The babus who recently visited Ahmedabad on June 5-6 to see if the “Sabarmati riverfront model” could be replicated for restoration of the Yamuna in Delhi had mixed reactions. “Once the Sabarmati was dry. Now it has water — lots of it. There is hardly any sewage in it,” beamed one such Delhi government official who was a part of the team.
And when asked how was the Sabarmati revived? “They did not allow sewage into the river. They trapped everything at both ends, treated and released it only outside the city limits,” came a simplistic response.
While the Delhi babus, on their return, are busy preparing a report on how to revive the dead Yamuna, experts say the Rs 1,250-crore Sabarmati project is no example to replicate in Delhi.
Even at least two of the seven officials who visited Ahmedabad find faults with the Sabarmati model but requested not to be named.
Independent experts are not at all impressed. Manoj Misra of NGO Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan said, “In Ahmedabad, it’s a canal front project. There is no river rejuvenation. Recreational spots have eaten up flood plains, keeping floodwater from spreading and becoming ground water. The water that you see has been brought from the Narmada canal, many believe illegally. Pollution has been pushed downstream.”"The 10.5-km stretch is attractive, but it can never be a model for a 52-km stretch of Yamuna in Delhi, which died because of lack of fresh water and excessive sewage and industrial pollutants," he said, adding, "For attraction, you can build a canal front anywhere. Why pick the Yamuna? Babus must be honest and admit it’s no river rejuvenation".
Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on dams, rivers and people said, “The Sabarmati example in Delhi will be a disaster. The Sabarmati has neither been cleaned nor rejuvenated. Its floodplain has been encroached upon for real estate developers at the cost of drought-prone areas of Gujarat.”
Interestingly, an expert committee formed by the National Green Tribunal has already recommended scrapping of Yamuna river front projects in Delhi as “further concretisation in the name of recreational spots will kill the river”.
“What you need is rejuvenation of catchment vegetation to revive aquifers that feed springs, waterfalls and streams all along its length and the restoration of its natural flows and floodplains (and associated water bodies) to revive the aquatic and riparian plants and animals that invest a living river with an amazing ability of self cleansing,” says Misra.
The Sabarmati obsession emanates from a meeting between Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung and Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month.
Modi has been saying the Sabarmati project is fit for replication. Delhi officials also studied evacuation and rehabilitation of more than 10,000 families living on the Sabarmati river banks.