The flash floods in Pune last week, which left 22 people dead (some were washed away, while they were driving their vehicles), again brings out the frightening hazard caused by indiscriminate dumping and encroachment into the blue lines of the rivers. The consequent narrowing of river banks has reduced the depth of river beds leading to life threatening flash floods.
On 26 September 2019, the National Green Tribunal (NGT)’s Principal Bench at Delhi, ordered that an action plan should be chalked out within a month by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) and Pune Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (PMRDA) to remove all encroachments and debris in the river. The municipal corporations are liable to pay a penalty of Rs1 crore each in case they fail to do so.
Noted civic activist, Sarang Yadwakar had filed a petition, against dumping of construction materials on the flood plains of the rivers flowing through Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad cities, particularly the Mula Mutha River. In his petition, he stated that despite an order of the NGT on 27 March 2015, prohibiting construction of any kind within a distance of 50 meters from the Blue Line of rivers, 12 instances of encroachments have taken place in Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad.
There is a decrease in the discharge carrying capacity of the rivers, creating a flood situation because of:
Unauthorised constructions/ encroachments along the river course and the flood zone due to dumping of debris, soil, murum and construction and demolition waste
Large quantities of solid waste being dumped along the rivers
Discharge of untreated domestic waste water and sewage
Untreated industrial effluents released into the rivers.
The three municipal authorities have been ordered to act immediately to remove all unauthorised construction within the prohibited areas and restore rivers to their original form. All drains and nallahs discharging untreated waste water and untreated industrial effluent be diverted to available sewage treatment plants (STPs) and common and combined effluent treatment plants (CETPs), to ensure that the untreated waste water and effluents are not discharged directly into the rivers; and also remove all obstructions caused to the rivers.
The encroachments have shockingly spread to the almost the entire stretch of the Mula Mutha and Pavana Rivers and are very serious in nature.
Some examples of this are:
Dumping of massive construction debris at Babasaheb Ambedkar Bridge at Pimple Nilakh, which is under PCMC limits in the River Mula;
Encroachment on the right bank of Pawana River by dumping construction debris at bridge connecting Pimpri and at Pimple Saudagar, which is under PCMC limits;
Dumping construction debris on both banks of Pawana River near the bridge connecting Pimple Gurav and Kasarwadi under PCMC limits;
Encroachment on the right bank of Pawana River by dumping construction debris near Karmavir Bhaurao Patil Road, Sangvi;
Encroachment at the confluence of Mula River and Ram Nadi by dumping huge amount of debris near the left bank of Mula River and Pimple Nilakh;
Encroachment on Mutha Riverbed by way of dumping of huge quantities of soil on the left bank of Mutha River near DeccanGymkhana and behind Sambhaji Park;
Multiple encroachments at Sangamwadi Road on the left bank of Mula-Mutha River starting from the confluence of Mutha and Mula;
Dumping debris in Mula River at the bridge connecting Nanded Village to Shivane Village.
Shockingly, on the left bank of Mutha River behind Dangat Industrial Estate, Mr Yadwadkar’s petition states that, “a huge chunk of land is robbed from left bank to right bank of Mutha River by shifting the entire course of the river towards the left from its original position.”
Considering the seriousness of the violations, a Committee was constituted comprising the chief engineer, water resources, district collector, Pune; member secretary, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) and a senior scientist from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) regional office.
The MPCB carried out inspections upon Mr Yadvadkar’s complaint, validated his allegation and observed that, “It is necessary to remove the dumping or otherwise every a year flood disaster will happen…In future if encroachment is not stopped and the dump material is not removed within the blue line, a heavy disaster is likely to happen, river may change its direction of flow which would lead to heavy losses of property and living habitats.”
It also observed that heavy dumping of construction material “affects the flood carrying capacity of rivers and causes major obstruction to river flow”.
As for the right bank of the Pavana River, “encroachment has been made by villagers by dumping huge quantity of debris, road asphalt, rubbish and murum. They have also put up stalls of various fabricated material. Due to this, natural cross section of river was totally disturbed at one side. This type of encroachment pattern is seen along both banks of Pavana River throughout length in the city area.
In some areas, the natural flow of the Pavana River has been diverted, causing major obstruction to the river flow.”
The MPCB further observes, “At Pimpale Gurav to Kasarwadi Bridge, besides dumping debris, PCMC is developing a 6,000 sq mt garden by constructing retaining wall on river bank and filling river flood plain up to road level. A temple, which is constructed on the left bank of the river, is causing major obstruction to the flow of the river.”
MPCB has recommended appropriate action against these encroachments by forming a committee of PMC, PCMC, PMRDA, commissioner of police and superintendent of police for appropriate action to remove the debris and to avoid the flood situation in future.
The National Green Tribunal, in its order of 26th September concluded that, “based on observations made during inspection of Mutha, Mula-Mutha, Mula and Pavana rivers by the committee, facts mentioned by the applicants in their application dated 23 July 2019 are found correct. Due to these encroachments in the rivers, discharge carrying capacity of rivers is decreasing day by day and creating floods situation.”
It has ordered that the PMC, PCMC & PMRDA to immediately start removing such unauthorised constructions/ encroachments from river course and flood zone in association with Water Resource Department, within a time frame chalked out jointly by the three authorities. And to implement the Town Planning Department’s GR of June 2016, “to use of satellite images and computer system to control unauthorized construction/encroachments.”
The three municipal authorities will have to pay a penalty of Rs1 crore each, if action plan has not been chalked out within a month of this order.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”