#puneonmymind Anu Aga & Sarang Yadwadkar: River pollution should be our priority, not river beautification
Rivers are a life-giving force. Throughout history, humans have settled along rivers. They provide water which is paramount to human existence. Pune is lucky because it has five rivers that flow through it, the Mula, Mutha, Ramnadi, Pavana and Devnadi. Instead of respecting these life giving forces, we citizens have only abused our rivers. Look at the state of the Mula-Mutha river. All the sewage is dumped into these rivers without being treated. We have domestic waste, industrial waste thrown directly into the rivers without being treated. Add to that is the fact that this water goes downstream and is used for drinking by the villagers there. How sad it that? What do you expect will happen with such reckless behaviour?
Sarang Yadwadkar: Apart from the sewage being dumped into the river there is the issue of grabbing the space that belongs to the river. A river needs space to flow. The Pune municipal corporation (PMC) has allowed encroaching of the land that rightfully belongs to the rivers. The development plan (DP) that was drafted some five years ago (I was a member of that planning committee) did not show any flood lines on the maps. The DP was presented to the state government which incorporated the flood line and yet it was not realistic. In fact, the irrigation department had identified a different flood line, but that has been completely ignored and erroneous flood lines have been shown in the DP maps. The flood lines have been shifted towards the centre of the rivers maybe by 50 to even 80 metres!
Anu Aga: There should be no development zones, but sadly even construction has taken place on such no development zones of the riverbeds. There is a road built on what should be a no development zone. We moved the National green tribunal and even the Supreme Court that ordered the demolition of road constructed on the river bed. Can you imagine, the PMC did nothing! It took another contempt petition for the PMC to act. Even now, a part of the road still exists.
SY: There are plans afoot to develop the road alongside the river. This is really dangerous. There are plans to build commercial structures along the river. In fact, on the river bed at Kalyaninagar and Koregaon park, they plan to build a road. This is so destructive. Some years ago the Central government had asked state governments to draw out a plan on how they plan to deal with climate change. The state government employed Teri (Tata Energy Research Institute) to do this. Teri said that in the next few years Pune, in particular, would receive 37.5 % increased rainfall. In addition to this there would be greater occurrences of cloud bursts. And since the past few years we are experiencing this. With the flood line being encroached, how do we expect our rivers to flow freely?
AA: It is only obvious that there will be more floods. The problem is Pune is a water rich city but the management of our water resources is very poor.
SY: Yes. The standard quantity of water required by a person is 135 litres per day. In Pune we consume about 300 litres of water per person per day. Excess water allocation means generation of excess sewage. Pune city has 23 basins topographically. Ideally the sewage pipes should be collected at the centre of the basin as water finds its own level to flow. But this is just not the case. Our sewage treatment plants are not even capable of treating even 80% of the 135 litres allocated to each person.This means that huge quantities of sewage per day goes untreated into the river. Some time back the PMC noticed that the ground water was being depleted in the congested areas of the city. So rainwater harvesting was promoted. After three to four years,it was noticed that groundwater levels had risen. But, when it was tested, it was filled with faecal matter! That’s because our sewage lines are leaking and so are our water supply lines. 45% of treated water leaks and is wasted.
AA: The way forward is that first and foremost we respect the flood lines. Get rid of all encroachments.Instead of beautifying our river bed we should clean it up. Cleaning will mean better STPs and this will take a long time, but it is necessary. I remember 50 years ago we would catch fish in the river and eat it. Today you can’t find a single fish. We have killed all the organisms that live in the river with our pollution. Keeping the flood lines intact and cleaning up the river are two important things, else we will lose our rivers. After all we exist because of the river, not the other way round.
( Anu Aga is a former Rajya Sabha member. Sarang Yadwadkar is an architect and city activist.)