Urban Rivers

Urban Rivers 2022: Top Ten Positive Stories from India

(Feature Image: WATERMARK: An 1810 painting by J. Hammer of the Hooghly at Serampore/ Source, The Telegraph)

The plight of urban rivers in India has been going from bad to worse courtesy systematic neglect and unplanned development projects. On the one hand they are being increasingly deprived of freshwater flows by diverting water for domestic supplies and on the other have been turned into dumping place for mostly untreated solid and liquid waste in massive amounts from residential areas as well as industrial pockets. Nevertheless, there are some remarkable efforts being undertaken by individuals, organizations, government departments aiming at restoration of urban rivers at some places across the country. This compilation highlights top ten such positive urban river stories taking place during past one year. 

1. Pune Exploring alternatives to Sabarmati Model  Like the majority of rivers in India, Mula and Mutha rivers are severely polluted, vulnerable waterbodies. These rivers are burdened further as they are set to host a riverfront along the lines of the Sabarmati riverfront project, which itself has attracted severe criticism.  https://www.epw.in/journal/2021/2/commentary/riverfront-development-mula%E2%80%93mutha.html  (18 Jan. 2021)

Breathing life into the dying rivers India Water Portal interviews Shailja Deshpande, Director of Jeevitnadi to know about how Jeevitnadi was founded, its journey over the years and the future directions. The organization continues with its mission to breathe life into Pune’s rivers and has been awarded the prestigious Bhagirath Prayas Samman 2020!

Cleaning the banks of the river Mutha (Image Source: Jeevitnadi/IWP)

Urban rivers have so far been looked at dumping ground or area to be encroached. The focus always has been on harnessing urban rivers and their spaces for gains without consideration for the health and wellbeing of the river. We wish to change this perception and help rivers be naturally flowing, clean and safe for generations to come! https://www.indiawaterportal.org/article/breathing-life-dying-rivers-pune  (25 Jan. 2021)

Giving life back to life-giving Mula-Mutha The intention of the river rejuvenation programme must be to improve the health of the river as a natural entity. A healthy riverine ecosystem requires that its natural processes, flow regimes, and biodiversity be retained.

CEE and the Ecological Society conducted a scientific study of the Mula-Mutha river to develop an approach for restoration of the river ecosystem. A summary of the key recommendations are presented here. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/pune-news/civic-sanskriti-giving-life-back-to-pune-s-life-giving-mula-mutha-river-101620732867822.html  (11 May 2021)

Over 60 freshwater invertebrate species identified Researchers have identified 64 species of freshwater invertebrate organisms along Mutha river at Vitthalwadi and 70 species at Mula-Ram confluence. The study has been conducted by Biologia Life Science, Pune-based NGO Jeevitnadi Living River Foundation, and Modern College of Arts, Commerce and Science. The group collected samples from rock pools and wetlands found along these river banks during their field study between November 2020 and January 2021. The group now plans to expand the study during the monsoon 2021.

Despite high levels of pollution and rampant sand mining at these sites along with threat to habitat destruction, researchers argue that the 1 km stretch each of Mutha river at Vitthalwadi and Mula-Ram confluence near Aundh-Baner Link Road, have rich biodiversity. The foundation has adopted these stretches, where it conducts weekly cleaning activities along with local residents.

With the PMC now speeding up river front development and beautification plans along these rivers, researchers said there was a need to undertake dedicated field studies, which will not only help document all life forms but also act as a guide while planning conservation. They added that any disturbance to natural habitat will wipe out the existence of even smaller living organisms from the region. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/pune/over-60-freshwater-invertebrate-species-identified-in-mula-mutha-rivers-7392145/  (07 July 2021) https://www.indiawaterportal.org/article/urban-waterbodies-treasure-troves-biodiversity  (25 June 2021)

2. Bengaluru Paani Unravel what is behind the waters Nirmala Gowda has co-founded Paani Earth with two colleagues – Nidhi Paliwal and Madhuri Mandava. It is a citizen river research organization in Bengaluru whose mission is: ‘To empower citizens with data, information and analysis that can save rivers’. The focus is rivers of Cauvery Basin, starting with Arkavathi river, that flows past India’s silicon valley. On March 18, 2022 they released the Arkavathi River Basin Map. This map is a culmination of 8 months of effort highlighting the story of Arkavathi River. http://paani.earth/

The objective is to bring perspective on the use and abuse of rivers. Waste flows in natural river corridors without exception and water in man-made pipelines.  Both devoid of life, flow in opposite directions. The situation is especially stark for the rivers passing through the district: Vrishabhavathi, Arkavathi, Dakshina Pinakini, Chinnar and, Suvarnamukhi, as they are already converted into drains. Cauvery, the current drinking water source, is not spared either. Heavily polluted and altered, the river is in a dire state. Mostly forgotten in all this chaos, is wildlife. They need water just like us.  https://paani.earth/regions/rivers_of_bengaluru/ 

Citizen Matters organized panel discussion to explore the current state of the rivers, kaluves and lakes of Bengaluru, as well as their inter-linkages. The panel discusses initiatives, and plans in the air along with the role of civic groups in finding a way forward for the future. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FseL9SL2xc  (08 May 2022) Bengaluru city makes up only 6% of the Arkavathy river basin area, but is a major contributor to the river’s pollution. Similar is the case with Vrushabhavathi river. Wastewater from industrial areas like Peenya, along with domestic sewage, is choking these rivers. https://bengaluru.citizenmatters.in/bengaluru-rivers-cauvery-arkavathy-vrushabhavathi-water-pollution-drying-80002  (10 May 2022)

Residents catch tanker illegally dumping effluents into Vrishabhavati Citizens setup night vigils to catch then in action. The most recent one took place the night of April 3, 2022 near the gate of Provident Sunworth marketing office. The citizens stood watch and alerted Kumbalgodu police when a 20,000 litre capacity Bharat Petroleum tanker pulled up next to the river to dump. The police rushed to the spot within minutes, by which time the truck had dumped, and seized the tanker.  https://arkavathiriver.blogspot.com/2021/04/good-earth-residents-catch-bharat.html  (10 April 2021)

Following a meeting of stakeholders on April 9 2022, the Kumbalagodu Grama Panchayat served eviction notices to 11 small industrial units on the banks of the Vrishabhavathi river valley in Kambipura and Anchepalya, near Kengeri. These units are mainly into garbage segregation and recycling, smelting and dyeing. They allegedly dump waste in the river and also set some of it on fire on its banks.

They alleged that untreated chemical waste is being dumped in the river, leaving an unbearable stench, all night. “This contaminates local aquifers feeding the local population. Farmers downstream use the contaminated water to produce vegetables, which find their way back to our plates,” the statement said. Residents have been running from pillar to post for over two years with their problems. “We have approached the Lokayukta, police and even the NGT. Till date, we have been able to shut down only one unit,” Mr. Kumar said. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/grama-panchayat-serves-eviction-notices-to-units-polluting-vrishabhavathi/article34284200.ece  (10 April 2021)

Illegal dumping of untreated and hazardous industrial waste into Vrishabhavati river and its tributary channels, mostly at night, camouflaged as water tankers, is a pervasive malpractice going on for decades. As a result, Vrishabhavathi flows as Vishabhavathi (i.e Visha means poison) with unimaginable industrial toxicity. https://arkavathiriver.blogspot.com/2021/06/vrishabhavati-river-is-free-for-all-to.html?m=1  (29 June 2021)

3. Delhi Proposal for solid waste processing plant on floodplains rejected The EDMC (East Delhi Municipal Corp) had sought approval to set up the solid waste processing and disposal facility on around 31 acres at Ghonda Gujran in East Delhi, which was rejected by the Principal Committee constituted on the orders of the NGT to monitor the rejuvenation of the Yamuna. It has recommended that the EDMC look for other ways to manage waste, and the land that was to be used for the waste processing facility may be retrieved for the riverfront development project being implemented by the DDA.

Experts on the committee found the proposal to be unviable. As per the minutes of the committee’s meeting held in Jan 2022, Professor C R Babu of the Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems said, “it will be suicidal to allow solid waste management facility on active floodplain of river Yamuna in Delhi, where the river is already highly fragile.” He told the committee the proposed site is in the active floodplain and is surrounded by water bodies. If the project is implemented, “it shall lead to much more degradation of the ecology and environment, and shall pollute the river and groundwater, in terms of sedimentation load and other factors,” as per the minutes.

Floodplain at Ghonda Gujran where EDMC had proposed solid waste processing plant going under floodwater in Aug. 2019. (Image Bhim Singh Rawat/SANDRP) 

A K Gosain, Professor Emeritus, IIT-Delhi, also told the committee that, during the site visit, it was noticed that “huge plantation activities as a part of compensatory plantation are being carried out in the floodplain area of the river. Also, such dense large tree plantation is not recommended in active floodplains as it will convert it to mono-culture dense forests. This shall also cause obstruction to the flow of the river. Therefore, the Delhi government should be directed that such compensatory activities be prevented in the floodplain and if required, be only carried out in the outermost area of it, where floodwater reaches only in 1 in 50 years or so.” The panel has also directed the PWD to submit details of the proposed project for an elevated road on the floodplains from Wazirabad to the DND flyway. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/east-mcd-setback-proposal-solid-waste-processing-plant-yamuna-floodplains-rejected-7780615/  (19 Feb. 2022)

4. Noida Authority demolishes farmhouses on floodplains The NGT, in a May 20, 2013 order, had directed the Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana governments to clear all concrete structures built illegally on notified no-development zones on the NCR floodplains.

According to an old UP government survey, there were 319 illegal farmhouses occupying 124 hectares of the Yamuna floodplains in Noida till 2012. After that, several more illegal structures came up in the area. In 2018, the authority’s survey showed there were at least 1,000 farmhouses on the floodplain in violation of rules. Then Uttar Pradesh solid waste management monitoring committee chairman justice DP Singh had on June 12, 2019 directed the Uttar Pradesh Irrigation department and the Noida authority to demolish all illegal houses and define the flood zone where no construction is allowed.

On March 24, farmers of Nagli Nagla village located along the Yamuna river threatened to sit on a fast unto death outside the Gautam Budh Nagar district magistrate’s office to protest against the authorities for failing to stop the land mafia from constructing buildings on the Yamuna floodplains. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/noida-news/noida-authority-demolishes-farmhouses-on-yamuna-floodplains-101648840513862.html  (02 April 2022)

More than 60 farmhouses were demolished by Noida Authority along the Yamuna floodplains Wednesday (Jun 2, 2022). As per officials, 55 farmhouses situated at Tilwada and 7 structures at Gulavali were brought down by the Authority as part of the anti-encroachment drive. The houses were built on the river bed area. The Authority freed nearly 1.2 lakh sq metre area in Tilwada village while action was taken on 5,000 sq metre area in Gulavali village. The Authority has been specifically focusing on houses and colonies built on the river bed since they are in direct violation of environmental norms. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/over-60-farmhouses-along-yamuna-floodplains-demolished-noida-authority-7949585/  (3 June 2022)

Around 15 farmhouses and structures built along the Yamuna floodplains in Noida’s Sector 135 were demolished in the ongoing anti-encroachment drive by the Noida Authority. Officials said there will be sustained anti-encroachment drives, especially in Yamuna floodplain zone, over the next few weeks. On June 1, an anti-encroachment drive was carried out by Noida Authority razing farmhouses in Tilwada village, Sector-150.

As per the Uttar Pradesh Industrial Development Act, 1976, any construction in floodplain zone is illegal and impermissible under law, and Noida Authority has warned against the rapid construction in the area, adding that such structures will be demolished and legal action can be initiated against the builder/developer. In an order passed in May 2013, the NGT put a restrain on illegal and unauthorised construction on the floodplain zone of river Yamuna in the NCT of Delhi, State of Haryana and State of Uttar Pradesh.  https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/demolition-picks-up-at-farmhouses-built-on-yamuna-floodplains-7959743/  (09 June 2022)

5. Mangalore Lokayukta directs authorities to prevent pollution of Phalguni by Refinery Initiating suo moto proceedings following a story titled “Oily discharge from Mangaluru Refinery Polluting Water Bodies” on October 1, 2021, the Karnataka Lokayukta directed the authorities concerned to take immediate steps to prevent discharge of effluents by the Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited to the water bodies.

Mentioning the TNIE’s story which highlighted the discharge of blackish oily water into stormwater by the Mangaluru Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited (MRPL), which resulted in flowing of contaminated water into the Thokur stream and River Phalguni, leading to massive protest by local people unable to use water, Justice Shetty noted that story highlights that the problem is being aced by the local people for about last six years. https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2021/oct/04/tnie-impact-lokayukta-directs-authorities-to-prevent-water-pollution-by-mangalore-refinery-2367497.html  (04 Oct. 2021)

A water body polluted by oily discharge released from MRPL at Thokur in Mangaluru (TNIE)

Locals complain that they have been seeing blackish water flowing into the Thokur stream since the last one week. The Nagarika Horata Samiti, a committee formed by locals to take up community issues, complained to MRPL officials about the problems they are facing due to discharge of brackish water.  However, contaminated water continues to flow into the Thokur stream and River Phalguni. Locals pointed out that the problem had cropped up about six years ago when petrochemical waste water was let into storm water drains. However, back then, immediate action was taken after a massive protest.. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/karnataka/2021/oct/01/oily-discharge-from-mangaluru-refinery-polluting-water-bodies-2366046.html  (01 Oct. 2021)

6. Volunteers net 14 tonnes of garbage from Netravati banks A group of 150 volunteers has scooped up nearly 14 tonnes of garbage after cleaning the banks of river Netravati. The river cleaning drive near Netravati bridge was initiated by Hasiru Dala and Anti Pollution Drive Foundation (APDF), in association with various organisations, last Sunday (March 7), the first day of the campaign.

“Despite repeated appeals by the civic authorities and installing fencing to prevent waste dumping, people continue to throw waste near the river. This is harmful to the ecology and pollutes Netravati, which is a lifeline for the region,” said Abdullah A. Rehman, founder and CEO of APD Foundation. Since waste collected on March 1, 2021 forms only 10% of the actual garbage around the river, Hasiru Dala and APDF have decided to continue the drive every Sunday. It is estimated that currently the riversides are littered with over 200 tonnes of waste. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mangaluru/mangaluru-volunteers-net-14-tonnes-of-garbage-from-netravati-river/articleshow/81373155.cms  (07 March 2021)

7. Jammu Youth trying to save Tawi river Aditya Khajuria, a young climate change activist, along with few other environmentalists, visits the banks of river Tawi in Jammu every Sunday to pick up litter. But when they return a week later, disappointment awaits — garbage, sometimes 10 times the previous week’s volume, has piled up once again along the river. For the past 24 weeks, they have looked past this disappointment and cleaned the river banks with unwavering enthusiasm, as part of Friends of River Tawi movement.

Friends of River Tawi volunteers cleaning up river banks. Image Source: Down To Earth

Kamran, a forestry graduate and volunteer told Down to Earth that they found every kind of trash in the river from medicines to plastics. Recently, the volunteers found a huge amount of biomedical waste in Tawi and informed Jammu and Kashmir Pollution Control Board (JKPCB). The information elicited no action, the volunteers shared. Cleaning this hazardous waste manually poses a huge risk for the young environmentalists but with the lack of efforts by the authorities, they are left with no choice. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/waste/jammu-s-youth-are-trying-to-save-river-tawi-but-they-need-support-75851  (09 March 2021)

8. Tiruvallur Saving Cooum: a citizen’s ambition K. Mugundhan’s an ITES professional aim is to save the unpolluted stretches of the river as it meanders through Tiruvallur district before entering Chennai and flowing into its most polluted stretch. He shares a special bond with the river that flows behind his house at Anaikattucherry, a village near Pattabiram, where he played and caught fish in his childhood. But his worries started with the slow destruction of the river because of sand mining and pollution.

Mr. Mugundhan’s first attempt to protect the river started five years ago when a local body in Thirumazhisai decided to lay a pipeline to let treated sewage into the clean portion. “This part of the river is healthy, and several families depend on the Cooum for drinking water and agriculture. We fought to divert the pipeline to the polluted stretch downstream near Thiruverkadu,” he said. But his fight continues as several individuals continue to litter the Cooum and try to release sewage.

K. Mugundhan wants to clean the river and save its unpolluted stretches. Image Source: The Hindu

He started the Unpolluted Cooum River Protection Committee and campaigned through social media to ‘Save unpolluted part of Cooum’, and more recently ‘Let’s drink from Cooum’ to create awareness among people in other parts of the city. “A walk along the river bank for me is like returning to my grandmother’s unconditional love. Our ties with waterbodies have been cut off. I wanted to pass on this joy to children and help them build a healthy relationship with the river,” he said. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/saving-cooum-a-citizens-ambition/article33584420.ece  (16 Jan. 2021)

9. Ludhiana Buddha Nullah cleaning project based on faulty report: MLA Gurpreet Gogi said that the ₹650-crore Buddha Nullah rejuvenation project will prove to be a waste of public money as it based on a faulty report. Gogi took up the matter during a meeting called by Member of Parliament (MP) Ravneet Singh Bittu to review projects under the Smart City Mission on May 2, 2022.

The MLA said the project is based on a report tabled by Punjab Water Supply and Sewerage Board in 2019, which states that 519 MLD waste flows through the Nullah on a daily basis. Just a few months after the report was submitted, a report by IIT, Roorkee, had stated that 874 MLD waste flows through Buddha Nullah on a daily basis. Another report recently submitted by the irrigation department of Ludhiana also found that 801 MLD waste flows through the drain every day.

He said, “The MC should either ascertain the quantity of waste flowing through the Nullah on its own or hire a third party to do so. The Buddha Nullah rejuvenation project should be put on hold until then.” As per MC officials, the STPs in the city currently have the capacity to treat 735 MLD waste on a daily basis. The project to clean the Nullah had commenced last year with a deadline of Dec 2022. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/chandigarh-news/buddha-nullah-cleaning-project-based-on-faulty-report-will-lead-to-loss-of-public-money-mla-gurpreet-gogi-101651521095484.html  (03 May 2022)

10. Chennai Story of Adyar – River Pollution & Floods The Story of Adyar is documenting the difficulties faced by the local communities of fishermen living next to the river. They are being encroached by building sites and skyscrapers while the bad sewage management threatens their livelihood by destroying the ecosystem of the river. In the same locations, where they used to catch a variety of fish in the past, they are now struggling to survive in between plastic bottles and waste.

Several interviews with the community, experts, and environmentalists draw a picture of the causes for the depletion of the river Adyar. Badly planned city development has not only left the river a public health risk but also increased the occurrence of floods that affect the whole urban area of Chennai. The documentary includes footage from the calamity that struck the capital of Tamil Nadu in 2015 – the Chennai floods. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbcdFQ7iypQ&t=56s  (24 Nov. 2021)

Other Relevant Reports

Delhi Study finds over 9,000 households live on floodplains A report on the floodplains launched on Thursday (March 03) – Bottom-Up Mapping of the Yamuna – revealed that as many as 56 bastis, with about 9,350 households, and roughly 46,750 people, are on the floodplains, Zone O in the city’s master plan, the report found. Of the total number of households, a little more than half, that is, 4,835 households, practise farming as a livelihood, while others rely on daily wage work, fishing, nurseries, and animal herding, according to the report, prepared by Social Design Collaborative, members of the Main Bhi Dilli campaign, and Basti Suraksha Manch.

The mapping exercise considered one basti as having 15 or more houses, with five people as the average size of a household. A door-to-door survey was not conducted, and a 10% margin of error would have to be factored in, noted the presentation made at the online launch of the report. The presentation added that the 56 bastis do not feature in the list of JJ clusters in the city. The average size of the bastis on the floodplains is 153 households. The report also marks the evictions that have taken place along the floodplains, including continuing ones for the Delhi Development Authority’s Yamuna floodplain ‘restoration’ project.

The study makes recommendations including that of integrating the riverfront development project with farming, making farming viable by providing welfare schemes to farmers along with training for organic farming, and rehabilitation if eviction must be resorted to. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/study-9-000-households-live-on-yamuna-floodplains-7800022/  (04 March 2022)

Mumbai River Jalparni Mukta Abhiyan 2021 SJT The Saguna Jalsanvardhan Tantra, popularly known as SJT, is a water body rejuvenation and conservation technique, developed under the immaculate guidance and supervision of Mr. Chandrashekhar Bhadsavle at Saguna Baugh of the Saguna Rural Foundation, Neral. The SJT technique involves the usage of general purpose systemic weedicide on the target weeds, such as water hyacinth (Eicchornia crassipes) and water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes), for cleansing the weeds out of the water body, following which the removal of the dead weed is done.

The polluted portion of the water is then treated with the help of useful microbes, an appropriate combination of fish species and ecologically beneficial plants such as lotus to manage the soluble pollutants in the water body, ensure optimum oxygenation of the water, and maintain the natural beauty of the water body. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3GOZTGlc-I  (27 Aug. 2021)

Kolkata River. Giver. Thine An exhibition to capture the wealth of River Hooghly’s heritage. https://www.telegraphindia.com/culture/the-telegraph-reports-on-an-exhibition-to-capture-the-wealth-of-river-hooghlys-heritage/cid/1848746  (23 Jan. 2022)

Report Urban Floods: Sooner or later, water always wins by Erica Gies. After epic floods in India, South Africa, Germany, New York and Canada killed hundreds in the past year, droughts are now parching landscapes and wilting crops across the western US, the Horn of Africa and Iraq. The responses have included calls for higher levees, bigger drains and longer aqueducts. But these concrete interventions aimed at controlling water are failing. Climate extremes are revealing a hard truth: our development choices – urban sprawl, industrial agriculture and even the concrete infrastructure designed to control water – are exacerbating our problems. Because sooner or later, water always wins. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/07/slow-water-urban-floods-drought-china-sponge-cities  (07 June 2022)

Opinion Let’s make room for river Venu Rajamony The floods in Europe serve as a wake-up call to us in India to adopt pragmatic policies and practices that are nature friendly. We must recognise that we will have to learn to live with water in the long term. While national and State disaster management authorities have grown in experience, competence and professionalism, there is need for a higher degree of coordination and preparation across all levels of government. Practice drills need to be conducted in flood-prone areas. We need to test the effectiveness of flood warnings. The warnings should be in local languages and in simple terms. https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/lets-make-room-for-the-river/article35571290.ece  (28 July 2021)

Recurring floods in major cities point to need for moving away from land-centric urbanism by Amitangshu Acharya, Ajaya Dixit https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/chennai-floods-climate-crisis-7618776/  (13 Nov. 2021)

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

You may also like to see:-

Top 10 River Front Development Stories 2022: Destroying Rivers, Livelihoods  

India’s Urban Rivers in Crisis in 2022: Top 10 Cases

Urban Rivers 2022-Top 10 Govt Actions: pre-occupation with STPs without accountable governance

Top Ten Judicial Actions on Urban Rivers 2022: Executors Deliberately Delaying, Diluting, Defying orders

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