Yamuna Riverfront Development Project: A culmination of the struggle between ‘planned’ and ‘unplanned’

Over the years, a tide of mega ‘development’ projects has hit various cities, especially tier two cities of India. In this, Delhi, the national capital has taken the lead, serving as a model of development for other cities. In recent years, riverfront projects have emerged as the front runner in development projects, with many being planned and already underway along rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Mithi, etc. With the construction of the Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahemdabad, a myriad of similar projects were set in motion, a result of which is the Yamuna Riverfront Development Plan in Delhi. Under the project, 22 km of the Yamuna floodplains will be developed for “recreational” activities, public facilities, and biodiversity parks, the aim being to “beautify” and “rejuvenate” the floodplains while also increasing public access.

At a first glance, there is not much to object to the Yamuna Riverfront Plan if one looks at it from an ecological lens. But looking at the history of evictions across the floodplains in the Yamuna and the usurping of commons for commercial activity to develop a space that is only for the ‘elite’ as was done in the case of Sabarmati, it becomes necessary to question the intent behind such riverfront projects. Further, the claims of constructing “public” spaces that are controlled and monitored become questionable when the floodplains have always been open to the public and have been home to indigenous communities and practices that help preserve biodiversity.

This report is based on the exploratory field visits conducted in Delhi between September and November 2021 in Asita West (Golden Jubilee Park to Chhatt Ghat), Sarai Kale Khan, Sun Dial, Wazirabad – Usmanpur – Shastri Park (Between Signature Bridge and Old Iron Bridge), area behind Yamuna Bank Metro Station, and Asita East (Near Yamuna Bridge). Prompted by the large-scale construction activity across the Yamuna, the aim behind the visits was to get a picture of the ground reality and interact with the people who will be or have been directly affected by the developments. The social impact of the changes in the topography of the floodplains and the way history is erased by taking over “commons” is the lens taken for the study.

We hope this publication will help bring attention to the deteriorating state of our rivers and reveal that riverfronts are nothing but a cosmetic exercise in the name of ‘revival’ and ‘beautification’.

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