In an unexpectedly 'green' decision that is also in harmony with his anti-corruption stance, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday said his government had decided to scrap the Millennium Bus Depot along the Nizammuddin bridge and shift it elsewhere.
Gladdening environmentalists, the chief minister also said that no further construction would be allowed on the ravaged Jamuna River bed.
The decision to move the country's largest public transport depot follows a meeting with all stakeholders at the Delhi secretariat on Wednesday.
The bridge was put up as a temporary structure to handle the crowds for the scam-ridden December 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, and was later changed into a permanent installation under the previous Congress government led by Shiela Dikshit.
Saying that there will be no more ''tampering'' with the Yamuna riverbed, Kejriwal told reporters that his government would shift the depot from the river zone.
''Some people had objected to the presence of the Millennium Bus Depot on the river zone since it was in a sensitive area. We have decided to tell the Delhi High Court that we will shift the bus depot from there,'' he said, adding that the Delhi Lieutenant-Governor is in agreement with the decision.
The matter is expected to come up for hearing later this week.
The depot, which came up on a fly ash pond that used to be a dumping site for waste generated by the nearby thermal power stations, was meant to be a temporary structure to park vehicles during the Games.
The then Lieutenant-Governor had given permission for a makeshift bus depot for 10 days to deal with the rush during the Commonwealth Games in 2010. However, a permanent bus depot was created.
The Shunglu Committee appointed by the union government to look into the various peculations in the preparation for the games had found that even before construction started, some agencies had made plans to have a permanent structure.
According to the Delhi Development Authority's Zonal Plan, the Yamuna floodplain could be put to use only for recreational purposes like a bio-diversity park or garden, while construction of concrete structures was banned there.
Kejriwal stressed that it was not just a question of safeguarding the environment but also the important issue of ensuring that the city's natural resources are protected. "It is a catchment area for water which cannot be meddled with," he said.
"We are extremely happy with this decision," said Manoj Mishra, convenor of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan. "The earlier government had let us down on this issue. The new chief minister is at least serious about environmental issues and we hope that the river bed will be left in its original condition."
The announcement marks a complete departure from the stance of the Sheila Dikshit government, which had in fact gone against its own earlier recommendation and that of then Lt Governor Tejinder Khanna to remove the depot within two weeks of it being set up.
It had insisted that it needed the land and had no intention of vacating it. In 2013, more than two years after creating the depot, Delhi Development Authority started the process of changing its land use from the existing Zone 'O', river and water body to transportation.
The new government's move is bad news for Delhi Transport Corporation though, admitted officials. "To build another depot with the same facilities will be difficult," said an official. It is particularly hard as the DTC has not been finding it easy to get space from DDA to set up more depots.
"The fleet has increased in size but depot space remains the same. Some DTC depots are also being used by cluster buses on a temporary basis. Land is scarce in Delhi and taking away one of the best depots from DTC will prove detrimental to the corporation's functioning," added the official.
Besides the buses, the depot also has four CNG filling stations, workshops, ETP, automated washing plants and air-inflation plants. The Delhi government had spent over Rs60 crore to construct the depot in 2010, with more funds being pumped in to build up the infrastructure.