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Vadodara river development projects to further "aggravate" waterlogging, flooding

Counterview Desk
In a letter to Gujarat government officials, including state chief secretary, and senior officials responsible for urban development and environment and forests, a group of concerned citizens* led by senior environmentalist Rohit Prajapati have sought urgent action to prevent anticipated disasters, flooding, and water logging due to deliberate negligence regarding the reclamation of ravines in Gujarat's cultural capital Vadodara.
Stating that the officials concerned are legally liable "to compensate if any damage is done to environment and the affected communities", the signatories of the letter says, the Vadodara authorities are going ahead with “development” plans which "will further augment the already existing waterlogging and flooding woes in various parts of the city."

Excerpts from the letter:

We, and some project affected local citizens from all walks of life, in Vadodara have raised the issues, with the concerned authorities, related to prevention anticipated disasters, flooding and water logging due to deliberate negligence, superficial show of work undertaken, and lip services paid regarding the cleaning up and technically and ecologically sound reclamation of ravines filled with construction debris and all kinds of solid waste and water detention areas under the pretext of ‘low lying areas’ or heavy rains.
Even though we have alerted, in writing and otherwise, the concerned authorities about these issues from time to time, they have fallen on deaf ears or have been ignored nonchalantly. At best, the concerned authorities give sympathetic hearing, but eventually do hardly anything worthwhile to address the real issues and their causes.
Top-down development decisions and designs, which are not thought through or rely on the latest science or techniques, are imposed on the citizens without even giving proper information, let alone without authentic and proactive participation. Sursagar Redevelopment and Jan Mahal are prime examples of these.
There has been no proper or official reply on our queries about where the construction debris of big buildings demolished recently have gone. Some examples of these include, the old Pathik Bhawan for Jan Mahal, the Maharani Shantadevi Hospital, and cinemas like Rajashree and Natraj.
The Vadodara Smart City website lists 64 projects (with estimated cost of 2906 crore). An overwhelming 42 of these projects are infrastructure development related projects that will create significant issues of debris.
In spite of recent site visit on April 24, 2019 by the committee headed by ex-chief justice of Delhi High Court BC Patel, Gujarat Pollution Control Board officials, and repeated requests from our side, the Vadodara Municipal Corporation, instead of removing the dumped debris, is still allowing dumping of fresh debris, discharge of untreated sewage, filling, levelling, construction, etc. activities along/ in/ around the Vishwamitri River and its environs (banks, ravines, tributaries, ponds, wetlands, etc.). This is being done by other private and public entities, including the Maharaja Sayajirao University.
In addition to the existing transgressions and issues of grave consequences, we also want to draw attention of all the concerned authorities some old (pending and overlooked) and newly emerging, crucial issues related to rapid “development” works that need serious and urgent attention from you.
These ravines and wetlands are being systematically destroyed and filled with debris and municipal solid waste in order to reclaim land for further “development”. This will further augment the already existing waterlogging and flooding woes in various parts of the city.
The identified and documented locations, where debris and waste dumping is still going on, in addition to the ones already identified in our previous letters, are as follows:
  • The new westward road from the southwest of Motnath “Lake”/Pond to the new bridge over the Vishwamitri River has severely disturbed the storm water channel (‘kaans’) that facilitates the overflow of water from Motnath “Lake”/Pond to the Vishwamitri River. 
  • The south-west riverbank off the new bridge mentioned above. 
  • The ravines on which the Agora Mall is built and areas adjacent to it, off Mangal Pandey Road.
  • The ravines between the Sama ‘gaamtal’ and the Vishwamitri River. 
  • The ravines on both sides of the Bhimnath Bridge and between the Bhimnath Bridge and the Old Jail Road. 
  • The ravines between the Akota ‘gaamtal’, the Western Railway tracks and the Vishwamitri River. 
  • Dumping of debris along various roads and vacant plots across the city.
  • The ravines and wetlands are nature’s water management mechanisms, which act like shock absorbers, natural sponges, by detaining the inundation of waters in the river during monsoon. 
The above-mentioned activities are altering the morphology of the river system by either narrowing the section of the river, straightening of the meanders, modifying the natural topography along the banks, clearing of vegetation, and increasing impervious surfaces.
These actions are modifying the soil structure its interactions with water and other bio-geo-chemical processes along the riparian zones and exacerbating the threat of disasters such as floods and water logging. Poor people always pay the heaviest price of such criminal negligence by the concerned authorities.
Since our last letter dated January 30, 2019 to the Municipal Commissioner and others, this practice is still continuing and getting worse with apparently no repercussions to the concerned authorities and parties. This is happening despite the prevailing laws of the land, directions of concerned authorities, and courts’ orders.
Furthermore, these works and activities are in complete violation under the provisions of the following environmental statutes:
  • The Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 
  • Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 
  • The Environment (Protection) Act 1986 
  • The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010 
  • The Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 
  • The Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016
We demand:
  • Implement immediately, in letter and spirit, ‘the Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016’ and ‘the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016’. We have been raising the questions in this regard and we need reliable and verifiable answers now. 
  • Stop immediately all activities like debris and waste dumping, discharge of untreated sewage, filling, levelling, construction, etc. activities along/ in / around the Vishwamitri River and its environs (banks, ravines, tributaries, ponds, wetlands, etc.). The Municipal Commissioner of the Vadodara Municipal Corporation must immediately take sound and well-advised corrective measures by giving appropriate and specific directions, emphasizing eco-engineering techniques and not allowing shoddy band-aid job, by Wednesday, June 5, 2019. Failing to do so will invite legal actions and/or penalties against all concerned authorities, departments, and parties.
  • Compensate all damage to individual and collective society, who will be affected by the induced and impending disasters. This compensation must be done by or levied from the concerned officials of the respective authorities. 
  • Ensure devising and implementation of a sound Action Plans for proper and well-monitored remediation, restoration, and future waste management. We insist 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. All the projects should be comprehensively integrated with overall Development and/or Master Plans and must not be imposed as isolated interventions handled by different departments and agencies. 
To achieve all this, we demand that a quasi-governmental authority with real teeth is formed and empowered to fulfill this agenda in a proactive, transparent, and accountable manner. It is high time that the local, state, and Central governments take up this matter with urgency and work towards its positive resolution without excuses, passing on the buck, or failure of any kind.
---
*Signatories: Rohit Prajapati, Environment Activist, Researcher, and Writer; Neha Sarwate, Environmental and Urban Planner; Dr Ranjitsinh Devkar, zoologist; Dr Shishir R Raval, landscape architect and ecological planner; Dr Deepa Gavali, wetland ecologist; Dr Jitendra Gavali, botanist; Shakti Bhatt, water resources expert; Dr Arjun Singh Mehta, biotechnologist; Dr Jayendra Lakhmapurkar, hydrogeologist; Hitarth Pandya, educationist and writer; Rutvik Tank, civil engineer and urban planner; Dhara Patel, landscape architect and architect; Taniya Vaidya, artist and educator; Sadanand Ambadkar, consultant

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