Several bridges, old and new crisscross over the rivers Mula and Mutha in Pune. Some of them are old and stately like the Lakdi Pul built over 250 years ago or the beautiful Shivaji Pul, while there are low ones like the Baba Bhide Bridge, which routinely gets submerged in the monsoons.
I try to walk across these bridges on most evenings.
A new UN report released on January 21, 2021 UN has warned the major big dam owning counties about the aging population of fast silting up dams in changing climate and urgent need to start working on decommissioning of uneconomical large dams. Among the few countries that UN has warned includes India with its third largest number of big dams. The added problem in India is the ill maintained and ill operated large dams that UN report did not look into. Indian dams are sanctioned based on highly under estimated siltation rates, there is practically no transparency and accountability in operation of Indian dams and dam almost every year get away with creating avoidable flood disasters. This latest problem is not just related to old dams, but even the newest celebrated ones like the Sardar Sarovar Dam as happened in Gujarat in late August-early Sept 2020. No legal regime exists in India for dam safety, either structural safety or operational safety. And in changing climate, with increasing frequency of higher intensity rainfall events, such risks are already increasing multi-fold.
Feature image: Women in Banda performing Jal Satyagrah against illegal sand mining in Ken river. (PARI)
Sand mining menace has been a very dark spot on India’s governance. It affects not just the river beds or flood plains, but also water security, livelihood security, biodiversity, groundwater recharge among many other aspects. Banda Satyagarah provides a striking picture to highlight this issue, but the worrying fact is that we have no real sustained positive story on this front. Even major interventions by the highest judiciary has completely failed to make any major dent on ground.
Background Three rivers (among some others) with a total length of 44km traverse through Pune city. Mula river flows a distance of 22.2 km, Mutha River 10.4 km and Mula-Mutha River 11.8 km. Plight of these rivers is well known. They have been featured in the list of 300 most polluted rivers of India. Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), Maharashtra Water Resources Department (WRD) etc. have pulled number of controversies over river pollution, illegal construction of roads and townships through river bed and most recently Pune Metro being proposed through the river bed. Making a case for ‘rejuvenation’ of the ‘neglected rivers’, PMC has now proposed Pune Riverfront Development Project (PRDP). The project has been designed by the same HCP Design Planning & Management Pvt. Ltd (HCP) led by Ar. Bimal Patel from Ahmedabad who conceived and implemented Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project (SRFDP).
In September 2014 SANDRP in its article “Riverfront Development in India: Cosmetic make up on deep wounds” had raised serious issues regarding several riverfront development projects sprouting across India. Following the footsteps of SRFDP these projects treat rivers as extension of urban spaces and are more about encroachment of floodplains and river beds for real estate than restoration. Pune’s Mula-Mutha Riverfront Project being one among them, maintains the same focus. The project also shows several signs of an ill planned project which may exacerbate the risk of flooding and may take a severe toll on water quality and river health. This article questions some underlying assumptions upon which the project has been designed. Draft Master Plan (DMP) of the project prepared by HCP has been referred as a base document. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of the project is of a poor quality and devoid of even basic information about the project. Thus was not referred for details. Continue reading “Pune Riverfront Development Project: Encroachment in the name of Rejuvenation?”→
For last 22 years, 14 March is celebrated globally as International Day of Action for Rivers.
As per India Rivers Week Assessment 70 per cent of our rivers are facing existential threats. Over 60 per cent of sewage generated in India is dumped untreated in rivers and water bodies. As per latest official assessment the number of polluted river stretches in country has increased to 352 from 302 two years ago. Similarly the number of critically polluted stretches has gone up to 45 from 34 in two years. Our rivers are facing lack flow, pollution, encroachments, unsustainable mining and destruction of habitat. In mountains, streams are running dry for most of the time, while in urban areas they are over loaded with pollution.
Amid this gloomy scenario, many small initiatives are being taken to reverse the plight of our rivers. This compilation shows few of such recent and inspiring initiatives.
According to data from the Ministry of Mines, Maharashtra state recorded 26,628 cases of illegal mining in 2017, the highest across the country. In 2018, data up to June showed 2,751 cases. Between 2013 and 2018, 2,228 people were booked for illegal mining, one court case was filed, and 163,366 vehicles were seized. The fines collected for illegal mining over 6 years was ₹ 365 Crores.
As per another report, Maharashtra has highest number of cases of non-compliance of sustainable sand mining management guidelines, 2016. According to data submitted in the Lok Sabha, the ministry received 7 major complaints regarding non-compliance in 2017, out of which 6 were from Maharashtra and one from Himachal Pradesh. The highest number of illegal mining instances have been recorded in the state as per data by the ministry of environment, forest and climate change. It recorded around 139,700 illegal mining cases between 2013 and 2017.
As this report narrates, a great volunteer effort is underway in Mumbai to clean up Mithi river. What they have achieved is just about 350 m of clean river, after labouring over weekends for several months. But this is such a daunting task to even venture to start. They have not only started, but made visible progress. Let us hope it will achieve all its objectives.
In a mountain village in southwest China’s Sichuan province, authorities have demolished seven small dam projects this year along a river to clear illegal developments in a new nature reserve. The demolition is part of a nationwide programme to close hundreds of tiny and often ramshackle dams and turbines and bring order to China’s massive hydropower sector after years of unconstrained construction.
The dams sat on an unnamed tributary of the fierce and flood-prone Dadu river, which feeds into the Yangtze, Asia’s largest and longest river, where the government says the “irregular development” of thousands of small hydropower projects has wrecked the ecology. But green groups say the campaign will not necessarily save the environment because it will not affect big state hydropower stations, which they say have caused the most damage.
On the 48 km Zhougong, authorities have already demolished small projects built in nature reserves or encroaching upon new “ecological red lines” drawn up to shield a quarter of China’s territory from development.
The government says small dams have disrupted the habitats and breeding patterns of many rare species of fish, although green groups argue the damage wrought by bigger dams is more severe, with entire towns and ecosystems submerged in water, which they say increases the risk of earthquakes, landslides and even climate change.
In a welcome move Western Zone Bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued an interim stay on the proposed portion of the metro route passing through the Mutha river bed in the Pune city.[i] This directive was passed in an Environmental Interest Litigation (EIL) filed in the NGT on May 26 last year by a group of citizens contending that in the proposed metro rail alignment, a 1.7 km stretch passing through the left bank of the Mutha river could cause an irreversible damage to riverbank ecosystem along that route.
In the first phase two corridors of metro have been proposed in Pune. Corridor-I is of 16.59 km length from Pimpri-Chinchwad to Swargate and Corridor-II is of 14.6 km from Vanaz to Ramwadi. The petition before NGT Pune bench is against the 1.7 km stretch of Vanaz-Ramwadi corridor proposed through left bank of river Mutha. The metro route is proposed to enter the Mutha riverbed behind Savarkar memorial on Karve Road and proceed towards Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) Bhavan and further to Food Corporation of India godowns behind Shivaji Nagar District Court.[ii] Two Metro stations are also proposed on the riverbed, one near Deccan Bus Stand and the other behind Sambhaji Park. Presently soil testing work for the project is in progress.
It certainly seems a good news for Pune’s rivers which have routinely made headlines for their pollution and poor state in general. Closer look towards the details however would cast a shadow on this development. The alignment through the river bed has been proposed despite PMC recently facing and losing a petition in NGT against 2.3 km long (and 24 m wide) road from Vitthalwadi to NH-4 bypass which was being constructed illegally right in the Mutha Riverbed. In its final judgment in July 2013 NGT ordered the road to be realigned. Subsequently a contempt petition was filed when PMC failed to comply with the orders where the NGT in January 2015 again ordered removal of the constructed road.[iii]Continue reading “NGT stays work of Pune Metro affecting rivers: Another violation of the river floodplain”→
Above: Dying rivers, as they leave Pune Photo: Parineeta Dandekar
In May, decision of Pune’s Guardian Minister and head of canal committee of releasing 1 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) water from Khadakwasla Dam to downstream regions of Daund and Indapur saw huge protests from the city’s political parties and civic administration. Ensuring that Pune suffers no further water cut, even when downstream regions face historic drought, seems to have become the Mayor’s crusade. Keeping urban areas insulated and away from a terrible water crisis has its own major equity issues.
Pune is a water surplus city in upper riparian region of Krishna Basin. In a report “Reimagining Pune: Mission Smart City” submitted to Urban Development Department by Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), it is admitted that Pune has water availability of 219 lpcd (liters per capita per day). Even so, the city has been much reluctant to share its water with downstream villages. it has seen barely 20% water cuts since last October.
While discussions and debates about drought revolve around sugarcane, industries, rural water use, irrigation management etc, etc., the growing, unjustified footprint of urban areas generally is left scot free and Pune is a classic example if this.
Here, we take a brief look at PMC’s water supply approach with its monomaniacal supply-side focus. While sourcing much more water than allocated from four upstream dams, PMC has been shirking from its responsibility of treating waste water before releasing it for the downstream. PMC has taken the upstream dams for granted and is planning for expansion of water supply system with 24×7 water supply in near future, relying on more water from these dams.Continue reading “Consume more, Pollute more, Pay less, Ask for more Dams: Pune City’s water policy”→