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To avert future disaster, 'urgent' need to map, analyse Vadodara waterlogging, flood

Counterview Desk
Keeping up pressure on Gujarat government and Government of India officials, several eminent citizens of Gujarat’s cultural capital, Vadodara, have, in a letter to the city’s Municipal Commissioner and Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, among others, have wondered why no lessons are being learned from the largely manmade disaster of waterlogging and flood in and around the city following incessant rains on July 31-August 1.
Blaming “deliberate inaction and lack of proactive administrative efforts by the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC), the letter – signed by environment activist and researcher Rohit Prajapati, wetland ecologist Dr Deepa Gavali, environmental and urban planner Neha Sarwate, landscape architect and ecological Planner Dr Shishir R. Raval, botanist Dr Jitendra Gavali, zoologist Dr Ranjitsinh Devkar, Hydro-Geologist Dr Jayendra Lakhmapurkar, among others – says, this has led to “immense misery” to those who live in the city.
A copy of the letter has been sent to the Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, too.

Text:

The waterlogging and floods in Vadodara on July 31-August 1 onwards are exemplary of systemic and deliberate failures that are caused by our unbridled desire for development and related activities that are focused on monetary gains with complete disregard for nature / ecological systems. Examples abound:
  1. Allowing deforestation and indiscriminate land-use changes in the catchment area of the Vishwamitri River to accommodate development;
  2. Altering the course and resectioning of the banks of the river, its tributaries, ponds, and their connecting runlets and ditches; 
  3. Encroaching the floodplains and the ravines of the river by permitting construction of buildings of various types; 
  4. Dumping of construction and demolition debris and other wastes along the river, its tributaries, nalas, ponds, runlets, ditches, wetlands, low-lying areas, and ravines; thus. 
  5. Reducing the water carrying capacity and habitat values of these interrelated components of the river system; 
  6. Constructing retaining walls or hard pitching around the river, ponds (invariably in the name of so-called beautification), and boxing and channelizing the tributaries and nalas and well-thought of old, human-made or natural storm waterways (ditches, etc.) are all interventions that destroy and disrupt the river system from functioning effectively; and 
  7. Disconnecting and disrupting the ecosystem services of the entire river system. 
Any further negligence on part of the responsible government entities or individuals in addressing and rectifying the above stated actions, will make certain increased number of and more severe disasters in future, especially in light of the ongoing uncertainties and insecurities that come with Climate Change.
We must equip ourselves with the right kind of and accountable administrative structure with genuine, transparent, and proactive participation of experts and citizens in the city’s development of all kinds, from inception to post-implementation evaluations and required corrections.
The river is a living entity just like our human body, whose vital organs and functions are as invisible to the eye, just like our internal organs. When multiple organ failures occur, our body dies. Whereas, the river expresses her concerns and ill-health through flooding or drying and, eventually, the river also "dies" an unnatural death due to our greed, arrogance, ignorance, and nonchalance of the governments at different levels, the private sectors, and the mute or muted citizens.
We, as Concerned Citizens of Vadodara, have repeatedly cautioned, suggested, recommended, alerted, offered to work with, and notified the concerned authorities time and again regarding the worsening conditions of the natural system of the city and the increasingly dire situation of the city. These efforts reflect our genuine and sincere concerns towards the city and its citizens. The waterlogging and floods of July 31-August 1, onwards are a testimony of our warnings.
In addition to our constant follow-up, the VMC had also received (A) explicit directions, sent to the Additional Chief Secretary of Forests & Environment Department, Gujarat State, by the Central Government’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, National River Conservation Directorate’s Joint Director on June 3, 2019 and (B) the GPCB direction dated January 8, 2018, the legal notice dated July 12, 2018 and December 10, 2018, and site visit to various site showing dumping and encroachments on April 24, 2019 by the Committee headed by the chief justice (retired) of the Delhi High Court justice BC Patel, and Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) officials.
Despite all this and repeated requests from our side to take corrective and proactive steps, the VMC, instead of removing the dumped debris, had continued with the dumping of fresh debris, discharge of untreated sewage, filling, levelling, allowing encroachments and construction, and such, along /in/around the Vishwamitri River and its environs (banks, ravines, tributaries, ponds, wetlands, runlets, ditches etc.). This process has resulted in illicitly increasing the real estate and encroachments of the natural components of the interconnected river system.
The VMC has failed to put its act together until nature’s harsh wake-up call on July 31-August 1, onwards. The hue and cry by the public and the explicit coverage by the media had also failed to mobilize the VMC towards corrective actions. It was only after a legal notice, dated August 6, 2019, under section 15 of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 by the GPCB, with 15 days to respond to the charges made in the legal notice to the VMC, that the VMC has begun to remove the dumped debris as a reaction to the legal notice and engage with a face-saving exercise.
Whether the VMC is sincerely and effectively working towards remediation in a scientific and systematic manner is still ambiguous. Prima-Facie it is clearly visible that this post-legal notice debris and other waste removal action by the VMC is unplanned, ad-hoc, hazardous, and unscientific. Past experiences have shown that the attempts by the VMC to remove the debris and other waste from the ecologically significant areas were done just to show and mislead the public, the media, the higher-ups in the government, and us. 
 It is important to reiterate that the restoration of the river, ravines, ponds, wetlands, and such must be done systematically, scientifically, and in an ecologically sound manner and ensure healthyand well-functioning ecosystems, including the habitats of the riverine flora and fauna.
Herewith, we are attaching the following items to put on record and for your kind information and reference:
(A) A summary of our correspondences in a table format as Annexeure A
(B) A map, with photographs, “Waterlogging and Flooding in Vadodara City, Post 31 July 2019”, as Annexure B. Kindly note that, though it is a technical map prepared by using freely available/open source computer tools and ground-truthing (site visits), due to limited access to resources and data, this map displays an overall, rapid appraisal of the waterlogging and flooding scenario immediately after July 31, 2019.
It also establishes an urgent need for further post-facto mapping and detailed analysis to determine waterlogged and flooded areas, along with their root causes, in the entire city of Vadodara, using advanced tools, reliable data sources, and valid methods. This must be done by the VMC, in collaboration with various agencies and expertise available in the city and the state, for deriving more detailed recommendations and action plans.
It is important to keep in mind that the impacts of the 20” of rain in about seven or eight hours on July 31 could have been mitigated more readily and to a great extent, if the concerned authorities and entities had heeded to our advice, letters, notices, and reminders and had adopted a more proactive stance and progressive plan of action at the city and watershed levels.
We believe that our city deserves better. It should be an ideal and exemplary “Smart City”, especially in the era of emerging climatic uncertainties of the 21st Century that represents the beginning of the Anthropogenic Era. Our city and state can and must help evolve better models of comprehensive planning and specific designs for apt and sound development that other cities can take inspiration from. 
Instead of removing the dumped debris, Vadodara authorities continued with fresh dumping, discharge of untreated sewage along Vishwamitri river 
The current situation will only worsen if the city, as a collective whole and with the help and coordination with the state, does not take any substantial, participatory, proactive, and accountable initiatives in the right direction. Hence, we demand that the VMC and all other concerned authorities to:
  1. Investigate thoroughly the shortcomings toward and causes for the non-implementation of the explicit directions given on June3, 2019 by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, National River Conservation Directorate’s Joint Director, and sent to the Additional Chief Secretary of Forests and Environment Department, Gujarat State; GPCB direction dated 08.01.2018; and legal notices dated July 12, 2018 and December 10, 2018, etc.
  2. Spend government resources to map more scientifically and accurately the extent of the waterlogged and flooded areas of the city post July 31-August 1 onwards and also conduct technically advanced survey with accurate contours, spot elevations, trees, utility lines and nodes, buildings’ footprints with plinth levels, etc. for the entire city. This must be accompanied by primary data of the people who suffered property damages and losses. This will help in conducting a holistic landscape suitability analysis and preparing better Area / Development Plans and site-specific designs and details. 
  3. Make accountable and prosecute all the officials responsible for the inaction across all levels of bureaucracy and the private sector players. 
  4. Compensate all damage to the individuals and collective society, who were / are affected by the induced and disastrous waterlogging, flooding, and the resulting misery and losses of various kinds. This compensation must be done by or levied directly from the concerned officials of the respective authorities.
  5. 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 now need reliable answers and verifiable action on ground. As needed, study and adapt already existing best practices in India and elsewhere to achieve goals of these Rules. 
  6. Ensure devising and implementation of proactive and sound Action Plans for proper and well-monitored remediation, restoration, and future waste management by sorting, recycling, reusing, and upcycling. We insist on a complete re-look and re-design of all the ongoing 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 apt management strategies. No project or above stated activities must be imposed or implemented as isolated interventions handled by different departments and agencies in an uncoordinated manner. Local residents’ inputs also must be taken into account in devising and implementing any plans or activities anywhere in the Vadodara city area and the entire watershed of the Vishwamitri River. We must adapt or create our own the best practices to realize all these by adopting time bound, transparent, well-advised, and well-monitored processes. 
  7. Establish a semi-statutory body, with legal teeth, that would include subject experts (ecologists, geologists, hydrologists, environmental / ecological planners, wetland specialists, landscape architects, legal and legislative specialist, investors) as well as knowledgeable and experienced members of the community at-large, to guide and monitor the remediation of the damage done and new development initiatives that the government would undertake proactively to improve the quality of the local ecosystems and lives of the citizens of Vadodara. This is a very high priority demand.  
  8. Establish a fully functional, effective, and knowledgeable Urban and Environmental / Ecological planning Department in the Vadodara Urban Development Authority (VUDA) and/or VMC that also includes experts from various related fields (such as ecologists, environmental and civil engineers, and landscape architects) for ensuring better plans and detailed designs for the city. 
  9. Make detailed action plans for restoring and maintaining the river, the tributaries (nalas), ravines, ponds and wetlands so as to ensure their natural functioning and monitoring year round. 
  10. Prepare immediately, technically correct and accurate contour survey, digital elevation models (DEMs), plinth levels, and other physical and biological factors, with advice from experts, for the entire VMC and VUDA areas.
  11. Plan and design all physical and infrastructural interventions, including roads and other structures, seriously and scientifically considering the above stated data and adopting participatory methods.
  12. Prepare Disaster Mitigation Plans for the city by using the landscape and ecosystem approaches right from the origin of River Vishwamitri and include all the villages and towns in the watershed of this river. If and as needed, remove, retrofit, and/or restore parts of the city. Cosmetic and ill-advised interventions or projects, implemented in piecemeal and uncoordinated manner within the VMC or VUDA limits only will NOT solve the problems arising from the current, inadequate way of developing the city, but they will exacerbate them further. 
  13. Revisit and revise all the so-called “beautification” plans and projects, including installation statues in the lakes, demolishing of buildings, road widening, flyover construction, etc. by the authorities. 
  14. Set up a recycling and upcycling plant, at the earliest, to treat the debris (concrete waste and other household waste) and convert it into a usable form. This will help us to take necessary steps to move away from the current throughput economy to a new, regenerative economy. No new permissions for reconstruction of old buildings should be allowed till well-devised, official permits and protocols for demolition as well as fully operational recycling and upcycling plant is are devised and established.  
  15. Implement appropriate rainwater harvesting structures as per the micro-level geology-hydrology of the area to harvest the excessive water available while maintaining the e-flow of the river and natural water bodies. 
  16. Make the satellite images of the past and recent floods and other relevant information and data available in the public domain. This should display all areas covering the entire VMC and VUDA that get waterlogged, flooded, and dumped or encroached upon, beyond the areas documented and mapped for this letter. This information must also updated on a yearly basis and put in the public domain for increasing awareness amongst the people and monitoring. 
  17. Mobilize and commit enough funding to fulfill the above demands / objectives for a better city and its natural and cultural assets and the resulting richer experiential qualities. 
  18. Work towards bringing about a paradigm shift in the way we envision, govern/administer, and plan our cities and other areas. It is time to redefine administrative boundaries (like wards and districts) according to the boundaries of watersheds and subwatersheds. Though seemingly difficult, it has been done elsewhere and provides a better model for well-conceived development that honors nature and human aspirations. 
We again request a meeting to be scheduled among all the concerned authorities (specifically, VMC) and us at the earliest to discuss the matters stated in this letter and prepare an apt action plan with realistic deadlines and adequate resources.
We look forward to your positive response and immediate action to protect, restore, enhance, and nurture the environment while following sounder and saner paths to development that will add to the brand value of Vadodara city, nationally and internationally as well as sense of pride for and responsible actions the citizens.
We sincerely hope that all the concerned and responsible government authorities, that aspire to make Vadodara a “Smart City” will go beyond such labels and strive to work with us to make Vadodara a timeless, healthy, and happy city and eco-region will heed to our inputs and demands at the earliest possible.
This is the last such letter from us with the detailed information and images attached herewith. If there is no reply by you, on tangible actions taken report that can be verified on ground and in the way, the authorities interact with us, within 15 days of receiving this letter, we will / may be compelled to take further necessary legal and related actions. We hope that this will not be necessary.

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Unknown said…
We all who read should join hand for this work

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