Maharashtra · Rivers · Urban Water Sector

India Urgently Needs Urban Water Policy: River Front Development Kills the Rivers

In the conference, “Dialogue on Urban Rivers of Maharashtra”, experts on water and rivers from all over the country strongly expressed their views and unanimously agreed that, “Pune River Front Development Project is certainly going to cause a disaster.” The conference also underlined the need for and decided to work for Urban Water Policy for Maharashtra and India.

The conference was jointly organised on 20 and 21st April at YASHADA by Indian National Trust for Art Culture and Heritage (INTACH – Pune Chapter) and South Asian Network for Rivers Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP). Experts from Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and various parts of Maharashtra attended the conference.

The conference was inaugurated at the hands of well-known Environmentalist Prof. Madhav Gadgil and stalwarts like Dr. Rajendra Singh, Member of the Parliament Adv. Vandana Chavan, well known environmental lawyers Adv. Ritwick Dutta from Delhi and Adv. Gayatri Singh from Mumbai, Shri. Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, Mrs. Arti Kirloskar, Shripad Dharmadhikary from Manthan Adhyayan Kendra participated in various discussions.

Architect Bimal Patel of HCP Designs, the organisation that has designed the Pune River Front Project made a presentation on the Sabarmati River Front Development (RFD). Thereafter Mr. Mangesh Dighe, the Environment Officer of Pune Municipal Corp. presented the Pune RFD project in details.

Several factual mistakes and misrepresentations in Sabarmati River Front Development project were pointed out and highlighted by the audience.

Participants at the Pune Dialogue on Urban Rivers of Maharashtra at Yashada on April 20-21, 2018 (Photo by: Mahera Dutta, Mahika Kothawade)

With regards to Pune River project, innumerable questions and objections were raised by the experts regarding Ecological considerations and water quality in the RFD. The experts also specifically pointed out the fate of other projects related to rivers including Metro and roads and the bridges required to be demolished to accommodate Pune RFD. Unfortunately the Environment Officer of PMC failed to answer most of the questions regarding Pune project.

Mr. Bimal Patel, during the course of question and answers session accepted that Sabarmati is NOT an example of River Rejuvenation project, that it did not involve cleaning the river, but only transferring the sewage downstream and channelizing the river with Concrete embankments. He also said that no ecological alternative was considered for Sabarmati RFD project. He further admitted that Sabarmati River, after the RFD project is no more a river with flowing water but a lake with stagnant water, that too sourced from Narmada River. He agreed that Ahmedabad has no right over the Narmada water.

Ecological Society of India gave a presentation on Pune Rivers Rejuvenation through Ecological methodologies, which showed the direction in which work is required for Pune Rivers.

After listening and discussing in details, all the RFD project options, the audience of experts was unanimously against the Pune RFD proposal. The demand from the experts and activists is for an ecosystems approach. The built up engineering type of approach is not advisable for the sustainable benefits of the society and rivers.

As per the newer thoughts globally about urban ecosystems, rivers and streams are considered as green assets that are to be restored and conserved using an ‘ecosystems benefits’ approach. We do not want biodiversity loss, and irreparable damage done to the river ecosystems.

Noted Supreme Court and NGT lawyer Adv Ritwick Dutta presented how the the various NGT and Supreme Court judgments have been dealing with rivers and how there is a huge gap between the judgements and implementation. He said the government is trying to weaken the National Green Tribunal and we all need to work to ensure that this does not happen. He also criticised the tendency of organisations like Centre for Science and Environment to critique NGT judgements, rather than questioning the government, violators and polluters.

Member of Parliament Vandana Chavan speaking at the meeting (Photo by: Mahera Dutta, Mahika Kothawade)

Member of Parliament Vandana Chavan appreciated the organisation of the conference, considering the pathetic state of rivers and suggested that conclusions and presentations may be sent to Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rivers.

One of the key messages of the meeting was the URGENT need for Urban Water Policy with focus on sustenance, conservation and rejuvenation of the urban rivers, including their tributaries and flood plains. This does not necessarily mean going back in times as Bimal Patel suggested, but going forward. The meeting also opposed the concretisation, channelization and encroachment of Urban Rivers and their floodplains.

Presentations were also made on some excellent work being done to mitigate pollution in urban rivers. These included one by Shri Vishwanath on how some lakes in Bangalore are acting as urban domestic wastewater treatment after secondary treatment at Sewage Treatment Plants, the overflow from the lakes flowing into Dakshin Pinakini river. Similarly Manu Bhatnagar from INTACH (Delhi) presented the case study of how INTACH has shown through one month pilot how the Assi River in Varanasi could be cleaned up at  much lower expense than conventional Sewage Treatment Plan (STP) and only through in-stream treatment, without any STP.

Noted Water Expert Rajendra Singh speaking at the Pune meeting on April 21, 2018 (Photo by: Mahera Dutta, Mahika Kothawade)

A number of presentations were about the struggles to save urban rivers, including case studies from Pune, Mumbai, Dhule, Nashik, Delhi and Bangalore.  From Vadodara (Gujarat), Neha Sarvate narrated their experience of movement there which led to the government having had to withdraw the Vishwamitri River Front Development Plan. Shripad Dharmadhikary spoke about how the River Navigation Plan is going to affect the Urban Rivers along various stretches.

The meeting ended with the resolve to continue the struggles to save our urban rivers and work towards  Urban River Policy.

 About INTACH: The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) established in 1984, is founded with the vision to create a membership organization to stimulate and spearheaded heritage awareness and conservation in India. INTACH is recognized as one of the world’s largest heritage organization, with over 180 chapters across the country. The Pune chapter was established in 1986 and has carried out significant projects for the city’s heritage.

About SANDRP: South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP), set up in 1998, is an informal network working on issues related to rivers, communities and large scale water infrastructure like dams: their environmental and social impacts, their performance and issues related to governance of rivers and dams. Its work focuses on networking, awareness generation, dissemination and advocacy.

For further details:

Supriya Goturkar-Mahabaleshwarkar: 9881434410/ intachpune@gmail.com (Coordinator, INTACH PUNE CHAPTER)

Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP: 9968242798/ ht.sandrp@gmail.com

NOTE: For the Press Release issued just before the meeting, see: https://sandrp.in/2018/04/19/pune-dialogue-on-urban-rivers-of-maharashtra-on-april-20-21-2018/

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