chairperson of the NGT to urgently examine the matter and advise the Haryana state government to refrain from taking any steps that would harm the interests of the Sahibi river, Najafgarh lake, and ultimately the Yamuna river.
In addition, experts such as Manu Bhatnagar from INTACH have raised concerns about the feasibility of Haryana’s two-year action plan. They argue that Haryana’s assumption of utilising 550 MLD of treated wastewater for irrigation in Jhajjar and Gurugram villages, as well as for watering green areas in Gurugram city, is unrealistic as the water requirements for both irrigation and green areas are intermittent in nature. Moreover, diverting water for irrigation purposes to Jhajjar against gravity would necessitate pumping significant volumes of water, resulting in high energy demands.
The Haryana government has also proposed implementing micro-irrigation using treated wastewater. However, this proposition appears implausible as micro-irrigation systems typically require filtered water to eliminate any suspended solids, and some systems even necessitate chemical treatment to ensure uniform water application. Therefore, the feasibility of implementing micro-irrigation with treated wastewater raises concerns. Additionally, desilting the Najafgarh drain is unlikely to have a substantial impact on water flow, as the bed slope of the drain in the submergence areas is 1:25000.
Haryana’s assertion that a jheel near Chawla in Delhi exists and that it does not exist in the current submergence area of Gurugram is contradicted by the Land Revenue Settlement Record of the Gurgaon District, prepared by the settlement officer F.C. Channing in 1882. This historical document provides evidence of the existence of the chak Najafgarh jheel or the Najafgarh jheel circle for land revenue assessment purposes. The circle encompassed 12 villages with a combined area of 14,242 acres, situated around the southern end of Najafgarh jheel. Notably, the unique characteristic of this area was the irrigation it received from the jheel itself.
According to the record by Channing, out of the 12 villages, lands in five villages – namely Dharampur, Daulatabad, Bhudera, Mankraula, and Naubaramad – comprising an area of 1772 acres, experienced significant flooding and inundation.
Additionally, Channing proposed the creation of a distinct chak or circle that included the land from these five villages. The purpose of this separate circle was to address the challenges faced during land revenue settlement, as these particular areas not only constituted the basin of the jheel but were also prone to submersion even in regular years.
In fact, Maconachie’s final report on the settlement of land revenue in the Delhi district (1882) refers to the formation of Chak jhil by Channing in Gurgaon district.
The available documentary evidence demonstrates that the submersion in the north-western Gurugram area of Najafgarh jheel was a recurring phenomenon and not solely a consequence of the urban expansion of the Gurugram-Manesar complex after 1990, as asserted by the Haryana government. Moreover, Survey of India (SOI) maps from 1803, 1807, 1936, 1964, 1975, and 2010 show the Najafgarh lake as an interstate lake. It is possible to perceive Haryana’s two-year action plan as a tactic aimed at evading the official recognition of Najafgarh jheel as a wetland or, at most, designating only a small portion of it as such.
Additionally, Haryana’s claim that the Najafgarh jheel previously existed in Delhi near Chawla and did not exist in its current submerged location in Gurugram, especially after acknowledging it as a waterbody in the NGT in 2017, can be interpreted as a breach of an undertaking given to the court. As a signatory to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, India has a responsibility to establish effective management measures to ensure the sustainable utilisation of all wetlands under its jurisdiction. However, tactics similar to those employed by Haryana hinder the progress of wetland conservation and restoration efforts in the country.
Ritu Rao is a research scholar at TERI School of Advanced Studies, New Delhi.