Thousands denied drinking water, farmers denied water for irrigation: The true cost of Sabarmati Riverfront

The ‘Sabarmati Riverfront’ has been for many, one of the crowning jewels of the Gujarat government during the period of Narendra Modi as its Chief Minister. The riverfront, in Ahmedabad, has been used time and again to show the ‘development’ that the state has witnessed under the leadership of the BJP. In truth, however, the Riverfront is nothing short of an ecological disaster, with the project denying thousands of Gujarat residents the right to drinking water.

Sabarmati Riverfront [Courtesy –]

On the first look, it is evident that the Sabarmati Riverfront developed in Ahmedabad gives a new look to the Sabarmati river, which, like most rivers in urban India, had been on the verge of death. But revealed to the public in 2005, the riverfront is drawing water from drought-prone Kutch area of Gujarat to keep the riverfront alive and “beautiful”.

Narmada river meeting seasonal Sabarmati river [Courtesy – SANDRP]

A tweet trail by twitter user Jayesh Bhatia (@bjayesh9) caught our attention, so we thought to research a bit go the story.As the Sabarmati is a seasonal river and only gets the water during the Monsoon season, the water body has to get the water from Narmada river. And the water from the Narmada comes via Narmada Canal, which was inaugurated in 2008 for irrigation purposes.

The Narmada Canal, which runs for over 500 km, is the main feeder to the Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad. [Amit Kumar/]

Various ecological experts and research scholars have already raised the question on the kind of development brought about by the riverfront, but very few have shown concern with the people of Kutch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat, who first have the rights on the water of Narmada river.Amruta Pradhan, a research associate with SANDRP (South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People), wrote in her field study report, “City of Ahmedabad or Sabarmati River has no right on Narmada River Water, it’s the water meant for drought-prone areas of Kutch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat. Thus the water we see in Sabarmati in Ahmedabad is water deprived of the drought-prone areas.”

The purpose of building Narmada canal was to have a channel so that excess water from Sardar Sarovar Dam could be extracted into Narmada river to avoid the flood. But soon after the riverfront work started, it was a challenge to maintain the flow into the Sabarmati river.

The Narmada Canal, as we had showed in our story earlier this month, has also been built at a great cost for the local farmers of the Narmada district. While the canal, which is over 500 km long, feeds water to the rest of Gujarat, the locals allege that they still have to depend on monsoon for irrigation. They also allege that despite losing thousands of acres of land in the canal project, they have received no benefits from the canal and like the Sardar Sarovar Dam, this project too has only led to the destruction of their livelihoods.

To ensure the river flow in Sabarmati river, specifically in Ahmedabad region, Gujarat government took two extreme decisions. One, it reduced the width of Sabarmati river to 275 meters from the original 382 meters, and two, it started drawing water from Narmada river through Narmada canal.
So for developing riverfront, the original Sabarmati river was reduced to a canal.

Another factor hindering into the riverfront project was to keep Sabarmati free of sewage water and let only one hundred percent treated sewage water enter into the Sabarmati water. To meet this demand, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) started working and claimed very recently that it has succeeded in treating every amount of sewage coming down to Sabarmati.

But it was revealed in a field study ​in 2014​ that Gujarat government did not actually treat the sewage water, but was dumping the untreated sewage water into Sabarmati few kilometres downstream of Ahmedabad at Vasna Barrage.

Contrary to the claims, untreated sewage is being discharged into Sabarmati. [Courtesy – SANDRP]

Himanshu Thakkar, the coordinator at SANDRP talked with over the issue. He said, “The Gujarat government has been saying that they have rejuvenated the Sabarmati by developing a riverfront, but it seems that they are basically lying.”“If you look at the facts, the river is a dry stream upstream of Ahmedabad and a sewage body downstream of Ahmedabad. It only looks fancy during the riverfront stretch, which Gujarat government has made by containing it in concrete walls,” said Thakkar.

Satellite imaging confirms the only wide stretch of Sabarmati river in riverfront region, possible because of Narmada Canal. [Courtesy – Jayesh Bhatia]

The Rs 1,150 crore project of Narendra Modi – who was serving as a chief minister of the state by then – also compelled Akhilesh Yadav, ex-chief minister of Uttar Pradesh to develop the same riverfront at Varuna and Yamuna river in the state. But what has been ignored that by developing and maintaining the riverfront, the governments have been actually killing fastened the pace of killing the river.Thakkar said, “The government basically snatched the water which was meant to help people in times of drought and it is the cleverness of the government that anyone hardly knows about this in Gujarat or in the country.”

Saurashtra and Kutch regions of the state have been fighting hard for many years to cope up with the state economy, even after receiving low rainfall than the state’s average. Moreover, it was the cotton and groundnut farmers of the Saurashtra who joined the farmers’ protest happened in most of the Indian states mid of 2017.

A farmer in front of ‘mini canals’ that were supposed to provide water to farms around the canal but are now overgrown with weeds as they have seen no water in over two decades.[Amit Kumar/]

The issue of Minimum Support Price (MSP) and the condition of groundnut and cotton farmers of Saurashtra region prevail in current Gujarat election. The state BJP government has been accused of not caring about the farmers who have been delivering despite low rainfall.  But the farmers know very little about whereabouts of the Narmada river water. They are not aware of the fact that Narmada’s water is being directed to keep riverfront alive.In 2014, after several complaints of mosquito problem in Ahmedabad arose because of stagnant water, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation introduced mosquito repellant inside the river water, making the water even more unusable to use. Officials also claimed that the mosquitoes were “harmless” and “non-infectious”, contrary to the scientific findings that mosquitoes were Culex: a carrier for filariasis.

Sabarmati riverfront, which is constantly being loaded with several market plaza and amusement setups, is also not immune to the excess flow of water during monsoons.

In July this year, the lower promenade of the riverfront drowned after 1.3 lakh cusecs water was released from Dharoi dam, and authorities came under questioning. In the years 2006, 2011, and 2015, the lower promenade was submerged because of the same reason.

When tried to contact Babubhai Bokhiria, the water resource minister of Gujarat, he put the blame on the local body for allowing the untreated sewage to go into the river body.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the SAUNI (Saurashtra Narmada Avtaran Irrigation) Yojana in April this year, the tender for which is still to come out. Talking about the same, Bokhiria told,  “We had Sauni scheme in 2012 also. But this time we are more determined to make it possible.”

The responsibility of Gujarat government – irrespective of incoming or outgoing one – the task is bigger to deliver a more ecological and socially efficient and healthy development setup to the people of Gujarat.

Courtesy: Two Circles



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