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Why is Rs 5500 crore Pune Riverfront Development Project facing backlash

By Aneesh Parnerkar, Bhavi Lunawat, Jaisila Menon* 

The rivers of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad face a critical moment, challenged by ambitious development projects, uncontrolled sewage, and dam-based water management constraints. 
Citizens are uniting in diverse protests, from Chipko-style demonstrations to online campaigns, with a clear message: balance development with preservation. This is not a call against progress but for responsible, sustainable development that respects the rivers – the lifelines of our cities.

Mula-Mutha Riverfront Development Project

For generations, rivers have been integral to the identity of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. Now, a monumental decision looms with a Rs. 5,500 crore Riverfront Development Project along the Mula, Mutha, and Mula-Mutha rivers.
According to the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) website, urbanisation and the discharge of untreated sewage water stand out as the primary contributors to the degradation of these rivers. Moreover, it claims that private properties along the riverbanks have made them “inaccessible” to the public. 
In response, the PMC has proposed the Riverfront Development Project with a budget of Rs. 5,500 crores to clean the rivers, retain and replenish water, and build embankments along the banks. However, these embankments have sparked a significant backlash from residents.
The PMC argues that riverfront development will mitigate flooding, and improve accessibility and connectivity to the rivers. The project also plans to incorporate an interceptor sewer line to redirect sewage to treatment plants. 
Despite these intentions, the removal of over 6,000 trees, including more than 300 native species, has drawn strong opposition from politicians and citizens alike. The 44-kilometre concretization stretch also threatens the Dr Salim Ali Biodiversity Park, a bird sanctuary home to around 150 bird species, including migratory and endemic species.
Ecologists warn that the project will disrupt critical riverine ecosystems, including small islands, pools, rapids, aquatic vegetation, and muddy banks. Citizens also doubt whether the proposed embankments will effectively prevent sewage from entering the rivers. 
Opposition has manifested in various forms, from Chipko-style protests to online campaigns. In April 2023, a large-scale march from Sambhaji Garden to the Mutha riverbed near Garware Bridge saw over 2,000 residents and environmental experts voicing strong opposition to the riverfront development.

Sewage and industrial waste

Sewage and industrial waste are major contributors to the riverine problems in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. The root causes are inadequate sewage treatment plants (STPs) and excessive water consumption. Reports indicate that Pune exemplifies “overconsumption,” with the Municipal Corporation supplying water sufficient for the projected population of 2050.
To address the inefficiencies of the current STPs, the PMC and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) proposed building 11 new STPs with an additional capacity of 396 million litres per day by January 2022. However, progress has been slow, with only eight new plants currently being set up.
Despite the fact that there may be hope for a better future with the new STPs, the enormous volume of untreated sewage that enters Pune’s rivers every day has already had a severe negative impact on the health of the water bodies. 
The main consequence is low dissolved oxygen due to organic pollution, making the water toxic for humans — particularly farmers and fishermen downstream — and the ecosystems that depend on it, including birds and aquatic life. According to experts, this dirty water is contributing to a rise in cancer cases as well as health issues such as kidney stones, stomach pain, and skin diseases in the city.
An obvious consequence of this has been a lack of potable water from Pune’s rivers. One farmer recalls that the water that was once clean enough to drink straight from the source “has become so harmful that they cannot even step into it”. 
However, perhaps the biggest cause for concern is the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in these rivers during recent studies. Urgent measures are needed to address sewage and industrial waste, as the city’s rivers continue to bear the brunt of urban neglect.


Dams, envisioned as a long-term remedy for water scarcity and electricity needs, form a crucial part of Pune’s water management infrastructure, particularly concerning the Mula-Mutha River. Despite their intended roles—continuous water supply, irrigation aid, improved flood control, inland navigation, sedimentation control, and hydro-electric power generation — these dams have fallen short in the context of Pune’s needs.
The PMC asserts a collective dam capacity of 30,000 million cubic feet, encompassing Khadakwasla Dam, Temghar Dam, Panshet Dam, and Varasgaon Dam. On paper, this capacity should alleviate water scarcity and enable effective flood control. However, Pune grapples with both issues, leading the PMC to implement a weekly water cut as a strategic response to scarcity.
Dams, designed primarily for water storage, encounter challenges over time, such as sediment formation impacting water quantity. Flash floods during monsoons and spillage from the Khadakwasla dam, particularly during heavy rainfall, contribute to downstream flooding of the Mula-Mutha River. The city contends with 127 flood-prone areas today, including Shantinagar, Indiranagar, and Sadalbaba Durga areas in Yerawada, Kalas, and more. Despite multiple dam constructions, Pune continues to grapple with persistent flooding and water scarcity issues, underscoring the need for comprehensive reevaluation and sustainable solutions.

A call to action

In the delicate balance between progress and preservation, the fate of Pune’s rivers remains uncertain. Change is inevitable, but the city’s natural heritage, reflecting the concerns of its citizens, must not be lost. The future requires a careful mix of development and conservation, ensuring that rivers thrive and the city prospers without sacrificing its ecological integrity.
*UG2 Students of Environmental Studies Program, FLAME University, Pune 



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