Centre asks Gujarat to look into clean-up drive in Vishwamitri

Senior activist fighting battle against Vishwamitri river front says the Vadodara civic body has done mischief by entering the river

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Tuesday 10 August 2021
A dead mugger crocodile fished out from the Vishwamitri river in Vadodara recently. Photo: Vishal Thakor

The Centre has asked the Gujarat government to look into the clean-up drive that it started July 10, 2021 on the Vishwamitri river. Activists and wildlife experts have said it has wrought destruction on animals residing in and near the river’s flood plain.

The National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), which comes under the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti (Water Resources), wrote a letter dated August 2 to the chief secretary of Gujarat:

The applicant has referred to meetings held with the Mayor of the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) in this regard … it is requested that the concerned authorities may look into the matter and the applicant may be informed accordingly.

The letter came after the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) too wrote to the member secretary of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) July 16, asking it to comply with the order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) May 25.

The order had asked for the demarcation of the floodplain of the Vishwamitri.

It had added:

While directing consideration of all the issues by the applicants, we reiterate the direction for implementation of the “Vishwamitri River Action Plan” including the steps for removal of unauthorised structures, demarcation and protection of floodplain zone and other action points according to the river restoration plan.

In response, the VMC had brought earth-moving machines to the banks of the river July 10. It had cleared foliage from the river banks and levelled soil.

The move had been called out by wildlife experts who said it would disturb the nests of mugger crocodiles which are present in substantial numbers in the river. Besides, other species of reptiles, birds, mammals and amphibians too would be affected, they had warned.

The letters and the NGT order are part of the ongoing legal battle regarding the Vishwamitri river that flows through the heart of Vadodara.

Vadodara-based senior activist, Rohit Prajapati has been engaged in major litigation since 2014, when the VMC first thought of developing the Vishwamitri riverfront on the lines of the Sabarmati in Ahmedabad.

The NGT order of May 25 was in response to an original application filed by Prajapati with the tribunal numbered 228 (original application no. 49 of 2016) in 2020. The application had challenged the Vishwamitri riverfront project and called for the restoration and rejuvenation of the river.

Prajapati had filed a writ petition no. 375 in 2012 in the Supreme Court against the Union of India as well as 19 other states.

The apex court had responded with an order February 22, 2017. The order talked about industrial effluents and sewerage with respect to river, ground and surface water and other water sources.

Prajapati told Down To Earth that the VMC had done mischief by entering the river wrongly. It raised fundamental questions about the law, he added.

“People like us talk about the implementation of the law. When a number of verdicts have been passed and the state as well as the corporation, who are supposed to implement them, do not respond, what more can be expected from the citizen,” Prajapati said.

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