Rohit Prajapati of Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara, writes to the the Municipal Commissioner, Vadodara Municipal Corporation, and other senior officials of Vadodara and Gujarat government on the need to immediately remove the municipal and other waste, which has been dumped into the Ravines of Vishwamitri River and lakes, and take steps to prevent their further dumping:
We hope that you accept that ravines and wetlands are the natural flood control mechanism. The Vishwamitri River originating from the Pavagadh Hills has a unique ecosystem bearing a plethora of beautiful ravines right from its beginning till its end. Of paramount importance in its ecology is the presence of the highly protected species, the Indian crocodile.
In two decades and more, there have been eight years when Vishwamitri River’s level at the Kala Ghoda Bridge gauging station showed its level above 26’ –the “Red Signal” flood alert level. These years are 1994 (35’), 1998 (27.3’), 2003 (28.3’), 2005 (35.6’), 2006 (30.7’), 2008 (28.5’), 2013 (29.9’) and 2014 (34.9’).
The much drummed up “flood” stories from Vadodara are also actually less about natural floods and more about human follies and official negligence. Vadodara city’s terrain has less than five percent slope on average i.e., almost flat and it is interspersed natural water bodies, with many ponds that are interconnected by natural courses of nalas and kaans and human made ditches.
A more hidden and far less publicized reason is that over the past several decades, the Vadodara Municipal Corporation has itself filled up the ravines of the river in Vadodara city with solid waste and has turned blind eyes on those who do so illicitly.
The construction debris from the recent demolition work that the Vadodara Municipal Corporation has been engaged with is also apparently dumped in the ravines along the Vishwamitri River without and forethought or care.
If these ravines were not filled in with various kinds of solid waste and were left natural as seasonal wetlands, heavy rain fall waters would have natural space to spread out and cause less damage to the city.
In this terrain indiscriminate dumping, dredging, and/or constructing (e.g., raised roads and building plots with inadequate culverts or bridges) have been going on for decades, often by the local government agencies. These have choked up the ravines and wetlands and blocked the natural channels (nalas / kaans).
The net result is severe water-logging in many parts of the city.
The situation gets exacerbated during heavy rains in the upper catchments and authorities don’t manage the water flows out of the dams (mainly the Ajwa reservoir dam) that are built on the tributaries of Vishwamitri River.
Instead of protecting the natural water bodies and managing the reservoirs and flows, the local governments also contribute to this onerous and avoidable situation by allowing all kinds of city and neighbourhood level development (roads, bridges, buildings, etc.) and proposed town planning (TP) schemes without the use of contour plans. In fact, the authorities do not have any contour plans of Vadodara City.
Unless well thought-out, well-coordinated, and multipronged strategies (with teeth) are adopted soon, a day is not far when Vadodara, like many other cities, will face disaster similar to what Chennai has faced in the first half of December 2015. In the face of unpredictable climate change patterns, that disaster is well recognized as a failure of urban planning and urban governance and so will be a similar, costly and avoidable, disaster in Vadodara.
The river experiences frequent flooding which is due to water logging and human induced activities. The time to act is now, well before the coming monsoon and the Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project and many other projects affecting the natural water bodies and flows of the Vadodara city and eco-regions are planned and implemented. Or else, it will be too late and too costly to amend our follies later.
The riparian vegetation along the banks of the Vishwamitri river, not only nurtures a rich biodiversity but also plays a crucial role in retaining water during heavy rainfall and in ground water recharge – particularly the ox-bows. This also plays an important role in regulating the micro climate of the city. Engineering the banks as per the VRDP would convert the river into a huge open ‘pipe’ which would lead to a further increase in flooding and obstruction to the natural ground water recharge.
Further, it is a well known fact that both municipal waste and untreated municipal sewage are routinely being dumped into the Vishwamitri River in contravention of the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules 2000.
We demand from you to stop the dumping of untreated sewage which is a health and environmental hazard, to its banks, remove the existing municipal waste that has been dumped, and return land which is currently being used for dumping back to the river.
The river, tributaries, lake and water bodies systems offer a tremendous opportunity to reduce pollution, increase green cover and, in turn, our ground water table. However, in the absence of holistic planning, application of legal mechanisms and scientific thought this opportunity will be thrown to the wind and there will be neither river nor riverfront left to speak of.
The matter is now urgent because the Vadodara Municipal Corporation instead clearing the ravine of Vishwamitri River, more and more waste are dumped into the remaining ravines, water bodies and at the bank of the River.
Under these circumstances we call upon you all:
- Vadodara Municipal Corporation should immediately remove the municipal and other waste which has been dumped into the ravines of Vishwamitri River, lakes and take steps to prevent the further dumping of the same.
- Vadodara Municipal Corporation should immediately stop dumping activities of their own and those of other private entities that fill up ravines, lakes and associated water bodies.
- Concerned authorities should initiate legal action under Sections 15, 16 and 17 of the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986 against the officials of Vadodara Municipal Corporation who are responsible for filling up of the Ravines, lakes and water bodies and ongoing dumping at the Bank of Vishwamitri River.
- Concerned authorities should direct Vadodara Municipal Corporation to take all necessary steps for restitution of the Vishwamitri River to its status quo ante.
If you need, we are ready to provide the Map of River Vishwamitri and its Ravine so that Vadodara Municipal Corporation can not have excuses for not clearing up of the Ravines of Vishwamitri River.
If Vadodara Municipal Corporation will immediately not remove the municipal and other waste which has been dumped into the ravines of Vishwamitri River, lakes and associated water bodies and take steps to prevent the further dumping of the same, you will be fully responsible, including the compensation of the damages, for man-made flood and invite legal action and be liable for the expenses incurred for the same.
In case you do not reply to this letter, should we assume your agreement with the points we have raised in this letter? We look forward for your urgent action.
*Copy of the letter sent to Chairman, Vadodara Urban Development Authority; Principal Secretary, Forests and Environment Department, Gandhinagar; Chairman, Gujarat Pollution Control Board; Member Secretary, Gujarat Pollution Control Board; Regional Officer, Gujarat Pollution Control Board, Vadodara; Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India; Chief Secretary, Gujarat, Gandhinagar; and Additional Chief Secretary, Urban Development and Urban Housing Department, Gujarat