Re-framing Delhi's relationship with the Yamuna

 The sense of belonging and ownership by Delhi's 16 million citizens is what the Yamuna river requires to rekindle its relationship with the city.

IANS| Last Updated: Nov 19, 2014, 12:32 PM IST

 New Delhi: The sense of belonging and ownership by Delhi's 16 million citizens is what the Yamuna river requires to rekindle its relationship with the city. This can happen only by riverfront restoration and integration of historic monuments situated along the banks, a research and design initiative of a US university says.

"Re-Centering Delhi" is an initiative of the University of Virginia School of Architecture to research the Yamuna riverfront and the factors - ecological, social, political and infrastructural - that have led to its current state of neglect.

"We have always taken a clinical, empirical path in projects for cleaning the Yamuna. There has been a lot of clamour around it, but we have neglected the quality of space around the river and how to reuse it to reconnect with the river," Pankaj Vir Gupta, an architect and visiting professor at University of Virginia, told IANS in an interview at an exhibition and seminar here where the preliminary research findings were unveiled.

The timing of the release is significant as Gupta is confident that given its various initiatives, the Narendra Modi government could be persuaded to look at the final report or at least take up parts of it.

"The new government has a powerful mandate and we thought this was the best time to make these findings public so that if the government wants they can take a cue from various ideas and rejuvenate the Yamuna by proper urban infrastructure planning," the Delhi-based Gupta said.

Thus what began as an academic exercise could take on a larger role, Gupta added.

The three-year project, which began last January at Gupta's instance, aims to "re-orient the focus of urban settlements" towards the river, which originates from the lower Himalayas and is the largest tributary of the Ganges. It is a vital resource for the rapidly-growing national capital. It is also known as "dead river" because there is no trace of life-supporting oxygen.

Beginning with the monuments and historic centres of the capital, the project considers the current relationship of the city to the floodplain on the west bank of the Yamuna and recognises the efforts to restore the river and the monuments as a "unified catalyst" to create necessary public infrastructure for the city.

"The Red Fort, Purana Qila, and Humayun's Tomb were built with their walls directly beside the Yamuna," the report says.

It suggests that through a series of connective paths that cross the major barriers between the monuments and the river, the city could extend to meet the river's edge while accommodating the ecology necessary for a healthy river.

"It was very important to re-look at the early model and the flow of the river, design and architecture, to propose something that is relevant," said Gupta, who was one of the first persons to pitch the idea of this research to the university.

The project began with a team of students and faculty visiting the capital to analyse and reconstruct how rapid urbanisation, coupled with the absence of planning strategies along the Yamuna, has resulted in an ecological emergency for the city.

"Over many decades, more and more barriers have been built around the river that have blocked easy and free access of the people to its banks," Gupta said.

"Unless and until people start engaging with the river, till the time they have access to the river... they won't feel a sense of ownership and belonging with her. Once that is done, people would start demanding to keep the river clean and contribute to its well-being," he added.

According to the report, 50 percent of the effluents the city produces goes to treatment plants. The other half flows into open drains that empty into the Yamuna. It is estimated that 85 percent of the pollution in the river comes from residential wastewater while 15 percent of the pollution come from untreated industrial waste.

As for the exhibition, it records how the research has been conducted over the past two years.