Manit Rastogi sounds furious when he talks about Delhi and the ill effects of rapid urbanisation . "I am afraid to send my son cycling to school. I fear he might be knocked down by a car. For my grandparents there are no pavements to walk on. The Yamuna has turned into a drain," says the Founder and Managing Partner of architecture firm Morphogenesis. But, unlike most other city residents who are aware of these problems but suffer in silence, Rastogi is determined to make a difference.
In 2009, he launched the Delhi Nullahs initiative to clean the city's natural drains and use the land around them to build pedestrian and cycle paths that would connect to public transport systems such as the Delhi Metro. This will help ease traffic congestion and reduce pollution. Rastogi says more than 1,750 acres of land surrounding the nullahs, or drains, can be used.
The city has 18 main nullahs with more than 15,000 branches that connect to the Yamuna. Many of these were constructed 700 years ago under the Tughlaq dynasty for irrigation and drainage. This network of drains, 350 km long, crisscrosses the entire city. But today these drains dump sewage and other untreated waste into the Yamuna.
Rastogi says about Rs 5,000 crore has been spent on trying to clean the Yamuna, but it remains as dirty as ever. "With one move we can reduce pollution, prevent diseases and help pedestrians," he says. The Delhi Development Authority has adopted Rastogi's idea to make eco-corridors for non-motorised transport. The plan will soon be integrated with the authority's master plan for the city's development.
Clearly, Rastogi is one of those showing Delhi the way forward.
Dearton Thomas Hector