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Upcoming monsoon: No lessons learned from past flooding, waterlogging of Vadodara

Letter to MoEF&CC, Vadodara Municipal Corporation, Vadodara Urban Development Authority, Collector Vadodara, Chief Secretary, Gujarat, GPCB, CPCB and Others by Concerned Citizens of Vadodara*:

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Let us take into account the uncertainty of weather and climatic conditions and the prevalent erratic rainfall. Let us hope that we remember past floods and waterlogging and have learnt lessons from those disasters and tragedies. So, let us act immediately before the upcoming monsoon of 2023. It is apparent that, practically, no lessons have been learned from the past flooding and waterlogging events and from the ill-advised and ill-conceived rejuvenation efforts of Vishwamitri River. No action has been taken yet by the Vadodara Municipal Corporation in terms of identifying and removal of the debris from the ravines, water ways, lakes, ponds, wetlands, and low-lying areas. Instead, dumping of debris and other wastes continues into the river environs. Even clear directions given by the concerned authorities of the State and the Centre in conjunction with the various Court Orders are deliberately ignored for the reasons best known to the VMC.
This time also, the pre-monsoon prayer of the concerned authorities, and specifically the Vadodara Municipal Corporation, will be, “Hope that there is less rain and people decide not to complain about the problems” and, “All is Well”.
There is agreement that mapping of the Vishwamitri River System including the ravines, riparian areas, ponds, kaans (channels), tributaries, wetlands, along with locations and extent of all areas of solid waste (including debris) dumping, and untreated and ill-treated sewage disposal will be conducted to assess the nature, amount, and extent of all kinds of dumping and encroachments. This exercise is crucial to do systematic work of redressing the issues comprehensively, avoiding ad-hocism.
We have repeatedly cautioned, suggested, recommended, alerted, offered to work with, and notified the concerned authorities regarding the worsening conditions of the natural water system of the city leading to the increasingly dire situations in the city. These efforts reflect our genuine and sincere concerns towards the city and its citizens. The waterlogging and floods of 31 July – 1 August 2019 onwards are a testimony of our warnings.
The Vadodara Municipal Corporation has sat on our letters and recommendations since 2017 (see Reference Number 11) and has done nothing significant to address the issues. We have not even received from the authorities any appropriate, detailed, legitimate reply or viewpoints on any of our letters.
If the City of Vadodara and its concerned authorities do not wake up and begin the technically and ecologically sound pre-, during, and post-monsoon measures for reclaiming and restoring the ravines and water detention areas filled with construction debris and all kinds of wastes and develop a technically sound sorting, recycling, and upcycling plan of the removed materials (resources), we are headed for another episode of disaster and damage due to water-logging and floods during the upcoming monsoon of 2023 as well. Actually, the VMC has allowed and been allowing all illegal activities to add to the past disasters as if the latter were not enough. The 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 exacerbate the already existing waterlogging and flooding / inundation woes in various parts of the city.
We all must address the so-called “flood” issue by treating not its symptoms but its root causes. This is the real work that has been deliberately ignored. We all know who pays the real price of this kind of nonchalance —not the elected officials or the bureaucrats who live comfortably in their citizen-paid bungalows with staff to take care of their wants.
Since our last letter to the Municipal Commissioner and others, we have not seen any remedial action from the authorities. Instead, this practice of dumping in the ravines 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. There has to be some responsible and accountable person in the government and the executive branch of the VMC, VUDA, and state level for the past, present, and future disasters.
We once again bring to your notice that the above-mentioned inactions are in deliberate and blatant violation of the Order dated 25.05.2021 of the National Green Tribunal in Application O. A. No. 228/2020 (Earlier O. A. No. 49/2016 (WZ)) and Execution Application No. 45/2016 (WZ) (Rohit Prajapati & Anr V/s Secretary, MoEF & CC & Ors.). We would like to make it very clear once again, that this order does not prevent you from scientifically and technically correct removal and proper treatment of the debris and other wastes from the banks of Vishwamitri River, its tributaries, wetlands, and ravines. Please do not deliberately misinterpret the Order, which will also amount to the contempt of the Court.
We believe that our city deserves better. It should be an ideal and exemplary “Smart City”, especially in the era of emerging water and climatic crises and uncertainties of the 21st Century. Our city and state can and must help evolve better models of comprehensive planning and specific landscape designs and details for apt and sound development that other cities can take inspiration from. The status quo will only worsen the situation on the ground. It is astonishing and unfortunate that the City, as a collective whole and with the help from and coordination with the State, does not take any substantial, participatory, proactive, and accountable initiatives, year after year!
We feel very distressed to state that your inaction and silence indicates a non-serious attitude, nonchalant behavior, and unscientific approach of the concerned authorities. All the concerned officials in the authorities should be fully responsible for the short-term and long-term consequences on environment, the affected people, their livelihood options, and for the contempt of the Supreme Court Order and National Green Tribunal Orders.
Now, we once again demand that the concerned authorities:
  • Stop all activities inviting flooding and water logging.
  • Immediately devise and implement proactive and sound Action Plans for proper and well-monitored remediation, restoration, and future waste management by adopting proper ways of removal, transporting, storing, sorting, recycling, reusing, and upcycling the debris and other wastes from the river, ravines, ponds, wetlands, and such.
  • Implement the Order, dated 22.02.2017, of the Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors) and Order dated 25.05.2016 of the National Green Tribunal (Western Bench) in Application 49 of 2016 (Rohit Prajapati and Anr V/s Secretary MoEFCC & Ors) in letter and spirit. We have been raising the questions in this regard and we need reliable and verifiable answers now.
  • Immediately implement Order dated 25.05.2021 of the National Green Tribunal in Application O. A. No. 228/2020 (Earlier O. A. No. 49/2016 (WZ)) and Execution Application No. 45/2016 (WZ) (Rohit Prajapati & Anr V/s Secretary, MoEF & CC & Ors.).
  • Implement recent Order of the National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, Delhi, Order, dated 23.02.2023, in Original Application No. 606 of 2018.
  • 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, other built environment professionals - as well as knowledgeable and experienced members of the community at-large, to proactively guide and monitor the remediation of the damage done, nature restoration, and new development initiatives that the government would undertake for improving the quality of the local ecosystems and lives of the citizens of Vadodara.
  • Establish a fully functional, effective, and knowledgeable Urban and Environmental / Ecological Planning Department in the VUDA and VMC that must also include 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.
  • Make detailed, legally, scientifically, technically, and ethically correct 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.
  • Immediately prepare, technically correct, and accurate contour survey, digital elevation models (DEMs), plinth levels, and other physical and biological features, with watershed and sub-watersheds as units within and beyond the entire VMC and VUDA areas and with the advice from relevant experts.
  • Plan and design, in advance and comprehensively (not in piecemeal manner), all physical and infrastructural interventions, including roads and other structures, seriously and scientifically considering the above stated data, and adopting participatory methods.
  • 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 built environment. Cosmetic and ill-advised interventions or projects, implemented in piecemeal and uncoordinated manner only within the VMC or VUDA limits will NOT solve the problems arising from the current, inadequate way of developing the city, but they will exacerbate them further.
  • Set up a recycling and upcycling plant, at the earliest, to treat construction debris and other household waste and convert it into some usable form with their own EIA and public health implications. This will help us to take the necessary steps to move away from the current throughput economy to a new, regenerative economy. No new permissions for reconstruction or renovation of old buildings should be allowed till official permits and protocols for demolition are properly devised as well as fully operational recycling and up-cycling plant is well established.
  • Implement appropriate rainwater harvesting structures as per the macro and micro-level geology-hydrology of the area to harvest the excessive water available while protecting and restoring the natural water bodies and maintaining the e-flow of the river.
  • Make the satellite images of the past and recent floods and other relevant information and data available in the public domain. These should display all areas covering the entire VMC and VUDA that get waterlogged, flooded, and dumped or encroached upon in the entire city. This information must also be updated on a yearly basis and put in the public domain for increasing awareness amongst the people, correcting mistakes, and monitoring.
  • 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 sub-watersheds. Though seemingly difficult, it has been done elsewhere and provides a better model for well-conceived development that honors nature and accommodates human aspirations.
  • As a significant first step, the GPCB, the VMC, and the Collector’s Office together must chart a plan of action for a. before, b. during, and c. after phases of debris and solid waste removal from the ravines and low-lying areas, both at the city and district levels. For this to happen, immediately form a task force comprising of local and field experts and representatives of the concerned authorities. This task force must systematically act towards all three phases, taking into consideration examples and lessons of other cities / places that have explored alternative methods as well as determine Best Practices for all aspects and phases of the work described in this letter. This task force must also conduct one or two pilot projects for the three phases mentioned in this paragraph, before the monsoon rains strike Vadodara. Not doing this much will result in another lost year.
  • Involve us in the process of plan formulation by the VMC hired consultant (SECON) for the Vishwamitri project for our inputs and help make the final project better, more apt for nature and people.
  • Mobilise and commit enough funding to fulfill the above demands / objectives for a better city, care of its natural and cultural assets, and the resulting richer experiential qualities.
  • The presiding officers of the concerned authorities responsible for all the various inactions mentioned earlier should pay compensation, from their personal accounts, in case of any loss of property and / or life due to flooding and / or water logging.
We look forward to your 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 by the citizens. Let us come together and chart a positive future.
We sincerely hope that all the concerned and responsible government authorities that aspire to make Vadodara a “Smart City” will go beyond such labels. Heed to our inputs and demands at the earliest possible. Let us make Vadodara and its eco-region a timeless, healthy, and happy place to live and thrive for all species.
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*Rohit Prajapati, Environment Activist, Researcher, and Writer
Sanjay Soni, Field Expert
Krishnakant, Environment Activist
Neha Sarwate, Environmental and Urban Planner
Deepa Gavali, PhD, Wetland Ecologist
Ranjitsinh Devkar, PhD, Zoologist
Shishir R. Raval, PhD, Landscape Architect and Ecological Planner
Jitendra Gavali, PhD, Botanist
Shakti Bhatt, Water Resources Expert
Arjun Singh Mehta, PhD, Biotechnologist
Jayendra Lakhmapurkar, PhD, Hydro-Geologist
Hitarth Pandya, Educationist and Writer
Rutvik Tank, Civil Engineer, and Urban Planner
Dhara Patel, Landscape Architect and Architect
Dhrumil Kantharia, Landscape Architect
Mrugen Rathod, Visual Artist
Kareena Kochery, Landscape Architect and Architect

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