Monday, February 13, 2012

Farmhouses illegally occupy Yamuna floodplains/On these farmlands, farmhouses are being built and sold to buyers as developers tap into a swelling

Farmhouses illegally occupy Yamuna floodplains

There is a new Noida coming up, full of farmhouses served by well-lit concrete roads. But homebuyers beware. This settlement is illegal, as it sits on land that is part of the Yamuna River's floodplains.

The land mafia has usurped hundreds and thousands of acres of land on the Yamuna's floodplains in blatant violation of rules that govern the land-use in these zones. Nearly 4,000 acre of land on the floodplains has been occupied illegally, much of it very close to the river's course.

On these farmlands, farmhouses are being built and sold to buyers as developers tap into a swelling demand for spacious housing. The sight of illegal farmhouses greets you from the Okhla barrage, from where it extends along the river's course for at least 30km till the Uttar Pradesh-Haryana boundary.

What works in favour of the mafia is the absence of laws on such constructions. At present, concrete structures on a riverbed are prohibited only by rules laid down in masterplans and zonal plans, and by government policies. There is no regulatory authority.

Developers take full advantage of this loophole, smug that they would neither be fined nor jailed. At worst, the illegal structures will be razed.

Environmentalists attribute the present situation to inordinate delay on the part of the environment ministry in notifying the River Regulation Zone (RRZ), statutory authority on the lines of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), under the Environment Protection Act 1986.

Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had last year termed the Yamuna riverbed as "highly fragile and eco-sensitive". He also announced the notification of the RRZ but, soon after, he was moved to the rural development ministry.

Pointing to the government's obsession with Yamuna development plans, the environmentalists say it is about time the focus shifted from development to conservation efforts.

Illegal farmhouse on Noida bank.
Another plot on the floodplain fenced off by brick walls, barbed wires and iron gates.
The Noida Authority shrugged off blame. "The land doesn't come under the masterplan area. We have no control over it," Noida CEO S. K. Dwivedi said. "The floodplains come under the Uttar Pradesh irrigation department."

The Noida Authority's 2021 masterplan and the draft masterplan for 2031, however, clearly say that only farming can be undertaken on the floodplains.

Irrigation department officials, too, shifted the blame. "Our jurisdiction doesn't extend to the floodplains. It's not government land and is owned either by villagers or gram sabhas. Our responsibility ends at warning people not to buy property on the floodplains and undertaking flood-mitigation measures," Prem Chand, an executive engineer with the irrigation department who is in charge of this stretch of the Yamuna, said.

"All the farmhouses are illegal," he added.

Chand said the department wanted to take action against the land mafia about a year ago but that plan never took off.

Illegal farmhouse on Yamuna bank.
The picture highlights how close to the Yamuna river's course the farmhouses are coming up.
The floodplains - tracts of land on either side of a river's course - are an ecologically fragile zone and construction in any form, whether buildings or concrete roads, is banned on land extending usually up to 500m from both sides of the river's course.

Only farming is allowed and the tillers can only erect makeshift hutments or dig borewells on the floodplains.

In fact, there is a bund to mark the outer boundary of Yamuna's floodplains but the farmhouses have sprouted inside of the bund.

Situated parallel to Noida sectors 94, 125, 126, 128, 131 and 135, farmhouses are linked by paved roads lined with electric poles. On plots where houses are yet to be constructed, work on boundary walls is going on apace.

Some of the farmhouses that have come up without permission are Flora Farms, Greenbeauty, HPS Farms, Sai Farms and Sun Organofarms.

Well-placed sources said the farmhouses had turned into havens for rave parties with revellers descending during the weekends, taking advantage of their secluded location and lack of policing.

"Nobody has come to us with a complaint so far. If somebody does, we will look into it," superintendent of police (city) Anant Dev said.

More than two- dozen developers, with well-appointed offices the floodplains, pitch these houses with a view of the riverfront" to potential buyers.

The developers buy the plots at 10,000 per bigha (a unit of land) and sell them off at four times that price, at Rs.40,000 per bigha.

The Yamuna riverbed soil is trucked away by dishonest contractors.

The Yamuna flows in the background as riverbed soil is trucked away by dishonest contractors.

The Noida Authority has found that at least 10 builders are involved in the illegal sale of real estate, namely Gladioli Farms, Khushi Farms, Tirupati Farms, Sagar Farms, Flora Farms, DPL Farms, Prestige Ventures India, AJS Builders, Radha Madhav Estates and NR Buildcon.

The farmhouses are absolutely legal," claimed Deepak Bakshi, site manager of Flora Farms, when asked how they were selling illegal property to unsuspecting buyers.

So, why then has the Noida Authority blacklisted the firm on its website? "They once lost a case to us. That's why," he replied.

Vikram Sharma, a property dealer operating out of Noida's Sector-18, when asked about the legality of the farmhouses, said: "Only yesterday, I sold a farmhouse to a buyer from Delhi. Even if it is illegal, I'm not bothered. I'm only bothered about my commission."

As the real estate plunder continues, farmers complain that the illegal activity is pushing up the prices of vegetables. "Vegetables that would normally cost Rs.20 per kg are selling for Rs.80 a kg in Noida. The lost farmlands can produce enough vegetables to feed the whole of Noida and also partly Delhi. But the authorities are hand in glove with the mafia," Dushyant Nagar, a farmer representative, said.

"The loss of the floodplains is irreparable. The government needs to notify the RRZ at the earliest," Manoj Misra, convener of NGO Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, said.

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