A river gets two head­wa­ters

In­dus­tri­al­ists are try­ing to push the ori­gin of the Nag river down­stream to cap­ture its up­per stretch for real es­tate business


Real es­tate com­pa­nies in Nag­pur are lob­by­ing to erase up­per stretch of the Nag river from gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments

Lthe ori­gin of a river is most OOK­ING FOR likely to excite any pota­mol­o­gist. But not if it is the Nag river, from which the city of Nag­pur in Ma­ha­rash­tra takes its name. As if driv­ing for hours over gritty roads and nav­i­gat­ing through nar­row lanes is not enough, one has to stop fre­quently to ask for di­rec­tions.“We get lost ev­ery time we come here,”says Prad­hyumna Sa­has­trab­ho­ja­nee, one of the mem­bers of a group of ecol­o­gists who had stud­ied the river and es­tab­lished its ori­gin at the foot of the Lava hills just out­side Nag­pur in 1998-99. “Things change so fast. New con­struc­tion is com­ing up over ev­ery inch of this area,” he adds. What makes it worse is the in­cred­u­lous look lo­cal peo­ple give you when you ask them about the river. “River? Here?”is the stan­dard re­sponse.

Fi­nally, when one gets to the point that is sup­pos­edly the ori­gin,it is de­void of nat­u­ral land­scape. In­stead, there is a large ce­mented well and a chunk of lava rock sur­rounded by dusty, dy­na­mite-blasted re­mains of the hills with poor ur­ban dwellings press­ing in on all sides.

Such a pitiable con­di­tion is not sur­pris­ing, given that the river has been in the eye of a con­tro­versy for the past two years over its source of ori­gin. While en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists claim the Nag river orig­i­nated in the Lava hills out­side the city, in­dus­tri­al­ists have iden­ti­fied a dam within the city lim­its as the point of ori­gin as this gives them lee­way to carry out real es­tate business in the up­per stretches of the river, which is pro­tected un­der the law.

Clue­less about the source

The Ma­ha­rash­tra gov­ern­ment no­ti­fied the Nag only in 2000 un­der its River Reg­u­la­tion Zone (rrz) Pol­icy for­mu­lated in the same year. The rrz pol­icy ear­marks the up­per stretches of all rivers—from its ori­gin to the first dam—as drink­ing wa­ter zone be­cause of its pris­tine qual­ity. But the no­ti­fi­ca­tion did not iden­tify the Lava hills as the site of ori­gin of the Nag river. It also did not take into ac­count the fact that the Cen­tral Prov­inces

Dis­trict Gazetteer, the of­fi­cial record­keep­ing doc­u­ment dur­ing the days of the Bri­tish, recorded th­ese hills as the ori­gin of the river as early as in 1908.

Nor was the dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tion keen to pro­tect the river. Sa­has­trab­ho­ja­nee says while the ad­min­is­tra­tion set up a com­mit­tee to re­vive the river around 1999-2000,it con­tin­ued to give res­i­den­tial and in­dus­trial clear­ances in the 3 km buf­fer zone along the bank of the river through­out its en­tire stretch. As a re­sult,a large part of the hills where the river orig­i­nated has been blasted away by real es­tate de­vel­op­ers. The up­per stretch of the Nag—span­ning 6 km in length from the Lava hills to the Am­bazari dam in the city— is to­day clouded with con­struc­tion.

Lob­by­ing for de­no­ti­fi­ca­tion

When the rrz rules were no­ti­fied in 2009, nine years after the pol­icy was for­mu­lated, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists saw a glim­mer of hope.In com­pli­ance with the pol­icy pro­vi­sion that does not al­low in­dus­tries within the buf­fer zone, the Ma­ha­rash­tra Pol­lu­tion Con­trol Board (mpcb) re­jected all ex­pan­sion pro­pos­als of 209 in­dus­tries in the Hingna Ma­ha­rash­tra In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (midc) area and also re­fused to give con­sent to re­newals.This move was met with a wave of protests from the in­dus­try.

“Since 2009, the fate of all 209 units has been un­cer­tain be­cause they are op­er­at­ing with­out con­sent.Many in­dus­tries need to ex­pand to stay vi­able, but are un­able to do so,” says Chandramohan Rand­hir, pres­i­dent of Hingna midc In­dus­tries As­so­ci­a­tion.

How­ever, in a sur­prise move in Septem­ber 2012,mpcb floated a pro­posal to the state gov­ern­ment to de­no­tify the up­per stretch of the river, plead­ing that the stretch was al­ready too badly en­croached upon to be con­served. The Nag­pur Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion (nmc) went a step fur­ther and iden­ti­fied the spill­way of the Am­bazari dam,where the river en­ters the city lim­its,as the point of ori­gin.The pro­posal was re­jected by an or­der of the state Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment and Forests (moef ) dated Septem­ber 3,2013.

The mat­ter did not end there. In Septem­ber this year, the com­mit­tee which for­mu­lated the rrz pol­icy met un­der the chair­per­son of the in­dus­try sec­re­tary, when the en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary was on leave, and de­cided to down­grade the sta­tus of the up­per stretches of not just the Nag river but also its trib­u­tary, the Pili.They de­cided to re­lax rrz norms for the Hingna midc in­dus­tries.The decision has been put on hold by the state.

Both nmc and mpcb have dis­tanced them­selves from the sec­ond de­no­ti­fi­ca­tion at­tempt. “For us, the mat­ter ended when the gov­ern­ment turned down our pro­posal last year,” says mpcb re­gional head N H Shivangi. Of­fi­cials from all de­part­ments in­volved in giv­ing res­i­den­tial clear­ances say that new per­mits are be­ing granted as per rrz rules. Shivangi adds that while ex­ist­ing con­struc­tions can­not be touched, the body has stopped giv­ing fresh clear­ances in the buf­fer zone of the river. But in­dus­tri­al­ists are adamant on re­lax­ation of the rules. “Apart from four or five chem­i­cal in­dus­tries, most of th­ese units are ei­ther en­gi­neer­ing or plas­tic-mould­ing units which do not cause wa­ter pol­lu­tion. There is no rea­son why the rules should not be re­laxed for th­ese units,” Rand­hir says.

Ac­cord­ing to Sud­hir Pali­wal of Vi­darbha En­vi­ron­ment Ac­tion Group, which had filed a com­plaint against the sec­ond de­no­ti­fi­ca­tion at­tempt, mpcb’s re­port propos­ing de­no­ti­fi­ca­tion has caused more dam­age as it has en­cour­aged in­dus­try to mount pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment,” he says.

Added prob­lem of sewage

Another prob­lem is nmc’s lack of vi­sion in han­dling the sewage dumped into the river. The Nag and its trib­u­taries to­gether re­ceive 345 mil­lion litres per day (mld) of un­treated sewage within the city, in ad­di­tion to the sewage re­leased in the up­per stretch of the river.Since 2000,all that nmc has done is set up an 80 mld sewage treat­ment plant (stp) at Bhan­de­wadi vil­lage, which is ly­ing de­funct. In 1999, it had re­jected the pro­posal of the non-profit EcoC­ity Foun­da­tion for de­cen­tralised sewage treat­ment for a mam­moth 15,000 crore project for a con

` ven­tional stp for the city.Funds are yet to be al­lo­cated for this plan. A sep­a­rate 126.3

` crore mas­ter­plan for the Nag river is also wait­ing clear­ance from the Union moef.

The Nag river should have been one of the eas­i­est rivers in the coun­try to con­serve be­cause its ori­gin is so close to the city, says Sa­has­trab­ho­ja­nee. “The con­ser­va­tion ef­fort will re­quire co­or­di­na­tion be­tween only the Wadi gram pan­chayat un­der whose ju­ris­dic­tion the up­per stretch of the river falls and nmc.But no­body is in­ter­ested,”he adds.

The Nag­pur dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tin­ues to give in­dus­trial and res­i­den­tial clear­ances in the buf­fer zone

of the Nag river

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