Sunday, August 30, 2015

Of Rivers and River Front Development: My article published on the Sabarmati River Front Development Project!

What if Sabarmati comes to Mahanadi?

Ranjan Panda

Amid the election heat, where personal abuses have virtually taken over real issues, some debate is still going on among a very few people about development.  And when it comes to development, there is an aggressive marketing of the Gujarat Development Model.  The BJP party is busy selling this model of development as a panacea to all woes of the country.  This party’s PM candidate, who is busy selling hundreds of new dreams in each of his hundreds of rallies across the country, has just tried to sell another dream: to make a Sabarmati out of Ganga, if he comes to power.  Experience says that common Indian people are habituated to ignore election promises, dismissing them as gimmicks.  However, the seriousness in which this PM candidate is being projected by BJP – almost by sacrificing the party’s identity to his image – I thought of peeping a bit into what exactly would a Sabarmati Ganga look like.  And mostly importantly, what such a model would mean for our Mahanadi. 

Sabarmati is the third polluted river of the nation.  If population dependent on it was as big as that were dependent on the Ganges, it would have easily taken the first position in pollution.  Studies by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) as well as that by independent environmental organisations, and even known academicians confirm Sabarmati’s plight.  The CPCB, which studied pollution levels in multiple stations along ‘polluted river stretches’ found out that at various stations the pollution was so high that at most of the places in Sabarmati as well as other rivers of Gujarat such as the Amlakhadi, Mahi and Tapi, the water was not even fit for bathing. 

This was confirmed by a very recent study by a group of academicians who found out, from analysing multiple samples, that in the 163 km stretch of the river from upstream of Gandhinagar city to Vataman near Sabarmati estuary, the river stretch from Ahmedabad-Vasana barriage to Vataman was highly polluted due to perennial waste discharges mainly from municipal drainage and industries.

In fact the CAG has slammed the Govt. of Gujarat and the state pollution control board, in very strong words, for failing to control pollution of water bodies and rivers.  Most of the rivers in the state are polluted by untreated discharge of both chemical and municipal wastes.  What is it then the Gujarat government projecting as a model for Ganga?

It is the much touted Sabarmati Riverfront Development Model that was started way back in 1997.  This model with lot of constructions – mostly on beautification of river side - using funds from the environment ministry, housing and urban development ministry and other such sources is actually a western style ‘development project’ in a very small stretch, that is just 10.5 km of the total 370 km long river.  Urban people of Ahmedabad see this as a great achievement because of the looks.  In reality, has the Sabarmati River benefitted, or in any sense ‘restored’?

A dam about 165 kilometers upstream has already killed the river’s natural flow.  This 10.5 of beautification has been done out of water diverted from Narmada River canal as because this western style restoration – that requires heavy funding and construction – required bringing back the natural flow into the river.  Such restoration works have their inherent dangers. They encroach upon flood plains and treat rivers like canals.  Rivers are ecological entities and not ‘economic commodities’ and the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Model does not respect this, nor is the solution for our ailing rivers.

Mahanadi is in a dying state and there have been many river side constructions here.  Hirakud has already intercepted its natural flow to a large extent and pollution from both industries and municipalities has made the river virtually a dead river. 

What we need is to tackle pollution at the source, free the flood plains and water bodies of the basin from encroachment and work towards low cost, people owned ecological restoration of the rivers.  We certainly don’t need Mahanadi to turn India’s third polluted river. 


This article of mine was published in May 2014 at the following link.  However, just realized the article is no more online.  So, sharing this on blog today. 

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