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In the name of development? Gujarat urban authority seeks to 'murder' Vadodara lake

By Rohit Prajapati*
The Sursagar Lake precinct is a vital identity of Vadodara on the national map and local citizens. Emphasis on a higher quality of urban landscape design and architecture along with the lake’s ecological connections and impacts must be given priority while envisioning and designing the (re)development of such important landmarks in the city.
Instead, completely opposite to that Vadodara Municipal Corporation has made conscious attempts to destroy the Sursagar Lake and its ecological and urban landscape design existence. Actually, we the Citizens of India, should file the FIR against the Vadodara Municipal Corporation under Section 307, “attempt to murder”.
The order dated August 2, 2002 in the Special Civil Application No 10621 of 2000 clearly states: “5.7 … It was then stated in paragraph 3 that, in deference to the suggestion made by this Court, the State Government will notify in the Gazette the water bodies and will ensure that no lands forming part of the water bodies be alienated or transferred by the various Area Development Authorities or the Local Authorities and will oversee that the water bodies are maintained and preserved as water bodies.
“…The Local Bodies and Area Development Authorities will be requested and instructed to see that desiltation may be undertaken in a phased and gradual manner and encroachment is removed also in a phased manner.
“Care will be taken that water bodies are not converted to any other use in the town planning schemes / development plans that may be made hereafter and the Local Authorities and the Area development Authorities will be instructed to ensure that no debris of buildings is dumped by any person or institution in the existing water bodies.
“The General Development Control Regulations which are now framed take care as regards the distance to be maintained between the development zone and the water bodies, which was minimum of nine meters, as stated in that affidavit.
“The Regulations also provide for percolating well to be provided if the area of building exceeds 1500 sq. mtrs. and up to 4000 square meters. The State Government in that affidavit assured this Court that proper monitoring would be undertaken to oversee the preservation and maintenance of water bodies.
What is done in the name of beautification is encroachment on the lake, imposition of insensitive design and waste of public money
Order further stated at the end:
“24. To sum up, we issue the following directions:
“...[B] The State Government and all Area Development Authorities and local Bodies will protect, maintain and preserve all the waterbodies in the State which are identified as per the development plans, town planning schemes and the government records and which will be notified in the official gazette, as waterbodies and they will not be alienated or transferred or put to any use other than as waterbodies...
“[D] The State Government, the Area Development Authorities and the Local Authorities should take urgent measures to rejuvenate the waterbodies which are to be notified in the gazette by undertaking a declared phased programme of desiltation and make adequate provisions for recharging them by appropriate storm water drains and other feasible means and to take measures against pollution of such waterbodies.”

Existing flow connections will be negatively affected along with the severance of the water flows from the city and to the Vishwamitri River via Sursagar to the Machhiya kaans. The reduction in soil water interface will result in increase in eutrophication and hamper the microbial activities resulting in increase in the water temperature by about 2 degrees.
Inlet and outlet points are not considered in the design. These, along with their built-up or natural channels, must be studied and restored. The reduction of surface area of the water and addition of concrete ghats will also affect the visual (experiential) quality as well as collective cultural memory of and attachment to this historic place.
What is done with Sursagar in the name of so-called beautification is encroachment on the lake, imposition of an insensitive design, and waste of public money. The citizens should demand involvement in decision-making for such top-down developments in the name of public-private-partnership which, in fact, is power-private-profit sharing deal.
Present works at the Sursagar Lake is in contempt of the Gujarat High Court Order dated August 2, 2002.
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*Environmental activist, researcher and writer, with Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara

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