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Vadodara redevelopment "polluting" river Vishwamitri's environs

By Our Representative
Several senior environmentalists and academics of Vadodara have written an open letter to the Municipal Commissioner, Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC), asking the administration to take immediate steps to “immediately stop demolition, tree felling and clearing of vegetation, dumping of debris, discharge of untreated sewage, dredging, digging, filling, leveling, construction, etc. along the city’s Vishwamitri river and its environs.”
The letter – copies of which have been sent to senior officials of the Government of India and the Gujarat government – wants the VMC to thoroughly relook the “development” works going on in and around Vadodara City, allegedly in complete violation of Supreme Court, Gujarat High Court and National Green Tribunal (NGT), even as accusing the VMC of refusing to comply by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) order and directions of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) to keep Vishwamitri and its environments clean.
The letter states, “In spite of the various directions repeatedly given by GPCB, illegal dumping of debris at Kala Ghoda Bridge near Yavteshwar Mahadev Temple, Bhimnath Bridge, Bahucharaji Nala, Bhukhi Nala, near Fast Track Court and other ravines have not been removed till date.” It adds, “Informal access paths have been created by construction vehicles to dump debris in the ravines adjoining the Bhimnath Bridge, Agora Mall, Sama, and various other places.”
It adds, “Severe and mindless disturbances to natural land forms, soils, and hydrological regimes, coupled with removal of vegetation, including significant trees, on the banks of the Bahucharaji Nala, Motnath pond, near the Fast Track Court area, and at various other public and individual private properties are ongoing nonchalantly as a normal practice.”
The letter says, “For road widening or extension and construction of flyovers and bridges, removal of ecologically significant vegetation/tree cover is taken for granted instead of planning and designing of projects with due respect to these assets of the city, especially in the emerging climate change scenarios.”
The letter cites the NGT order dated May 25, 2016, which “restrained from proceeding further with any construction or development activity within the area of Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project (VRDP)”, even as referring to the SEIAA asking the VMC to “maintain status quo and shall not carry out any further construction and development enabling activities within the area of VRDP until and unless the prior Environmental Clearance is obtained.”
The letter argues that the “current fad” of beautification is “sheer tyranny on natural systems and stamp-pad kind of ugly imposition by the bureaucracy without any serious consideration for natural system, cultural history, users’ participation, contextual fit, or design principles”, adding, “Crores of rupees are spent without any public participation, proper consideration of ecological factors, or good design sense.”
The letter wonders, “Where the debris of the small and big demolished buildings and structures of various kinds are going? Where did demolition debris of Jan-mahal site, the Nataraj and Rajeshri cinema halls go? Where is the waste swept from the roads and open spaces of Vadodara everyday being dumped? Where does all the waste collected during various ‘cleanliness drives’ go?”
Further asking, “Who gives them permission? Why is the waste being allowed to be burned illicitly or otherwise, near Ratri Bazaar, for example) spewing toxic smoke in the air?”, the letter states, “The Vadodara Smart City website lists 64 projects (with estimated cost of Rs 2,906 crore). An overwhelming 42 of these projects are infrastructure development related projects.”
It wants “a complete re-look and re-design of all the on-going and not-so-well thought out demolition activities, clean-up drives, and so-called development projects”, adding, “All the projects should be comprehensively integrated with overall development and/or plans and must not be imposed as isolated intervention handled by different departments and agencies.”
Those who have signed the letter include senior environmentalist Rohit Prajapati, landscape architect Dr Shishir R Raval, zoologist Dr Ranjitsinh Devkar, wetland ecologist Dr Deepa Gavali, botanist Dr Jitendra Gavali, environmental and urban planner Neha Sarwate, biotechnologist Dr Arjun Singh Mehta, and hydro-geologist Dr Jayendra Lakhmapurkar.

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