Highly polluted in downstream, Sabarmati riverfront cannot be considered a model: Pune urban rivers dialogue told

By Our Representative
A recent dialogue on urban rivers, held in Pune, has reached the conclusion that the much-hyped Gujarat’s Sabarmati Riverfront Project in Ahmedabad cannot be considered a model for other cities to follow, as a similar project, planned for Vadodara, the state’s cultural capital, has been “dropped” following public outcry.
Participating in the dialogue, a presentation by Neha Sarwate, a planner from Vadodara, revealed that the Sabarmati model was adopted by the Vadodara Municipal Corporation to develop its Vishwamitri river, passing through the city. But as Vadodara citizens “raised a series of issues and started a campaign proposing alternative ways of developing the river”, the city authorities were forced to cancel it.
Organized jointly by the well-known environmental advocacy group, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) and a high-profile NGO, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), during the dialogue on urban rivers Gujarat’s top expert Bimal Patel, who originally conceptualized the Sabarmati project, admitted that Sabarmati is “not an example of river rejuvenation project.”
Suggesting that in the original plan for the Sabarmati riverfront project did not visualize taking water from Narmada, Patel reportedly told the dialogue that it did not even involve “cleaning the river, but only transferring the sewage downstream and channelizing the river with concrete embankments”, adding, no ecological alternative was considered either.
Bimal Patel
Patel also admitted that Sabarmati river, as of today, “is no more a river with flowing water but a lake with stagnant water, that too sourced from Narmada river.” Agreeing that Ahmedabad has no right over the Narmada water, he said, “The project only happened because it has a mass appeal “many people – lakhs of people, wanted it to happen”.
The sharp admission has come against the backdrop of a Central Water Commission report identifying Vautha, a spot downstream of Sabaramti before the river merges into the sea in the Gulf of Khambhat, as one of the dozen most contamination sites across India requiring "immediate attention to remedy the river waters as far as drinking purpose concern." 
Ironically, the Government of India, over the last four years, has considered Sabarmati riverfront development as a model for other cities to become “smart.” The “model’s” highlights, propagated by the officialdom, include features like concrete walkways and parks along Sabarmati, but there is no word on what happens to the river in the downstream of Ahmedabad.
Meanwhile, well-known water resources expert Shripad Dharmadhikary, one of the participants at the dialogue, has commented, “Attracted by this, many cities in the country – including Pune – have decided to go for riverfront development using this very model, and in fact, are also engaging the very same consultant who designed the Sabarmati project, HCP Design Planning and Management Pvt Ltd.”
Officially envisaged as “a comprehensive development of approximately 11 kilometres of length on both the banks of the Sabarmati to bring about an overall environmental improvement, social upliftment and sustainable development along the riverfront”, Dharmadhikary says, “In reality, what the project has done is to convert these 11 km of the river in the city into a large elongated lake, with a barrage at Vasana holding the water.”
Shripad Dharmadhikary
He adds, “Sabarmati has little water of its own, and what is standing right now in the ‘riverfront’ is the water from river Narmada, emptied into the Sabarmati from the Narmada main canal at the upstream end. This water is from the Sardar Sarovar dam, whose construction despite displacing lakhs of people and destroying the environment had been justified for the need to take waters to the dry farms of Gujarat.”
Amidst news that Narmada waters will not be available for Sabarmati next year onwards, Darmadhikary says, now the project planning to sell some 15-20% of the space along the river to big corporates and star facilities to make the project “self-financed”. He wonders, when, after next year, no Narmada waters will be available for Sabarmati, whether the 11 km stretch would be filled with “with Ahmedabad’s treated sewage.”

Comments

Narasimha Reddy said…
Musi River Front in Hyderabad is being modelled on Sabarmati river front project.
Ranjit Gadgil said…
While the project has been called "River Rejuvenation", the fact that it will eventually end up being a series of stagnant pools of water which will require machines to clean the water artificially is admitted by the project proponents. This calls into question the whole approach to this so-called "River Rejuvenation".

From the Detailed Project Report

Aeration fountains are proposed to maintain the desired DO level in the stagnant water. These fountains are located at 15 locations in the total stretch of 44 km. It is recommended to operate these fountains for a minimum of 15 minutes in an hour. The frequency shall be higher in summer.
Aeration systems induce circulation and add dissolved oxygen throughout the water body, helping to mitigate the damage caused by excessive nutrient loading. Floating fountain aerators will be used as aeration system. Submersed aeration systems release oxygen directly into the water column at precise locations, and work extremely well for circulating large areas of water and increasing oxygen levels in deeper water bodies. Other advantages of providing revolving aerators/ aeration fountains include improving water quality, reducing algae growth, removal of foul odour, enhancing habitat for aquatic organism, reduction of viable mosquito breeding habitat and reducing accumulation of bottom sediment.