It is no secret that most rivers in India are in serious trouble with the Ganga and the Yamuna leading the list. Despite having spent, with little results to show, huge funds in pollution control measures, authorities are at their wits end to meet the challenge. In such a gloomy scenario, senior BJP leaders, including Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, have often offered the Sabarmati riverfront development work carried out in Ahmedabad as a model for river restoration.
For a river to truly revive, the root cause/s for its demise must be addressed first. Often these causes relate to the disruption of a river’s longitudinal and lateral connectivity, which is essential to its health. Requisite actions include 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 flood plains (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.
If this is what has been achieved in the Sabarmati, then kudos to the government for its efforts. But if not, then it is a farce.
Consider the facts: the Sabarmati, a 370-km long once-perennial river originates from the Aravalli hills near Udaipur in Rajasthan and meets the Arabian Sea in the Gulf of Khambhat. A dam constructed in 1978 on it at Dharoi, 165 km upstream of Ahmedabad, first dried up and then relentless pollution from Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar turned the river into one of the most-threatened rivers by 1990s.
In 1997, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) embarked on an ambitious riverfront development project. This project was inaugurated in 2012 and is now touted as a role model for other rivers in the country. This Rs 1,100 crore project is actually an infrastructural development project focussed on a mere 10.5 km of the river in Ahmedabad.
Notwithstanding its recreational appeal, it cannot be called a river restoration project as it does not address the rejuvenation needs of the Sabarmati as a river system but caters merely to the water needs of a 275-m wide Sabarmati canal, fed by what many believe illegally from the upstream Narmada canal. Admittedly an attractive canal-front on borrowed water has been created in the city. But to call it a riverfront and offer it as a river restoration example is nothing short of a travesty.
Manoj Misra is the convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan
The views expressed by the author are personal