Narmada also helps to replenish the Sabarmati river, say officials

The Narmada river, known as the lifeline for Gujarat, also sustains the Sabarmati river by replenishing it.

The Narmada Control Authority’s decision to increase the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam from 121.92 metres to 138.72 metres would not affect the availability of the Narmada water for the Sabarmati riverfront project in Ahmedabad, touted as a model for river rejuvenation, officials said.

Depending on irrigation needs, about 500 to 1,500 cusecs (cubic feet per second) of the Narmada water is flown into the Sabarmati for the riverfront project. However, river experts question this very aspect of the project.

“A river should have its own water. In the upstream, Sabarmati is dry, whereas the downstream is a polluted stretch. Where is the river? It’s Narmada water they are using. And we are just talking about a stretch of 10.5 km [over which the project is spread],” said Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asian Network of Dams, Rivers and People. “Ahmedabad city has no right on the Narmada water. That water is supposed to be for the drought-prone Kutch and Saurashtra regions. As it is there is no sufficient water in the Narmada,” he said.

Sabarmati being a non-perennial river, dependent on rain, the riverfront project cannot serve as a model for river rejuvenation, activists and officials concur.

“In the Sabarmati project, the riverbed has shrunk by about 50 metres. So, it’s more like a nullah. The depth of the river was increased, but the project should stand the test of floods,” said Mahesh Pandya, director of Ahmedabad-based NGO Paryavaran Mitra.

The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) said the river project was equipped to deal with floods as hydraulic studies were conducted before project implementation and flood protection walls built along the river. In 2003, the project bagged the Prime Minister’s award for excellence in urban planning and design. In 2012, the AMC won a national award for the project under the category of ‘Best Practices to Improve the Living Environment.’

“The people are coming to the river. Criticisms are there for any project, but we succeeded in bringing the citizens back to the river. That’s the idea. Yes, we use the Narmada water, but otherwise, the Sabarmati would have been lying dry. How would it have helped?” Ahmedabad’s deputy municipal commissioner M. Thennaresan said.

The corporation has rehabilitated 11,000 people displaced by the project. However, pointed out Mr. Pandya, it happened only after strict orders from the Gujarat High Court.

Challenging the government’s claims of having cleaned the river, activists have raised the issue of the river’s pollution. While the upstream of the river provides a picturesque view, the downstream offers a stark contrast with industrial effluents emptying out into the river channel.

Pollution in Sabarmati, especially in the downstream could be “a concern for anybody” said Mr. Thennaresan.

According to a survey by Paryavaran Mitra, done this February, Sabarmati water has high levels of acidity, suspended solids, chemical oxygen demand (COD) and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), compared to the levels set by the Central and Gujarat Pollution Control Board for effluents.

In water samples of the river, the level of total suspended solids was 530 mg/l (milligram/litre) as against the standard of 100. “Unregulated and uncared waste is being poured into the river,” the survey noted.

The AMC hopes to tackle the problem of waste with three tertiary sewage treatment plants, in addition to the two secondary treatment sewage plants, currently in operation. “Sabarmati was abused in many ways. There are 41 inlets from where the sewage water comes. With sewage lines and pumping station, we have been able to control that 90.95 per cent. In two years, the whole 10.5-km stretch will be pollution free,” said Mr. Thennaresan.