Homes and gardens

Revive a river, save a city

The snowflakes were coming down rapidly. It had been two months since the snow had fallen once. This time the young lads were making snowballs and throwing them at each other. River Jhelum, once also known as the Vitasta, was a sight to behold. Srinagar is a beautiful city. The Dal lake is a much visited spot by tourists, as are the Mughal gardens. Yet one of the most beautiful sights is a river running through a city.

Some years back floods in the Jhelum had brought misery to the city. Great flood drainage channels are now being placed. They resemble large canals. The stretch of the river we walked had the lovely bridges spanning across. Some made of wood as in the old days. Others modern. On the bridge walk people and they toss garbage in plastic bags into the river.

On the banks, as we walk, we notice various small sewage lines pouring their dirty content into the river directly. Construction debris lie in some place. The birds that start to make a racket in the evening as dusk falls are pigeons, crows or birds of prey. All urban denizens. A lone Chinar tree harbours a cacophony of mynahs.

We come cross a spring almost in the river bed. Fresh water is bubbling out. Close by is a temple. Even among the dirtiness people will drink straight from the spring for it is considered holy water.

A conversation with the locals reveal interesting facts. The river used to be clean as long as the boatmen were there. People used to stay in boats on the river itself and would prevent the throwing of garbage or the letting off of sewage near the boats. Once the boatmen went, the caretakers of the river had gone.

The old sanitation system were generally communal. The waste would be picked up and taken to the fields to be used as manure. Now they have been replaced by the flush toilets in individual homes. The main network being planned neglects certain portions close to the river because of slope constraint and thus they empty directly into the river.

Remedial measures

The process of regeneration of the Jhelum will be slow and cumbersome. Solid waste collection systems will have to come to every house and flat. Properly segregated they will need to be taken for composting or recycling. The sewage lines flowing into the river will need to be connected to interceptor pipes or drains on each side of the river bank, taken to pumping wells and then pumped into the main network and thence to sewage treatment plants.

People will need to be drawn to the river bank through suitable path ways and light systems designed to ensure its use in the evening hours. Landscape will need to respond to context and small trees and shrubs which will not destabilise the slopes planted to attract more species of birds. Conservation of heritage monuments will enhance the trail and on the river bank there are several monuments which need repair and recovery.

All these will need coordination with various institutions of the government and a small team is now trying its best to do the work.

Infrastructure in a city is about marrying the hard and the soft. Sewage lines and landscape. Trees and old monuments. Walking trails and flood protection. Solid waste management and spring regeneration. Constructed wetlands and small market-based livelihoods.

A river will connect all these and in the revival of a river will lie the regeneration of a city. Truly water wisdom.

zenrainman@gmail.com

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Printable version | Sep 23, 2020 3:36:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/homes-and-gardens/revive-a-river-save-a-city/article23003904.ece

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