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Gujarat polls: Vadodara environmentalists wonder why none talks of pollution issues that affect health, nature

By Our Representative
In a belated attempt, senior environmentalist Rohit Prajapati, accompanied by several prominent citizens, has sought to make his voice heard asking whether political party candidates, competing to win Gujarat assembly elections in the second and final round (December 14), have at all cared to raise environmental issues facing our cities.
Belonging to Vadodara, the signatories of the statement he has floated -- including Prof Shishir R Raval, Landscape Architect and Ecological Planner; Neha Sarwate, Environmental and Urban Planner; Ranjitsinh Devkar, Zoologist; Dr. Deepa Gavali, Wetland Ecologist; Dr. Jitendra Gavali, Botanist and others -- say that "political parties are slamming each other over issues of religion, caste, reservations and engaging in petty one-upmanship".
The statement, the only one so far in Gujarat on the need to focus on environmental issues, comes amidst Ahmedabad-based environmentalist Mahesh Pandya of the Paryavaran Mitra admitting to Counterview that in the current situation, anything related to environment is "will not be taken seriously, nor would it click", adding, "I plan to take up environmental issues after the polls."
Referring to their city, Vadodara, which goes to polls on Wednesday, the Vadodara group has expressed concern over "environmental neglect" and its negative impacts which "affect not only people but also other species", adding, "The so-called floods, increase in water pollution, stink and smog in the air, traffic congestion, loss of natural vegetation cover" are some of the "examples of such issues and impacts."
Coupled with this, they say, "Slums have been demolished rendering many people unemployed and homeless under the label of encroachment", even as new buildings spring up on the banks of the river and into the lakes under the pretext of development", bypassing "environmental and building laws."
Especially referring to Vadodara, known as the cultural capital of Gujarat, the statement says, "Construction permits have been awarded to buildings that encroach on rivers, ravines and lakes, thereby increasing the potential for floods and water-logging. Existing buildings, some with great heritage value (Nazarbaug Palace and Shantadevi Hospital), have been demolished."
Calling it "shameful" that the city is aspiring to become 'smart', spending "crores of public money for it is planned without inputs from qualified planners, genuine public participation, and proper contour surveys and plans", the statement underlines, "The so-called floods are not natural. They take place due to bad planning and human errors."
Taking strong exception to what they call "wall-to-wall carpeting of roads" to accommodate more traffic, the signatories say, while doing so, it is not realised that this reduces "groundwater recharge", even as increasing "storm water runoff into the nearby low-lying areas."
"More paving and buildings actually damage the environment. The rain / storm water accumulation cause water logging. Withdrawing more and more ground water and releasing polluted water into the nearest river, nala, or pond are rapidly causing severe water quantity and quality issues", they point out.
The statement continues, "Deteriorating ground water quality with high fluoride and other contamination not only cause health problems but also will lead to water drought in Vadodara in about five years... Similarly, expansion of the city without systematic solid waste reduction and management is an open invitation to public health disaster that is experienced by the citizens of Delhi and Beijing."
Noting that "smoke, dust, smog, and stink from the industrial, vehicular traffic, and construction activities are causing very serious health hazards that, in turn, affect productivity and economy", the statement refers to how the the riparian zones of the city's Vishwamitri river "are choking due to dumping of solid waste of all kinds".

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