Sabarmati Smarter Than Yamuna
Gujarat state government has done to Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad in about half a decade what successive Union Ministers for Urban Development, Culture and Environment and Delhi state government have been dreaming for Yamuna River for several decades.
Not only has Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), led by Narendra Modi government, made sure that Sabarmati stops flooding low-lying areas of the city during monsoon season and constitutes only of pure and clean water and no sewerage and drainage, but it is all set to create a huge recreational avenue on the 11 kilometre-long stretch when it flows through the largest city of Gujarat.
The AMC under Deputy Commissioner and Executive Director of Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project, Captain Dilip Mahajan, has not only almost completed construction of two promenades, built a retaining wall along both sides of the river but also rehabilitated majority of the people who were displaced from the river bank.
“Ninty-five per cent work on the river front is over. We have almost finished the walk ways and rehabilitated almost 10,000 people (out of total 14,000). Around 5,000 of these have even moved to the allotted houses,” Mahajan told this journalist when he recently visited Ahmedabad.
From the two promenades while the lower promenade—about 10 metre wide— will give easy access to people to the river water, the upper one will host a variety of public buildings, cultural and educational institutions, public parks and plazas and a few areas for commercial development. A new traffic infrastructure is expected to connect people directly to the river front. The promenades will have lots of parks, gardens, sports facilities and avenues for other recreational activities. The retaining wall, built according to specifications suggested by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee, will be able to handle 4.75 lakh cusec of water.
The Sabarmati has till date never had over a lakh cusec of water except in 1973 when it caused floods and earlier this month when it poured for several days. But during every monsoon, its water would enter a few low-lying areas of Ahmedabad causing long-term misery and short-term displacement.
The most astonishing fact of the matter is that the project, initiated in 2004, has almost been completed without any expenses from the state exchequer. This became possible because the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project Limited, the special purpose vehicle, formed for the purpose, gave 14.5 per cent of 200 hectares of the land, it reclaimed on the river banks, to private developers. The developers are now expected to construct plazas, shopping malls and sell space for office space.
Another amazing part is that the project will result in cleaning up the river, which bears flow of sewerage at least at 36 places in the city. The project will connect all the drainage points to two sewage treatment plants at Vasna and Pirana, which are already in place.
The Sabarmati, one of the three major rivers of Gujarat (the other being the Narmada and the Tapti), has freedom struggle history associated with it as Mahatma Gandhi not only set up his ashram on its banks but is also remembered for having hailing from the place. The song Sabarmati ke sant tune kar diya kamaal (the saint of Sabarmati you did wonders) is sung with a lot of patriotic fervour.
Initially the AMC planned to provide alternate accommodation to about 8,000 people who were settled on the banks of river before 2002. But Gujarat High Court later extended the cutoff date to 2007 thus adding another 6,000 more for rehabilitation.
The project began as an urban renewal project to significantly improve the ecosystem around Ahmedabad city, which attained disrepute after the post-Godhra communal riots in 2002. Over a thousand people were massacred in the riots, which continued for several days and which, according to Modi’s detractors, the state government failed to control.
The 85 per cent of the public space, which has been created, would have cultural and civic institutions such as museums, monuments, performance venues, and exhibition space to significantly enhance the availability of civic amenities.
The Sabarmati is considered a lifeline for Ahmedabad and has seven bridges over it to help people cross over from one side of the city to the other. The river, dividing the city into two almost equal parts, is expected to be a unifier after the completion of the river front project. Besides creating a huge opportunity for tourism, the river front would fetch more investment to the already prosperous state.
Interestingly, former Union Minister for Urban Development and Culture Jagmohan planned to create similar kind of promenades along the banks of Yamuna River in the national capital. But his project could never see the light of day. The Thames, the famous river in London, is supposed to have created a similar facility.
Over the years, the Yamuna, one of the holiest rivers of India, has become the most polluted river in the country with Delhi discharging all its garbage into it. The river water is not even considered fit for aquatic life. Leave aside Delhi, the river water stinks even in Agra when the Yamuna meanders behind Taj Mahal, the monument of love. Ironically, before Yamuna enters Delhi, its water is much cleaner.
By Narendra Kaushik from Ahmedabad