Godavari is the second longest river in India after the river Ganges. It is popularly known as “Dakshin Ganga”. It originates at Bramhagiri hills in Tryambakeshwar of Nashik District in Maharashtra. 13 KM stretch of the river flows through Nashik City. About 1.25 KM of this stretch is of religious significance. Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage in which millions of pilgrims gather on banks of Godawari in Nashik city to bathe in a sacred river. It is one of the world’s largest religious gatherings which happens every 12 years. Next Kumbh Mela is scheduled in JulySeptember 2015. About 1 crore pilgrims are expected to arrive[i].
The river that has a high cultural and religious significance has been routinely used as a dumping ground for city’s sewage and industrial effluent. There are around 20 locations where sewage and industrial effluent from 2 industrial estates is directly discharged into the river which have rendered the river water unfit for drinking and domestic use[ii].
A petition has been filed in the high court by few activists from the city against Nashik Municipal Corporation (NMC), Municipal Commissioner, Government of India (GoI), Government of Maharashtra (GoM), and Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) for failure on their part to clean the pollution of the river[iii]. The court has acknowledged that the major factor contributing to the pollution is the human factor and that various religious and other activities are contributing to the pollution of the river for years. Court has appointed the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) for formulating a comprehensive action plan for the purposes of cleaning of the River Godavari and proper maintenance of the river. Considering the forthcoming Kumbh Mela in July-September 2015, the Court has directed NEERI to submit an action plan to tackle with Kumbh Mela. The court has also appointed a committee to examine the action taken by all the concerned Authorities as regards the implementation of the recommendations in the first two reports submitted by NEERI and the directions contained in the court order.
While NEERI has submitted the two reports about cleaning of Godavari and plans for Green Kumbh are being heavily discussed, NMC has undertaken projects which are in stark contradiction with the court order.
Concretization of river bank in the name of ‘Goda Park’
As SANDRP had highlighted in its article on Riverfront Development projects in India (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/riverfront-development-in-india-cosmetic-make-up-on-deep-wounds/), NMC has taken up ‘Goda Park’ a riverfront project on Godavari flowing through municipal limits[iv]. Earliest version of Goda Park was implemented some 4 to 5 years back and consisted of a 2.5 KM walkway along the river. This project has been a failure on multiple grounds. The stretch of the walkway lined up with paved concrete blocks is severely underutilized as a result of less dense population. The walkway has also become a platform for host of illegal activities. “Citizens are facing safety issues as a result of these activities” says Mrs. Prajakta Baste, principal of College of Architecture Nashik. The walkway falls within the flood line. During monsoon it is completely under water. As a result it has been damaged at several places. Pipelines that discharge untreated sewage in Godavari run from bellow the walkway resulting in stench and filth.
While the earlier version of Goda Park has failed, the project has been revived this year with a fresh blue print. As experts and activists say it has been a dream project of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray and MNS ruled NMC has resolved to materialize it. The 13.5 km long project (on both the banks making it 26KM in total) will be developed from Ahilyadevi bridge to Gangapurgaon, having facility of laser shows, musical fountains, rope-way, multi-purpose meeting hall, garden, place for exercise including yoga, water sports and plantation of herbal plants and a canteen. Due to lack of adequate funds with NMC the project has been handed over to Reliance India Foundation (RIF) for execution[v]. Apart from small coverage in print media, no information about the project is available in the public domain.
Not many people are aware that work for first 500 m stretch of Goda Park on left bank at Anandwalli has already been taken up by RIF and is in progress. This stretch includes Gym (Phase I: 60m x 18m, Phase II: 45m x 18m) and garden. The project is problematic on many fronts.
Constructions proposed within the blue line: Flood lines along Godavari in Nashik city have been re-demarcated after the city faced heavy downpour on 28th August 2008 and houses & buildings constructed within 125 to 200m from the river channel were under water for upto 10 to 15 hours[vi]. These newly defined lines which according to local people have been already tampered with and brought closer to the river channel so as to facilitate the real estate development are completely violated by the project.
The circular dated 21st September, 1989 issued by the Assistant Secretary, Irrigation Department; Government of Maharashtra prohibits any construction within blue line due to possibility of floods any time[vii]. The project readily violates this norm proposing structures for gym phase I & II within the blue line. The project thus is an illegal encroachment on the river bank. The project talks about several such features including multi-purpose meeting hall, restaurants, yoga centre, recreational centres etc.
Goda Park set to destroy the riparian zone: Riparian areas which are naturally vegetated lands along rivers and streams act as natural filters of nonpoint source pollutants, including sediment, nutrients, pathogens, and metals. It is important to preserve the riparian areas because these areas can play a significant role in managing adverse water quality impacts. These areas also act as buffers during floods and play an important role in flood absorption.
Riparian vegetation of full 18 M width of river bank has been cleared for length of 500 M for construction of gym and landscaped garden. Concretization of the cleared patch is in progress. Deputy Engineer from Construction Department of NMC Mr. Rajput said that stretch of 18 to 30M width will be ‘developed’ for entire 13 KM on both the banks. Goda Park is thus set to destroy the riparian area along the entire river. River has been fighting poor water quality and destruction of the riparian vegetation will only worsen the case.
Addressing water quality issues is not a part of the project: The city has around 20 locations where untreated sewage is discharged directly into the river. And shockingly one such discharge point is located barely 200 m from raw water sourcing location. NMC has not taken any action against this and has continued lifting this contaminated water.
At certain locations along the river water quality is in poorest condition. Godavari River has been designated as an A2 class river which means that the river is a source of drinking water. Water quality standards prescribed by CPCB for the A2 class river state that the permissible limit for Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) is 2mg/l or less. In reality at certain locations along the river BOD is as high as 51mg/l. Similarly Dissolved Oxygen (DO) at certain locations is as low as zero to 3.5mg/l when the water quality standards demand it to be 6 mg/l or more[viii]. The high value of COD is indicator of pollution due to discharge of domestic and industrial effluent in the river water.
Cleaning up the river and restoring its water quality which is the prime need has gone unaddressed in Goda Park. While the project plan talks about several urban features; it does not talk of treatment of sewage. Petitioners of the ongoing PIL regarding the degraded water quality of the river are disappointed with the Goda Park. Activist Rajesh Pandit, one of the petitioners expresses his concern over the project saying “Godavari River is like our mother who is in ill health and is in intensive care unit (ICU). Instead of treating her and getting her out of ICU, NMC is trying to put some make up and beautify her. That is definitely not what she needs right now!” The group of petitioners has also corresponded with NEERI to obtain their views about the project. The reply is awaited.
Goda Park is in violation of the court order: The order issued by the High Court essentially directs the NMC to restore the health of the river back to the water quality standards prescribed for A2 Class River. The project will only cause further damage to the river and is far from compliance with the orders issued by High Court for rejuvenation of Godavari River. The petitioners in fact highlight the fact that implementing any project which causes damage to river is a punishable offence as per Indian Penal Code Section 431.
NMC ignorant of the impacts: Mr. Vanjari of Environment Department of NMC when contacted to discuss the environmental impacts of Goda Park project told SANDRP that he does not have any information about the project. It is shocking that the environment department does not have any information of a project that is set to alter character of 26KM bank of the river. Dy Engineer of Construction Department Mr. Rajput when contacted for discussing the environmental impact of the project was of opinion that the project causes no damage to the river and is very much in line with the court order. When asked if there has been any study to assess the impact of the project on ecology of the river the answer was negative and Dy Engineer was also of opinion that there was no need for such a study. He also said that the stretch which is being developed is under flood water only once or twice a year and thus it is not much of a problem.
This only shows that NMC is completely ignorant about the impact of the project and does not realize the seriousness of the issue.
While recommendations by NEERI are being discussed and debated with no concrete action taken as of now, Goda Park has been expedited both by NMC and RIF. There are several other grounds on which the project is unjust. The fertile and ecologically important land on the river banks has been handed over to a corporate without public consent. Both NMC and RIF have taken the public for granted. The citizens are being misled with promise of riverfront development on lines of Sabarmati. Public at large is unaware of these issues. Profit making by a corporation at the cost of natural resource stands clearly unjustified.
[ii] As told by local people
[iii] Bombay High Court order issued on 07/03/2014 for PIl-176.12
[vi] “Analysis and Mapping of Flood Line in Godavari River Basin within the Nasik Municipal Corporation Area” published in International Journal of Research in Social Sciences Volume 2- Issue 2 (ISSN: 2249-2496)
[vii] Bombay High Court order issues on 07/03/2014 for PIl-176.12
[viii] “Water Quality Assessment of Godavari River at Nashik, India: Impact of Sewage and Industrial Wastewater” Published in Universal Journal of Environmental Research and Technology 2013 Volume 3, Issue 4: 452- 457