Prevent anticipated disasters, flooding, and water logging in Vadodara due to negligence

Vishwamitri-river-759

Senior activists and experts* write letter to the Municipal Commissioner, Vadodara, with copies to the Secretary, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India (GoI); Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, GoI; Chief Secretary, Government of Gujarat (GoG); Additional Chief Secretary, Forests & Environment Department, GoG; Principal Secretary, Urban Development and Urban Housing Department (GoG); and other concerned officials, seeking immediate steps to prevent anticipated disasters, flooding, and water logging:

The recent ongoing pandemic of COVID-19 has brought all our anthropocentric activities to a screeching halt forcing us to introspect on our actions and life on this planet. Yet, amidst the chaos and uncertainty, the governmental powers and the related administrative mechanisms have again chosen to assert their top down development decisions,  which are not thought through or rely on the latest sciences or techniques, and are imposed on the citizens without even giving proper information, let alone without authentic and proactive participation. This is proven by the issuance of the rushed tender for the “the consultancy for preparation of Detail Project Report for Master Planning of Rejuvenation and Flood Mitigation for the Vishwamitri River (Vadodara) from the origin of the river (Pavagadh) to end point of the river (Gulf of Khambhat)”. The Concerned Citizens of Vadodara have conveyed their staunch concerns and reservations against this covert action through a letter dated 17.04.2019.

We would like to impress that while we appreciate the proactive efforts taken by the authorities during these testing times of the pandemic, we strongly question the lack of such vigor and diligence in the case of recurrent and anticipated disasters like flooding and water logging over the last few decades. We, as Concerned Citizens of Vadodara, have repeatedly cautioned, suggested, recommended, alerted, offered to work with, and notified the concerned authorities time and again regarding the worsening conditions of the natural system of the city and the increasingly dire situation of the city. These efforts reflect our genuine and sincere concerns towards the city and its citizens. The waterlogging and floods of 31 July – 1 August 2019 onwards are a testimony of our warnings.

The Vadodara Municipal Corporation, has sat on our letters since 2017 (see Reference Number 13) and has done nothing significant to address the issues. If the city of Vadodara does not wake up and begin the technically and ecologically sound pre-, during, and post- measures for reclaiming and restoring the ravines and water detention areas filled with construction debris and all kinds of solid waste and sorting, recycling and upcycling the removed materials (resources), we are headed for another episode of disaster and damage due to water-logging and floods during the upcoming monsoon of 2020. We all must address the so-called “flood” issue by treating not its symptoms but root causes. This is the real work that has been deliberately ignored. We all know who pays the real price of this kind of nonchalance; not the elected officials or the bureaucrats who live comfortably in their citizen-paid bungalows with staff to take care of their wants.

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.

The 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 exacerbate the already existing waterlogging and flooding woes in various parts of 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 nature-made morphology as well as natural functions 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 aggravates 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 02.09.2019 to the Municipal Commissioner and others, we have not seen any remediatory action from the authorities. Instead, this practice of dumping in the ravines 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 Order dated 25.05.2016 of the National Green Tribunal in Application 49 of 2016 (Rohit Prajapati and Anr V/s Secretary MoEFCC & Ors). We would like to make it very clear once again, that this order does not prevent you from removing the debris from the banks of Vishwamitri River, its tributaries, wetlands and ravines. Please do not deliberately misinterpret the Order, which will also amount to the contempt of the Court.

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, 2016 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

The pandemic, in many ways, has taught us multiple lessons, if we are smart enough to recognize them. The key message is that nature has its own resilient ways to reconcile its system even if we don’t respect its spatial structure and processes. It is high time we recognize the realm of the river system as a whole and duly vacate our encroachments form its bio-physical environs. It is important to reiterate that the restoration of the river, ravines, ponds, wetlands, and such must be done systematically, scientifically, and in an ecologically sound manner and ensure healthy and well-functioning ecosystems, including the habitats of the riverine flora and fauna.

We still believe that our city deserves better.  It should be an ideal and exemplary “Smart City”, especially in the era of emerging climatic crisis and uncertainties of the 21st Century, that represents the beginning of the Anthropocene Era. Our city and state can and must help evolve better models of comprehensive planning and specific designs for apt and sound development that other cities can take inspiration from. The current situation and status quo will only worsen if the City.  As a collective whole and with the help and coordination with the State, the City does not take any substantial, participatory, proactive, and accountable initiatives in the right direction, year after year!.

Now, we once again demand that the authorities:

  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. Implement immediately all the directions mentioned in the reference given by the MoEFCC, GPCB and others.
  3. Ensure devising and implementation of proactive and sound Action Plans for proper and well-monitored remediation, restoration, and future waste management by sorting, recycling, reusing, and upcycling. We insist on a complete re-look, re-design of all the ongoing, 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 apt management strategies. No project or above stated activities must be imposed or implemented as isolated interventions handled by different departments and agencies in an uncoordinated manner. Local residents’ inputs also must be taken into account in devising and implementing any plans or activities anywhere in the Vadodara city area and the entire watershed of the Vishwamitri River. We must adapt or create our own the best practices to realize all these by adopting time bound, transparent, well-advised, and well-monitored processes.
  4. Establish a semi-statutory body, with legal teeth, that would include subject experts (ecologists, geologists, hydrologists, environmental / ecological planners, wetland specialists, landscape architects, legal and legislative specialist, investors) as well as knowledgeable and experienced members of the community at-large, to guide and monitor the remediation of the damage done and new development initiatives that the government would undertake proactively to improve the quality of the local ecosystems and lives of the citizens of Vadodara.
  5. Establish a fully functional, effective, and knowledgeable Urban and Environmental / Ecological planning Department in the VUDA and/or VMC that also includes experts from various related fields (such as ecologists, environmental and civil engineers, and landscape architects) for ensuring better plans and detailed designs for the city.
  6. Make detailed action plans for restoring and maintaining the river, the tributaries (nalas), ravines, ponds and wetlands so as to ensure their natural functioning and monitoring year round.
  7. Prepare immediately, technically correct and accurate contour survey, digital elevation models (DEMs), plinth levels, and other physical and biological factors, with advise from experts, for the entire VMC and VUDA areas.
  8. Plan and design all physical and infrastructural interventions, including roads and other structures, seriously and scientifically considering the above stated data and adopting participatory methods.
  9. Prepare Disaster Mitigation Plans for the city by using the landscape and ecosystem approaches right from the origin of River Vishwamitri and include all the villages and towns in the watershed of this river. If and as needed, remove, retrofit, and/or restore parts of the city. Cosmetic and ill-advised interventions or projects, implemented in piecemeal and uncoordinated manner within the VMC or VUDA limits only will NOT solve the problems arising from the current, inadequate way of developing the city, but they will exacerbate them further.
  10. Revisit and revise all the so-called “beautification” plans and projects, including installation statues in the lakes, demolishing of buildings, road widening, flyover construction, etc. by the authorities.
  11. Set up a recycling and upcycling plant, at the earliest, to treat the debris (concrete waste and other household waste) and convert it into a usable form. This will help us to take necessary steps to move away from the current throughput economy to a new, regenerative economy. No new permissions for reconstruction of old buildings should be allowed till well-devised, official permits and protocols for demolition as well as fully operational recycling and upcycling plant is are devised and established.
  12. Implement appropriate rainwater harvesting structures as per the micro-level geology-hydrology of the area to harvest the excessive water available while maintaining the e-flow of the river and natural water bodies.
  13. Make the satellite images of the past and recent floods and other relevant information and data available in the public domain. This should display all areas covering the entire VMC and VUDA that get waterlogged, flooded, and dumped or encroached upon in the entire city. This information must also updated on a yearly basis and put in the public domain for increasing awareness amongst the people and monitoring.
  14. Mobilize and commit enough funding to fulfill the above demands / objectives for a better city and its natural and cultural assets and the resulting richer experiential qualities.
  15. Work towards bringing about a paradigm shift in the way we envision, govern/administer, and plan our cities and other areas. It is time to redefine administrative boundaries (like wards and districts) according to the boundaries of watersheds and subwatersheds. Though seemingly difficult, it has been done elsewhere and provides a better model for well-conceived development that honors nature and human aspirations.
  16. As a significant first step, the GPCB, the VMC, and the Collector’s Office together must chart a plan of action for a. before, b. during, and c. after phases of debris and solid waste removal from the ravines and low-lying areas, both at the city and district levels. For this to happen, immediately form a task force comprising of local and field experts and representatives of the concerned authorities. This task force must systematically act towards all three phases, taking into consideration examples of cities like Indore, MP, and others who have explored alternative methods as well as determine Best Practices for cleaning up and re-/up-cycling the removed materials (resources), and restoring the dumped sites. This task force must also conduct one or two pilot projects for any one or two of the three phases mentioned in this paragraph before the monsoon rains strike Vadodara. Not doing this much will result in another lost year.

We again request a meeting (through internet) to be scheduled among all the concerned authorities (specifically, Vadodara Municipal Corporation) and us at the earliest to discuss the matters stated in this letter and prepare an apt action plan with realistic deadlines and adequate resources.

We look forward to your positive response and immediate action to protect, restore, enhance, 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 as well as sense of pride for and responsible actions the citizens.

We sincerely hope that all the concerned and responsible government authorities, that aspire to make Vadodara a “Smart City” will go beyond such labels and strive to work with us to make Vadodara a timeless, healthy, and happy city and eco-region will heed to our inputs and demands at the earliest possible.

*Signatories:

  • Rohit Prajapati, Environment Activist, Researcher, and Writer
  • Neha Sarwate, Environmental and Urban Planner
  • Deepa Gavali, Wetland Ecologist
  • Ranjitsinh Devkar, Zoologist
  • Shishir R. Raval, Landscape Architect and Ecological Planner
  • Jitendra Gavali, Botanist
  • Shakti Bhatt, Water Resources Expert
  • Arjun Singh Mehta, Biotechnologist
  • Jayendra Lakhmapurkar, Hydro-Geologist
  • Hitarth Pandya, Educationist and Writer
  • Rutvik Tank, Civil Engineer and Urban Planner
  • Dhara Patel, Landscape Architect and Architect
  • Mrugen Rathod, Visual Artist
  • Milind Gadre, Retired Bank Manager, Nature Lover
  • Suvarna Sonavane, Zoologist and Educationist
  • Shruti Shah, Botanist and Resource Consultant
  • Sandhya Gajjar, Heritage Conservation, Tribal Communities and Endangered Languages
  • Sameer Gaikwad, Electrical Engineer

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