With the environmental disaster in Uttarakhand and the flash flood in Katraj a few weeks ago, environmentalists are redflagging what they claim is the Pune Municipal Corporation’s (PMC) apathy towards natural streams in the city.
They are alleging that the PMC is turning these streams into gutters. The PMC, however, claims that they are only working on their stormwater drainage project. Parineeta Dandekar, an activist with South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, said, “Pune has major lessons to learn from the Uttarakhand disaster.
• Activists claim that this nullah (above) in Baner was actually a stream and its width stretched between these two trees. The Ambil Odha (below) is now a gutter with sewage lines passing through it, a clear violation of the high court order
Katraj was a small example of the destruction that can be wrought when mindless development occurs on slopes. Channelisation of natural streams is the most common reason for floods.” The banks of natural water bodies are ‘no development’ zones by law.
A 7.5-metre green belt is mandatory on the banks as per the old development plan of the city. PMC is supposed to acquire land to enforce this rule. Instead, environmentalists claim that this belt has been completely encroached upon by builders. Streams have become dumping grounds and their natural width has gone down from 60 metres to 2 metres in some areas.
Even the Bombay High Court had on April 26, 2012, directed the PMC to follow the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) guidelines in this matter.
“The guidelines clearly state that there should be no concretisation and laying of sewage pipes in any natural water body and if such pipes are present, they have to be removed. PMC is blatantly continuing work in direct contradiction to the set guidelines and HC directive,” said environmentalist Anupam Saraph.
He added that due to concretisation, groundwater has depleted steadily over the last six years. He added, “Some fish from the Mula-Mutha work their way upstream towards these small water bodies to lay eggs.
Streams in their path have started disappearing and this will severely hamper the ecology of the river.” Moreover, PMC’s disaster cell has identified 39 locations as flood-prone areas and none of them are near any nullahs.
They are all located near the river. This means, the authorities are not even looking at nullahs as danger points, he said. Civic activist Vivek Velankar said, “They play with streams like they are toys.
Water does not follow the boundaries set by PMC and that is why flooding happens. Sadly, PMC will only wake up once a major disaster happens.” Namdev Barapatre, superintending engineer (Road), PMC, said, “We are not concretising streams. We are only working on the storm water drainage project.”
However, activists have claimed that the 23 basins, which form a part of the storm water drain project, are a disaster in the making.
The Problem Areas
This is one of the first areas where PMC created stormwater drains and converted natural streams that never flooded into nullahs through concretisation and channelisation.
Now, water can’t percolate into the stream from the surroundings. This leads to water-logging and will culminate into a flood situation. The stream has been constricted, leading to encroachments.
This stream flows from Katraj to join the Mutha near Mhatre bridge. The green belt on either side has been encroached upon and the stream is mostly carrying sewage. PMC has been laying sewage pipes into the stream, with scant regard for the court order to remove them.
It is not just a flood-prone area, but also a breeding ground for mosquitoes. The groundwater here has been contaminated with the E.coli bacteria. The ability of the stream to recharge groundwater has been destroyed.
There has been dumping in the rivers in the areas under the jurisdiction of both PCMC and PMC, but neither have taken cognisance of this fact. The sewage pipes are broken in some areas, directly polluting the river with no treatment.
The PMC has built a road on the Mutha basin at a height of about 10 metres. This is inside the blue flood line. When 45,000 cusecs of water is released from the Khadakwasla dam, most houses get submerged up to the first storey.