Why this rushed attempt to get the Vishwamitri river project through?

A concerned citizens’ letter to the Municipal Commissioner, Vadodara Municipal Corporation, with copies to the Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change; Chief Secretary, Government of Gujarat; Additional Chief Secretary, Forests & Environment Department, Gujarat; Principal Secretary, Urban Development and Urban Housing Department, Gujarat; and Chairman, Gujarat Pollution Control Board:

We, the Concerned Citizens of Vadodara, would like to reiterate our key concerns regarding the Tender for 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), which was introduced on March 6, 2020 with a closing date of May 7, 2020, further extended till June 30, 2020.
Our previous letter dated April 17, 2020, we have explicitly stated our concerns and have demanded that the aim, content, and process be rethought. We still question the:

  • Rushed attempt to get this project through without having addressed the previous backlog of issues raised
  • Terms of Reference (ToR) laid out for a project of such complexity and sensitivity
  • Obscurity in the criteria and process of consultant selection with regards to what is appropriate and desired in the context of Vishwamitri River and her watershed
  • Absence of pre-bid meetings and involvement of local expertise and know-how to formulate the project and the tender
  • Capacity and capability of the identified nodal agency in handling the multi and inter-disciplinary nature of the project; and
  • Ability of the concerned authorities to assure transparency in the tendering process and successfully keep at bay various vested interests that may negatively affect the proposed project that is focused on ecological rejuvenation of the river.

Having comprehensively summarized the broader apprehensions about the approach and attitude towards this subject, we would like to assert that we, as citizens of the city, want to see a rejuvenated Vishwamitri River in the true sense of the word. We strongly believe that Vishwamitri River and Vadodara city deserve much better. This Tender falls miserably short of this expectation as well as potential. In light of all this, the proposed project and its current tender ought to be reconsidered seriously for pragmatic reasons and greater good.

The Local Authorities, with the help and coordination with the State and Central Governments, must take substantial, participatory, proactive, and accountable initiatives in the right (holistic and inclusive) direction. Hence, we resolutely demand that the concerned authorities:

  • Cancel the tender in its current form in the wake of the pandemic and other environmental concerns as well as its current lack of understanding about ecological sciences and implications.
  • Revise the current terms of reference (ToR) to include thorough studies on community, Ecosystem, and Landscape Ecology as well as Human and Social Ecology to determine all the existing and potential ecological and technical issues and opportunities.
  • Put together an Advisory / Quasi-Statutory body, that would include subject experts (ecologists, geologists, hydrologists, environmental-ecological planners, wetland specialists, landscape architects, environmental and civil engineers, legal and legislative specialist, sociologists, investors, and such) to advise the reformation of the ToR and aid the authorities in overseeing and monitoring the process to a desirable fruition.
  • Prohibit previously hired consultants from participating as per legal precedents or else the purpose of this Tender is defeated.
  • Implement first and immediately ‘The Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016’ and ‘The Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016’ in letter and spirit. We have been raising the questions in this regard and we now need reliable answers and verifiable action on ground. As needed, study and adapt already existing best practices in India and elsewhere to achieve goals of these Rules.
  • Establish a semi-statutory body, with legal teeth, that would include subject experts (ecologists, geologists, hydrologists, environmental-ecological planners, wetland specialists, landscape architects, environmental and civil engineers, legal and legislative specialist, sociologists, investors and such) as well as knowledgeable and experienced members of the community at-large, to guide and monitor the remediation and restoration of the damage done and new development initiatives that the Governments would undertake reactively and proactively to improve the quality of the local ecosystems and lives of the citizens of Vadodara and many other communities of life in the Vishwamitri River Watershed area.
  • 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 well-qualified ecologists, environmental and civil engineers, geographers, landscape architects, and urban designers) for ensuring better plans and detailed designs for the city.
  • Commission a well-qualified agency acceptable to all the concerned parties for preparation of a new Feasibility Study that would focus on larger vision and related effective strategies, followed by a DPR for multiple phases of the proposed project as may seem appropriate, building upon the existing data as well as required new studies and data.
  • Conduct a Pre-bid meeting to add transparency to the consultant selection procedure
    Ensure inclusive, transparent, and democratic processes for all stages of the proposed project.

Work towards bringing about a paradigm shift in the way we envision, govern/administer, and plan our cities and eco-regions. It is time to redefine administrative boundaries (like wards and districts) according to the boundaries of watersheds and sub-watersheds. Though seemingly difficult, it has been done elsewhere and provides a better model for well-conceived development that honors nature’s patterns and processes and human aspirations.

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. This will add to the brand value of Vadodara city and River Vishwamitri, nationally and internationally, as well as enhance sense of pride for and responsible actions by all citizens.

Instead of spending our energies and time reacting to the Centre, State, and Local Governments’ initiatives, we offer our expertise, energies, and time to proactively work towards a win-win situation.

We do appreciate that all the concerned and responsible government authorities aspire to make Vadodara a Smart City. We sincerely hope that these authorities will go beyond such labels as well as turf wars. We urge the authorities to heed to our inputs and demands to help make Vadodara city and the River Vishwamitri eco-region a timeless, healthy, and happy place at the earliest possible.

Concerned Citizens of Vadodara:
Rohit Prajapati, Environment Activist, Researcher, and Writer
Neha Sarwate, Environmental and Urban Planner
Dr Shishir R. Raval, Landscape Architect and Ecological Planner
Rutvik Tank, Civil Engineer and Urban Planner
Dr Deepa Gavali, Wetland Ecologist
Dhara Patel, Landscape Architect and Architect
Dr Jayendra Lakhmapurkar, Hydro-Geologist
Dr Jitendra Gavali, Botanist
Shakti Bhatt, Water Resources Expert
Dr Arjun Singh Mehta, Biotechnologist
Dr Ranjitsinh Devkar, Zoologist
Hitarth Pandya, Educationist and Writer
Mrugen Rathod, Visual Artist

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