Guest Blog by by Nivedita Khandekar
This story from Nag River in Nagpur is second in the series of online stories of urban rivers from across India. Please share your feedback and provide us with suggestions (read more in appendix). If you have any urban river stories or images that you might want to share, please send them to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
With an area of little over 200 sq kms, Nagpur, the geographical centre of India, is a lucky city to have 11 lakes and two rivers within municipal limits. Nag Nadi – which lends its name to the city – is the main river along with the other, Pili Nadi; the two later merge and further join the Kanhan river near the city outskirts.
It has always been believed that the river starts as an outflow from the western weir of Ambazari Lake in west Nagpur. In 1998, a bunch of researchers went to further explore the catchment of the lake and found the actual origin of the river is up north of the lake at a place called Lava, more than 25 kms from this western weir.
From Ambazari lake, the Nag Nadi takes a winding path for approximately 16 kms through the city. It is met by another stream called Pili Nadi, coming from another lake and after crossing the city limits, this common stream merges into the Kanhan river.
About 2-2.5 kms downstream, right at the banks is Saraswati High School (run by South Indian Education Society). Sanjay Tripathi, a school alumni, recalls, “One of our buildings was right parallel to the nalla. All the classes on that side would always get a view of the greenery and the water flowing below. Once every two-three year, there would be flood situation. Once I remember, water actually entered our school premises despite the tall boundary wall.”
It was a team led by Sham Pandharipande and Pradyumn Sahastrabhojani who had reached the origin as part of their ‘Eco-City Foundation’ – not active much now – that was working on the concept of ‘ecological and economically sustainable cities’ and had presented a ‘Nag River Basin Eco Development Project’ to the Nagpur municipal corporation. In the 2000s, the NMC duly escalated it to the Ministry of Environment & Forests then, which in turn sought NEERI’s help, but things never saw the light of the day.
“At that time, only about 30% of Nagpur’s sewage was treated, 70% goes untreated straight into the Nag Nadi. Things have improved just marginally today. Grey water and dark water both go into the Nag Nadi, so concentration of untreated sewage is less, and hence possibly, it does not stink as much,” says Pandharipande.
Further downstream is an area called Ramdaspeth. Sneha Damle says her in-laws had built their current house, right across the road parallel to the nalla, some 40 years ago. “Never once did we have any problem because of the nalla,” she informs.
The winding Nag Nadi reeks of stench first time when it crosses Buldi, a commercial hub and the veritable city centre with dense population. Here along with sewage, there is also increased quantum of municipal solid waste, debris just pushed onto the riverside and of course, any and every kind of material that can be dumped into it.
Right on the city boundary is the sewage treatment plant (STP), awfully short of capacity and efficiency. Environmental experts have advocated smaller capacity de-centralised STPs but the government agencies have not been paying heed to it. The municipal corporation did spend lot of money on two things over last two-three years – de-silting using machines ahead of monsoon and beatification of the river front at the origin (near Ambazari lake) and plan to take similar steps at other prominent places.
‘People connect’ with the river is missing except for those who stay right on its banks. But for them too, this is more of a channel to carry waste than anything else. Even the demography at the temples at the sangam has changed and comprises more of a daily wages class or low-income group households, not that would have mattered if richer class were to be visiting the temple.
The Times of India with NMC had carried out a ‘Save Nag River’ campaign about three years ago. With the incentive of their photos being carried by the newspaper, scores of people had joined in cleaning the river sides. Campaign ended, people stopped going to the river, again.
By the time the river leaves the city twisting and turning, it carries a heavy load of sewage and silt, if not unbearable but nevertheless stench and floating/ suspended garbage too. Further downstream, it meets the Pili Nadi, together the main channel merges with the Kanhan.
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As part of the India Rivers Day 2017 event, we held an exhibition based on this year’s theme – ‘Rivers in the Urban Context’. Responding to our call for entries, many individuals and organisations shared urban river stories/documentation from across India, making it a lively and diverse collection.
However, a concern shared by the organising committee and many of our visitors, has been the limited distribution of these important and insightful river stories if restricted only to the physical form of the exhibition. It is in this context that we’re starting a series of blogs where we will share these various river stories, though the experience of the exhibition can only be justified when visited in personal capacity.
If all goes well, we will soon announce dates for the exhibition to be open in more venues across Delhi and other cities too. If you want to or can help us taking this exhibition to a local venue near you, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.