Concerned citizens of Vadodara write to the Municipal Commissioner, Vadodara; Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Union of India; Chief Minister, Gujarat; BN Navalawala, Advisor to the Chief Minister; Chief Secretary, Government of Gujarat; Secretary, Water Resources, Government of Gujarat; and Principal Secretary, Urban Development and Urban Housing Department, Government of Gujarat, among others, insisting on the need to urgently clean up Vishwamitri River and Its environs in the Vadodara City region. Text of the letter:
We, the concerned citizens and professionals of Vadodara, appreciate the immense efforts by the Government of Gujarat and the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) on reviving and cleaning up small rivers, nalas, ponds, etc. under the just concluded Sujalam-Sufalam Program and the ongoing Swachchhata Abhiyan (Cleanliness Campaign) by the VMC and various government agencies and volunteers.
In light of this, we want to highlight (1) Issues and Concerns and (2) Strategies and Way Forward.
Issues and Concerns
According to a Gujarat Ecological Society report, Vadodara has lost about 44,00,000.00 square-feet of its total ponds/ talaav area in the last twelve years, much of this due to illegal or legalized dumping by the VMC and unscrupulous citizens too. Sixteen out of 41 ponds do not exist anymore. Divya Bhaskar daily’s article on Saturday, 7 April 2018 states that in “swachchhata” (cleanliness) ranking, Vadodara’s best ward (Ward No. 4) is 728th in the country and 53rd in Gujarat!
The Vishwamitri River and its environs (tributaries, ravines, and wetlands) have been used as the dumping grounds for solid and liquid wastes and, especially, construction debris for the last several decades. However, the situation has exacerbated in the last few since demolition and renovation activities have increased in the city. All this leads to serious environmental problems and health issues.
This does not set a good example for the city with aspirations to be a Swachchh City by October 2, 2019 and a leading Smart City of India in the 21st century with severe climate changes and other challenges.
1. It is high time that the concerned government agencies and citizens take steps to clean up and restore all the water bodies, especially the tributaries, ravines, and wetlands associated with Vishwamitri River and its environs. We must think through, plan for, and adapt the best practices and procedures before, during, and after the solid and liquid wastes, including the construction debris, are properly removed. Some of these concerns and issues include:
- How to conduct clean up so as to not adversely affect the flora and fauna (some of which are statuary species) and their physical habitats? What precautions and preparation will be needed and planned for?
- How will these wastes once removed and collected be handled and managed elsewhere?
- How and where to store, reuse, recycle, and upcycle the removed construction debris and other wastes?
- How will the slopes and soils of the ravines be treated after the clean up too? That is, what kinds of multi-objective nature restoration plans and measures will be necessary to bring back and manage a healthy, resilient, and resistive natural environment?
- And, most critically, how to ensure that, in future, new solid or liquid wastes from any source will not be added to or dumped into these cleaned up water bodies?
2. Illicit or permitted dumping of sewage and industrial liquid wastes and pollution into the water bodies of Vadodara, especially in the Vishwamitri River and its environs.
3. Illicit or permitted removal of soil from various sites, ponds, and ravines in the city-region.
4. Immersion of idols and materials and remains from religious rituals into the water bodies of Vadodara and, especially, the Vishwamitri River and its tributaries.
5. A critical concern and challenge is not only in implementing these ideas but also maintaining the desired conditions and managing the quality and quantity of water and water bodies over the coming years and decades. How will this be achieved?
Strategies and Way Forward
1. Immediate measures to (i) regulate and stop any kind of waste dumping into the Vishwamitri River environs and other water bodies and (ii) to segregate bio-degradable and inorganic wastes from the various sites must be taken. This should be complemented with public awareness and vigilance programs, assignment of accountable roles and responsibilities with a time-line, and effective incentives and disincentives. These measures ought to be and can be worked out for all other measures to become a reality.
The VMC and other concerned government agencies, with the help of the citizens and private sector, should take sincere, scientifically and technically correct, well-coordinated, measurable, time-bound, accountable, and participatory steps for cleaning up solid and liquid wastes from all the water bodies, especially the tributaries, ravines, and wetlands associated with Vishwamitri River and its environs.
With the above in mind, the city should prepare a complete comprehensive plan for recycling, upcycling, and reusing the discarded solid and liquid wastes and especially for the construction materials of all kinds rather than dumping these into the Vishwamitri River, its tributaries, ravines, wetlands, and ponds. The concrete debris, which otherwise choke the ravines and wetlands, could be crushed, powdered, and reused in road construction or for making paver blocks or other effective and non-polluting uses.
We have enough experts, know-how, and willing corporate and other citizens in Vadodara and Gujarat to, collaboratively and intelligently, sort out and prioritize all the issues and concerns listed above and any new ones that need to be addressed in the best possible manner. We should form a semi-statutory advising cum monitoring body for making such comprehensive and sound clean-up and the future maintenance become a reality now!
2. The liquid waste and pollution are trickier problems since one has to ascertain their types and point and non-point sources. Decentralized bio-remedial and eco-engineering measures (such as constructed wetlands and DEWATS) should be adapted according to site specific conditions and desirable water quality and quantity.
3. The soil removed during the construction of the large complexes should be used for (organic) farming and gardening and nature restoration work, rather than procuring the same from nearby ravines or dry ponds. Other reusable solid waste could be developed into alternative construction materials. Also, our expert teams ought to collaboratively figure out appropriate measures for bringing back poor-quality urban soils to ecologically / environmentally healthy conditions. This is especially true for old brownfield and greyfield sites in and around the city.
4. Use of Plaster of Paris (PoP) and any non-biodegradable materials for religious rituals must be completely and strictly banned. Help of religious organizations and their leaders should be taken along with implementation of public awareness programs and strict vigilance and fines. The city-region also must make alternative arrangements for immersion of idols and other religious objects that contaminate the water bodies but are socially significant activities.
5. While undertaking these tasks, please do refer to and make sure that the directives given in (A) The MoEF&CC Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules of 2016 and (b) the GPCB letter to VMC, dated, January 8, 2018 are strictly adhered to. Do take the required legal permission or authorization from the GPCB, Gujarat State Forest Department, and other relevant agencies before implementing any work related to clean up and restoration.
6. These are complex but addressable issues and concerns. The city-region must work out sound, long term policies, and specific and complementary measures to stop degradation of the natural assets of our city-region. Comprehensive and collective efforts by all stakeholders, with appropriate monitoring and incentives and disincentives, will ensure that what we clean up and restore will remain that way in the future. These ideas can and shall create a cleaner environment for the citizens and ecologically healthier habitats for all local (native and well-adapted) species. These, in turn, ought to create new employment and entrepreneurship opportunities based on the principles of new regenerative economy.
7. We can take on a pilot project of cleaning up and restoring a ravine part of the Vishwamitri River to apply and test the suggestions given here and the best and appropriate sciences, technologies, and practices (including public participation) to create a model that is a win-win-win for nature, human society, and future generations of all species. Let us not again do a slick or a shoddy job of such an important endeavor and promote that as a big “achievement”.
Because everyone doesn’t have the option that we humans think we have.
Eventually, a comprehensive, multi-pronged waste management approach we are suggesting here would facilitate wiser and better models of development that befit our aspirations to be a leading “Smart City” of the 21st century. A collective and collaborative sustenance of such models would bring in long-term solutions to some of the persistent and complex problems facing our city-region and our society. That is our collective opportunity; that is our collective call and responsibility.
We, as concerned citizens and experts of and from Vadodara, will fully support and are willing to collaborate with the concerned authorities. We can and must do it! Let us do it, with all our good intentions and energies! We propose to plan our first meeting for this critical undertaking at the earliest.
We look forward to a positive and prompt reply from your good self and other concerned government agencies and authorities.
Hitarth Pandya, Educationist and Writer
Dr Deepa Gavali, Wetland Ecologist
Prof Shishir R. Raval, Landscape Architect and Ecological Planner
Neha Sarwate, Environmental and Urban Planner
Shakti Bhatt, Water Resources Expert
Dr Jitendra Gavali, Botanist
Dr Jayendra Lakhmapurkar, Hydro-Geologist
Rutvik Tank, Civil Engineer and Urban Planner
Dr Ranjitsinh Devkar, Zoologist
Dr Arjun Singh Mehta, Biotechnologist
Rohit Prajapati, Environment Activist, Researcher, and Writer
Dhara Patel, Landscape Architect and Architect