How a river dies

A fisherman casts his net in Ulhas  

A river that has its beginnings in pristine streams flowing down from the Western Ghats at Rajmachi near Lonavala, the Ulhas ends as a smelly creek in the Arabian Sea. The pollution of its waters prompted the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to impose a fine of nearly Rs 100 crore on polluting entities including government agencies and industries along its course.

This order by the NGT was stayed by the Bombay High Court, but the same was lifted by the Supreme Court in April this year. The Ulhas begins its 122-km journey to Mumbai and the sea near Tungarli dam, where it is a fairly shallow water body. As it travels, it swells in volume and size with mountain streams feeding it.

The river flows via Pune, Raigad and Thane districts, where the inhabitants of its banks use it for various purposes including washing clothes and fishing. The river flows through Khandala valley and interior Karjat. It then flows through Bhivpuri, Neral, Badlapur, Ambernath, Ulhasnagar, Shahad, Kalyan and Dombivli before joining the the Vasai creek and, eventually, reaching the Arabian Sea.

In small villages like Khandpe, Sangavi, Adivali, Newali, Avalas and Palasdhari Newali, its water is used for farming, says Pandu Thakur, a farmer. “The river is an important resource for this small villages,” he adds. At Bhivpuri, people fish in it and splash around to beat the heat as well.

However, as the river gets closer to Mumbai, its colour changes, reflecting the growing human and industrial activity around it. Near Karjat, it turns green with drain pipes releasing untreated sewage into it and people washing clothes on its banks.

“I was born in Karjat, and I used to drink the Ulhas river’s water as a child. Back then, the water was clean and clear. There was a well for drinking water on the river’s bank. Construction on river bank and daily use by locals has polluted it,” said Khandu Jadhav, 70.

The problem starts at Badlapur, Ambernath and Ulhasnagar, where industries dump waste into the Waldhuni river, which connects with the Ulhas. Near Kalyan, it starts to resemble a sewer. “I know this river since childhood. People now call it a nullah because that’s what it looks like. They have no idea this was once a river,” said Darshan Kadhav, a college student.

The writer is a freelance photojournalist

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 1:35:03 PM |

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