Vadodara waterlogging due to dumped debris, discharge of untreated sewage along Vishwamitri

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Several concerned citizens of Vadodara, led by Rohit Prajapati, environment activist, researcher, and writer, in an open letter to the Municipal Commissioner, Vadodara Municipal Corporation; secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Union of India; Chief Secretary, Government of Gujarat; and several senior environment and forest department officials of India and Gujarat have sought “immediate” their intervention to prevent anticipated disasters, flooding, and water logging due to authorities’ “deliberate negligence”. Text of the letter:

We, and some project affected local citizens from all walks of life, in Vadodara have raised the issues, with the concerned authorities, related to prevention anticipated disasters, flooding and water logging due to deliberate negligence, superficial show of work undertaken, and lip services paid regarding the cleaning up and technically and ecologically sound reclamation of ravines filled with construction debris and all kinds of solid waste and water detention areas under the pretext of ‘low lying areas’ or heavy rains.

Even though we have alerted, in writing and otherwise, the concerned authorities about these issues from time to time, they have fallen on deaf ears or have been ignored nonchalantly. At best, the concerned authorities give sympathetic hearing, but eventually do hardly anything worthwhile to address the real issues and their causes.

Top down development decisions and designs, which are not thought through or rely on the latest science or techniques, are imposed on the citizens without even giving proper information, let alone without authentic and proactive participation. Sursagar Redevelopment and Jan Mahal are prime examples of these.  There has been no proper or official reply on our queries about where the construction debris of big buildings demolished recently have gone. Some examples of these include, the old Pathik Bhawan for Jan Mahal, the Maharani Shantadevi Hospital, and cinemas like Rajashree and Natraj.

The Vadodara Smart City website lists 64 projects (with estimated cost of 2906 crore).  An overwhelming 42 of these projects are infrastructure development related projects (click HERE) that will create significant issues of debris.

In spite of recent site visit on 24.04.2019 by the Committee headed by Chief Justice (Retired) of Delhi High Court Justice Mr. B. C. Patel, the Gujarat Pollution Control Board officials, and repeated requests from our side, the Vadodara Municipal Corporation, instead of removing the dumped debris, is still allowing dumping of fresh debris, discharge of untreated sewage, filling, levelling, construction, etc. activities along / in / around the Vishwamitri River and its environs (banks, ravines, tributaries, ponds, wetlands, etc.). This is being done by other private and public entities, including the Maharaja Sayajirao University.

In addition to the existing transgressions and issues of grave consequences, we also want to draw attention of all the concerned authorities some old (pending and overlooked) and newly emerging, crucial issues related to rapid “development” works that need serious and urgent attention from you.

These ravines and wetlands are being systematically destroyed and filled with debris and municipal solid waste in order to reclaim land for further “development”. This will further augment the already existing waterlogging and flooding woes in various parts of the city.

The identified and documented locations, where debris and waste dumping is still going on, in addition to the ones already identified in our previous letters, are as follows:

  1. The new westward road from the southwest of Motnath “Lake”/Pond to the new bridge over the Vishwamitri River has severely disturbed the stromwater channel (‘kaans’) that facilitates the overflow of water from Motnath “Lake”/Pond to the Vishwamitri River.
  2. The south-west riverbank off the new bridge mentioned above.
  3. The ravines on which the Agora Mall is built and areas adjacent to it, off Mangal Pandey Road.
  4. The ravines between the Sama ‘gaamtal’ and the Vishwamitri River.
  5. The ravines on both sides of the Bhimnath Bridge and between the Bhimnath Bridge and the Old Jail Road.
  6. The ravines between the Akota ‘gaamtal’, the Western Railway tracks and the Vishwamitri River.
  7. Dumping of debris along various roads and vacant plots across the city.

The ravines and wetlands are nature’s water management mechanisms, which act like shock absorbers, natural sponges, by detaining the inundation of waters in the river during monsoon. The above-mentioned activities are altering the morphology of the river system by either narrowing the section of the river, straightening of the meanders, modifying the natural topography along the banks, clearing of vegetation, and increasing impervious surfaces.

These actions are modifying the soil structure its interactions with water and other bio-geo-chemical processes along the riparian zones and exacerbating the threat of disasters such as floods and water logging.  Poor people always pay the heaviest price of such criminal negligence by the concerned authorities.

Since our last letter dated 30.01.2019 to the Municipal Commissioner and others, this practice is still continuing and getting worse with apparently no repercussions to the concerned authorities and parties. This is happening despite the prevailing laws of the land, directions of concerned authorities, and Courts’ Orders.

We once again bring to your notice that the above-mentioned activities are in deliberate and blatant violation of the Orders mentioned below:

A: “Order dated 25.05.2016 of the National Green Tribunal in Application 49 of 2016 (Rohit Prajapati and Anr V/s Secretary MoEFCC & Ors).

“The Applicants claim to be pro-bon environmentalists and claim they are social workers. Through this Application, they have questioned illegal activity of the Government instrumentality i.e. Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) which is said to be proceeding with a project damaging river and its tributaries.

“First Respondent – Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), 2nd Respondent- Chief Secretary, State of Gujarat, 3rd Respondent- the Principal Secretary, Urban Development and Urban Housing Department, 4th Respondent – the Member Secretary, State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), 5th Respondent – the Collector, Vadodara, 6th Respondent- the Municipal Commissioner, Vadodara Municipal Corporation and 7th Respondent- Vadodara Urban Development Authority, are duly served.

“Learned Counsel Mr. Parth Bhatt represents the Respondent No. 2 – Chief Secretary, State of Gujarat, 3rd Respondent- the Principal Secretary, Urban Development and Urban Housing Department and the Collector as well. Supriya Dangare learned Counsel represents Respondent No. 6 – Project Proponent (PP).

“Applicant’s Counsel seeks interim order to restrain VMC from proceeding with the project on assertion that it has not obtained Environmental Clearance (EC) and there is no consent under law. She relied on several documents, including photographs depicting situation as it is at the time of filing of this Application. It is seen from photographs and other material that construction activity is in the area of Vishwamitri River. The said project being implemented is Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project (VRDP) and in the process, the VMC is alleged to be demolishing the river and its tributaries. It is carrying on work of demolition, dredging, digging, filling, levelling of the land.

“The Applicant submits on verification they find the PP has no consent, no EC to proceed with the construction.

“Learned Counsel representing Respondent No.6 now disputes that VMC – PP has not obtained the EC. Her contention is it has applied for grant of EC, which is in process of consideration by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC). She refers to communication dated 16.2.2016 and 17.11.2015 (Annexure – 2) which shows the SEAC is examining the project and is likely to issue EC. Learned Counsel for PP therefore, opposes grant of any interim order.

“On perusal of allegations in the Application and submission of PP Respondent No. 6, that they do not have EC prima facie establishes that any construction activity especially in an area which is River and Riverbed and also its tributaries is wholly impermissible. We have satisfied there is prima facie case made out by the Applicant to restrain any construction activity affecting Vishwamitri River and its tributaries.

“On behalf of State of Gujarat, it is urged that the project of VRDP has two and three parts. Second part is not covered under the provisions of Environmental Laws requiring EC. The PP is proceeding with that part of the project and therefore, it may not be rightly stating that construction activity will not cause damage. Though such submission is made on behalf of Respondent Nos. 1 and 4, on verification we find that the State has appointed SEAC, who is examining the proposal for grant of EC, but no final decision has yet been taken. It is not impugned on record to show that the present construction activity does not require any EC or ECs or consent.

“At this stage, Supriya Dangare representing the PP submits the Tribunal may give her sufficient time to oppose interim relief by written counter. This request is unreasonable for the reason we had already made it clear on the last hearing that we are not granting interim relief till Respondents file their response. Despite that the PP has not filed counter/reply.

“On perusal of records, it is seen the photographs show that the Respondent No. 6 is proceeding with construction activity in blatant violation of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and the Notifications issued there under particularly Notification in 1994/2006, it has commenced construction activity more than a year ago without obtaining prior EC and he has continued such illegal activities. It is also admitted that they have applied for EC only after starting construction, which show their conduct of defiance to mandatory law requiring EC. In the circumstances, even if the PP gets ex post facto EC, we got to examine whether grant of EC was justified especially in view clear photographs which show that its construction activity is virtually destroying River Vishwamitri and its tributaries. Hence, interim order.

“ORDER

  1. The Respondent No.6 is hereby restrained from proceeding further with any construction or development activity within the area of Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project (VRDP).
  2. Liberty to Respondents to seek modification of this order is reserved.
  3. The Respondents shall file their counter/reply and complete their pleadings within next four (4) weeks.

List it on 1st July, 2016.”

B: Secretary, State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) in its Order dated 8 August 2016 clearly states:

“Withdrawal Application, dated 05.08.2016, filed by the Vadodara Municipal Corporation, for withdrawal of the Environmental Clearance application in respect of VRDP project was accepted by the SEIAA with the following restrictions, “….SEIAA hereby permits the withdrawal of the Application No. SIA/GJ/NCP/4584/2015, dated 14.12.2015, with following conditions:

The Vadodara Municipal Corporation shall maintain status quo and shall not carry out any further construction and development enabling activities within the area of Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project until and unless the prior Environmental Clearance is obtained for the said project.”

C: It is also in violation of the High Court Order of Gujarat, dated 02.08.2002, in SCA No. 19621/2000, which clearly states,

“Care will be taken that water bodies are not converted to any other use in the town planning schemes / development plans that may be made hereafter and the Local Authorities and the Area development Authorities will be instructed to ensure that no debris of buildings is dumped by any person or institution in the existing water bodies”.

Furthermore, these works and activities are in complete violation under the provisions of the following environmental statutes:

1)              The Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972

2)         Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986

3)         The Environment (Protection) Act 1986

4)         The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010

5)         The Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016

6)         The Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016

Now, we once again demand:

  1. Implement immediately, in letter and spirit, ‘The Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016’ and ‘The Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016’.  We have been raising the questions in this regard and we need reliable and verifiable answers now.
  2. Stop immediately all activities like debris and waste dumping, discharge of untreated sewage, filling, levelling, construction, etc. activities along / in / around the Vishwamitri River and its environs (banks, ravines, tributaries, ponds, wetlands, etc.).  The Municipal Commissioner of the Vadodara Municipal Corporation must immediately take sound and well-advised corrective measures by giving appropriate and specific directions, emphasizing eco-engineering techniques and not allowing shoddy band-aid job, by Wednesday, June 5, 2019. Failing to do so will invite legal actions and/or penalties against all concerned authorities, departments, and parties.
  3. Compensate all damage to individual and collective society, who will be affected by the induced and impending disasters. This compensation must be done by or levied from the concerned officials of the respective authorities.
  4. Ensure devising and implementation of a sound Action Plans for proper and well-monitored remediation, restoration, and future waste management. We insist a complete re-look and re-design of all the on-going and not-so-well thought out demolition activities, clean-up drives, and so-called development projects. All the projects should be comprehensively integrated with overall Development and/or Master Plans and must not be imposed as isolated interventions handled by different departments and agencies.
  5. To achieve all this, we have suggested and now demand that a quasi-governmental authority with real teeth is formed and empowered to fulfill this agenda in a proactive, transparent, and accountable manner. It is high time that the Local, State, and Central Governments take up this matter with urgency and work towards its positive resolution without excuses, passing on the buck, or failure of any kind.

We again request a meeting to be scheduled between all the concerned authorities (specifically, Vadodara Municipal Corporation) and us at the earliest to discuss the matter stated in this letter.

We look forward to your positive response and immediate action to protect, restore, and nurture the environment while following sounder and saner paths to development that will add to the brand value of Vadodara city, nationally and internationally.

*Signatories:

Rohit Prajapati, Environment Activist, Researcher, and Writer
Neha Sarwate, Environmental and Urban Planner
Dr Ranjitsinh Devkar, Zoologist
Dr Shishir R Raval, Landscape Architect and Ecological Planner
Dr. Deepa Gavali, Wetland Ecologist
Dr Jitendra Gavali, Botanist
Mr. Shakti Bhatt, Water Resources Expert
Dr Arjun Singh Mehta, Biotechnologist
Dr Jayendra Lakhmapurkar, Hydro-Geologist
Hitarth Pandya, Educationist and Writer
Rutvik Tank, Civil Engineer and Urban Planner
Dhara Patel, Landscape Architect and Architect
Taniya Vaidya, Artist and Educator
Sadanand Ambadkar, Consultant

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