May 18, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether Pune’s citizens are right to protest against the Mula-Mutha Riverfront Project. We also look at the tilted Tungnath temple in Uttarakhand, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Are Pune’s citizens right to protest against the Mula-Mutha Riverfront Project?
In the intricate dance between development and preservation, is it the State who leads or the citizens? India’s climate history reveals that real change often springs from grassroots action, surpassing even the promises made at global Climate Change conferences. People’s convictions can move – or rather, preserve – mountains. A similar narrative is unfolding in Pune, at the banks of the Mula-Mutha River.
On May 8, environmentalists from Pune voiced their opposition to the Pune Municipal Corporation’s (PMC) Riverfront Development (RVF) Project. They say the project will cause irreparable damage to the environment. Interestingly, the municipality took up the project as a rejuvenation and protection measure for Pune’s rivers. Despite protests, it continues to defend the RVF project.
The Mula-Mutha River isn’t what it once was. The River Mutha used to be known as the pride of Pune, a scenic getaway for humans and migratory birds alike. It enters Pune through the Khadakwasla dam and meets the Mula River at the Sangam bridge. The origin of the Mula and Mutha is doused in ancient myths of apsaras and penance.
In 2018, the PMC, for the first time, revealed data on the alarming extent of damage done to the river. Since then, the water’s chemical oxygen demand (COD), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), and dissolved oxygen (DO) have continued to rise, making it difficult for any form of life to survive. The cause? Increasing urbanisation, administrative neglect, and barricades restricting its natural flow.
Amidst this backdrop, the PMC launched a ₹5,500 crore RVF project. It aims to bring back the days of lush green banks along the Mula-Mutha as opposed to the present state of untreated sewage garnishing the river.
The project, about to reach completion, spans a 44-kilometre stretch of all three rivers – the Mula, the Mutha, and the Mula-Mutha. Currently, works are underway for the 11-km stretch of the Mula-Mutha River, which adds up to around ₹1,450 crore. What is it about the current project that’s got 20 concerned groups in a cold sweat?
One area of concern is the embankments along the river banks, being built to address the flooding issues. Per the PMC website, they would hold an interceptor sewer line to divert sewage from the river into the proposed sewage treatment plants. They would also ensure that people can move along the river’s banks, something they can’t do presently.
Let’s shift our focus to what was pitched as one of the most successful riverfront projects in recent times – the Gujarat Sabarmati Riverfront project.
After much fanfare, it was inaugurated in 2012 by then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi. By 2019, it became clear that there were several problems with it. A Joint Investigative Report showed that the riverfront stretch was stagnant and severely contaminated with industry effluents and sewage.
In 2023, the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti tabled a report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) that recorded Sabarmati as the second-most polluted river in the country. The matter is currently being heard in the Gujarat High Court.
Having similar concerns about the Mula-Mutha project, on April 29, over 2,000 Punekars hugged the riparian trees along the Mula-Mutha river, practising the blueprint of environmental activism laid out by the Chipko movement.
When it comes to environmental damage, collective concerns and protests are welcome in any democracy. But the PMC argues those fears are unfounded. Given the PMC’s confidence, is there a hidden malady in what’s described as a corrective measure for the environment?
VIEW: Unfounded fears
The riverfront project was introduced in the first place as a corrective measure for the widespread and unchecked urbanisation plaguing the Mula-Mutha River. The embankments will solve some of the most chronic problems the river has been dealing with, like flooding and stagnation. It will recharge the river and make it habitable for aquatic life and migratory birds.
The PMC insists that the project is being undertaken after addressing all environmental concerns. The officials are open to discussion and allege they have considered the people’s views and concerns. As for the trees, the residents’ worries are unfounded, for they will be cut per the Tree Act. The Maharashtra (Urban Areas) Protection Preservation Of Trees Act, enacted in 1975, regulates tree felling.
The project, as it stands, also has approval from the western zone branch of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The governing body has approved works for which orders have already been issued. Since it’s directed the PMC not to issue new work orders until they have received renewed environment clearances, the citizen’s fears should be alleviated.
COUNTERVIEW: Sound the alarm bells
The proposed tree-felling will prove hazardous for the river and the entire region’s biodiversity. Activists allege that 4,429 trees will be transplanted to other areas while 3,110 trees will be cut. Some trees to face the axe will be old, some young, and some likely to be heritage trees, like the Indian willow. They are riparian, i.e., habituated to wetlands or river banks, which all the more restricts their transplantation. The disappearance of these trees is likely to harm the diversity of migratory and woodland birds in the area.
Then there’s the problem with the embankments. As the past shows, these structures restrict the flow of rivers, cause contaminant accumulation, and worsen existing problems. Architects allege they’ll reduce the space for water to flow by 40%. Although the embankments are made on the premise of sewage management, sewage treatment plants are not a part of the RVF. For this, and multiple other technicalities bound to have adverse ramifications in the future, the NGT has halted all new works.
As similar projects demonstrate, corrective measures can do more harm than good. It’s not just the Sabarmati riverfront project that’s under fire but the Gomti project in Uttar Pradesh, which has become a hotspot of financial irregularities. The opacity running through such expensive projects is a significant impediment to successful corrective action for the environment. The only reason the NGT has green-lit some of the works involved in the Mula-Mutha project is that it would cause the PMC some financial loss.
- Rising pollutants turn Pune’s Mutha into a ‘dead’ river – Hindustan Times
- Pune River Development – PMC
- Save Sabarmati: A Desperate Cry – Indian Express
- Why Pune’s Citizens Are up in Arms About a Riverfront Development Project – The Wire
- Mula-Mutha riverfront project to be completed by 2025: Minister – The Indian Express
- Pune Municipal Corporation’s tree-felling plan for riverfront development draws flak – The Times of India
- NGT refuses to stop riverfront development work in Pune but asks PMC not to issue new work orders – The Indian Express
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The concerns over the Mula-Mutha riverfront development project are unfounded.
b) The concerns over the Mula-Mutha riverfront development project are legitimate.
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🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Tungnath temple tilted by about ten degrees (Uttarakhand) – The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has discovered that the Tungnath temple in Uttarakhand, known as the world’s highest Shiva shrine, is experiencing a noticeable tilt of approximately 6-10 degrees. A recent report reveals that the main temple is tilting by around five to six degrees, while the smaller structures within the complex are tilting by 10 degrees. Officials from the ASI have informed the central government about these findings and have recommended that the shrine be designated as a protected monument.
Why it matters: As an interim measure, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has affixed glass scales on the walls of the main temple. If necessary, the foundation stone of the Tungnath temple will be replaced after seeking advice from experts. The administration of the Tungnath temple falls under the jurisdiction of the Badri Kedar Temple Committee (BKTC). While the BKTC is willing to accept the ASI’s assistance in restoring the temple to its original state, they are not inclined to hand over the temple’s control to them. Members of ASI have also said that they will find out if the temple is fated to become another Joshimath.
Dotted lands to become allotted lands (Andhra Pradesh) – The government of Andhra Pradesh has taken a significant step to aid the livelihoods of over 97,000 farmers by permanently de-notifying more than 2 lakh acres of British-era ‘dotted lands’ from the prohibited list. This action restores complete ownership rights to the farmers who possess these lands. As a result, they can now freely sell, mortgage, and exercise other customary rights associated with land ownership, as stated by Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy.
Why it matters: These ‘dotted lands’ have been subject to disputes, where both the government and individuals have laid claim to ownership rights over them. Reddy informed that all such lands had been removed from the prohibited list. Additionally, the government has undertaken a resurvey of lands after a century as part of the YSR Jagananna Saswatha Bhu Hakku and Bhu Raksha scheme. In the first phase, the government has already distributed 7,92,238 permanent title deeds to farmers residing in 2,000 villages.
Afforestation land banks to be created (Odisha) – The Odisha Government has made a significant announcement regarding the establishment of a ‘Compensatory Afforestation Land Bank’ in every district. This initiative aims to provide suitable land for projects that necessitate the diversion of forestland. The state government has been encountering challenges due to a shortage of available vacant or degraded land, leading to delays in executing projects requiring the diversion of forestland for non-forest purposes under the provisions of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
Why it matters: Under the land bank scheme, the designated land will be exclusively allocated for projects carried out by both Central government ministries and the state government. The government has also stated that it does not wish to remove any encroachments from any of the selected lands. This move enhances efficiency, streamlines processes, and promotes the effective utilisation of available resources, ultimately contributing to the overall progress and welfare of the region.
Poor implementation of land laws hampering tribals (Maharashtra) – In February, a notable procession of tribals, farmers, and marginalised communities embarked on a challenging journey from Nashik to Mumbai, enduring unfavourable weather conditions throughout the route. Their united objectives encompassed the statewide implementation of the Forests Rights Act, 2006 in Maharashtra. Regrettably, there are still twenty-one districts within Maharashtra where the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, commonly referred to as the Forest Rights Act (FRA), has not been fully implemented.
Why it matters: According to a source, the forest department, while enforcing wildlife protection and forest conservation laws, restricts the access of forest-dwelling communities to the natural resources present in the forests. This sentiment is also echoed by wildlife conservationists who share similar concerns. A conservationist closely collaborating with forest guards reveals that the tribal and other communities residing in forest areas, particularly in Gadchiroli, Chandrapur, Bandara, and Gondhia districts of the state, experience fear and apprehension towards forest guards.
Poppy cultivation grows unchecked in 5 years (Manipur) – Data from Manipur’s special anti-drugs unit, Narcotics and Affairs of Border (NAB), reveals that the extent of poppy cultivation in the hills has expanded over an area of 15,400 acres of land between 2017 and 2023. Superintendent of Police (NAB) K Meghachandra Singh provided a comprehensive breakdown of arrests categorised by communities. The information also included the number of individuals evicted, referred to as “encroachers,” from reserved and protected forests from January 2017 to April 2023.
Why it matters: According to sources within the NAB, the Manipur government has not specifically targeted any particular community in its efforts to combat drug-related issues. The eviction of encroachers from reserved and protected forests across the state was carried out due to the deteriorating environmental conditions. Indian poppy is very potent and fetches a very handsome price; because of this, illegal cultivation and trade of poppy are multiplying with each passing day.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
$2.06 billion – The Union Cabinet approved a production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme for IT hardware with an outlay of $2.06 billion (₹17,000 crore).