Water

The dark side of Sabarmati river development

Recent report flags high levels of pollutants entering the river, non-compliance of SC order

 
By Rajeev Khanna
Last Updated: Thursday 28 March 2019
At the banks of the river Sabarmati. Photo: Meeta Ahlawat

Till the end of the last century, Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad was mainly known for its association with Mahatma Gandhi, who set up his ashram on its banks. However, things changed in the last two decades as the river made headlines for other reasons — first it was Narmada waters being diverted to its dry bed, then the Gujarat government executing an ambitious riverfront project on its banks.

The project made it the most happening place in the city that has played host to events like international kite festival, air shows and even the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also landed on the riverfront in a seaplane during the Gujarat Assembly polls in 2017. On March 27, activists in Ahmedabad set to break the pomp and show with a report titled: ‘Disastrous condition of Sabarmati River’.

This report is based on joint investigations, by Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti and Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), on the rising pollution in the river and discharge of industrial effluents and sewerage in the water.

The activists pointed that the Sabarmati river in the Ahmedabad city stretch before the riverfront is dry; and within the riverfront project stretch, it is filled with stagnant water. In the last 120 kilometres before meeting the Arabian Sea, it comprises just industrial effluents and sewage.

On March 12, 2019, a joint investigation was launched into the implementation of the Supreme Court order, dated February 22, 2017, regarding the status of industrial effluents and sewerage discharge into the Sabarmati river.

The investigation was conducted by regional officers Tushar Shah and Nehalben Ajmera of GPCB, Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant of Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti along with social activist Mudita Vidrohi of Ahmedabad and high court lawyer Subodh Parmar.

“Sabarmati no longer has any fresh water when it enters Ahmedabad. The riverfront is merely a pool of polluted stagnant water; downstream it has been reduced to a channel carrying effluents from industries located in Naroda, Odhav Vatva and Narol areas besides sewerage from the city,” an activists said.

The GPCB, on its part, said that adequate measures are being taken to address the concerns, and both short-term and long-term measures are being put in place.

The activists underlined that the drought-like condition of the Sabarmati river is intensified by the riverfront development, and has resulted in poor groundwater recharge and increased dependency on the already ailing Narmada river.

“The report raises fundamental questions against both the polluting industries that discharge their untreated effluents into the Sabarmati river and Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) that discharges untreated sewerage into the river,” experts said at the launch.

“The GPCB top cadre officials have failed in their duties and responsibilities to protect the Sabarmati river’s water quality in spite of the Supreme Court order dated 22.02.2017, directing strict compliance of effluent treatment standards, continuous monitoring and closure of defaulting industries.”

They also referred to two orders of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directing compliance of the Supreme Court order. The experts further pointed out the alarmingly critical and dangerous levels of river pollution, as recorded in the investigation report.

They outlined the concern for health of the people living in Ahmedabad city and nearby villages, who rely on the river for their daily use and livelihood.

Stating the need for urgent action, the activists have approached the GPCB with a list of demands, which besides calling for strict implementation of the Supreme Court order, sought that the GPCB initiate the following actions:

  • Immediately issue closure notices to all the defaulting industries located in Ahmedabad industrial clusters
  • Issue closure notices to all the defaulting Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs)
  • Issue notices to the Municipal Commissioner of Ahmedabad to ensure compliance by all Sewerage Treatment Plants (STPs) in the area.
  • File criminal cases against the owners and directors of the defaulting polluting industries, officers of the CETPs, and the Municipal Commissioner of Ahmedabad
  • Investigate and prepare further detailed reports about the ground water contamination as well as contamination of the food grains, vegetables, and fodder
  • Ensure interim exemplary monetary compensation along with medical services to the farmers and villagers who have suffered from the groundwater pollution
  • Pay interim compensation per season per acre to the farmers who are forced to use contaminated Sabarmati river water and groundwater for irrigation of agricultural land
  • Appoint a competent interdisciplinary committee of officials and field experts to assess the ongoing and past damages to quantify the real compensation payable to the farmers for the damage done 
  • Implement the Supreme Court and NGT orders in letter and spirit 

GPCB chairman Rajiv Gupta said that adequate measures are being taken to deal with the problem. “An action plan has been submitted to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and has been approved. It is being implemented. Funds have been released for laying deep sea drainage pipelines for different Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) units,” he told Down To Earth.

“Development of riverfront and landing a seaplane on Sabarmati are cosmetic exercises. A river is identified by its clean flowing water. In this case a very large number of people are dependent on the river. It is supposed to be the lifeline of the city, but right now it is life threatening with its low oxygen levels.”

The common perception among a large number of activists is that the authorities are reluctant to take action against erring industrialists.

The riverfront development has seen relocation of around 5,000 families. Apart from those who are presently bearing the brunt of high levels of pollution in the river, these relocated masses look at Sabarmati as a socio-political issue governing their lives and livelihood.

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