Devang Jani struggled for years to help revive 17 natural springs buried in concrete during development works in the River Godavari for the Kumbh Mela.
Five years of struggle, involving knocking on the doors of the Bombay High Court and persistent follow up with the local body, has finally reaped some fruits to an activist and the Godavari river.
Devang Jani, a Nashik-based environmentalist, living on the banks of the Godavari River in Nashik, Maharashtra has succeeded in pushing authorities to revive several natural springs flowing through the river.
The Godavari River, which originates about 25 kilometres from Nashik in Trimbakeshwar, is a free-flowing river. However, the Panchavati area where a large number of devotees visit, it faces a concrete bed, over which it flows.
“The concretisation of the river bed was done in the year 2002 for Ram Kund (pond) and Lakshman Kund along the stretch from Ahilyadevi Holkar bridge to the Gadge Maharaj bridge, a span of around two km,” said Devang, who is also the president of the Godapremi Seva Samiti.
Devang said the concretisation happened as part of a development project and was soon forgotten. However, in 2014, some historians finally brought to light that seven holy ponds were being blocked under the concrete.
“A deeper study and exploring historical documents like the ‘Bombay Presidency Nasik Gazeteer, 1883’ revealed the presence of 17 ponds in the stretch. They are also present in the city survey conducted by the British Deputy Land Record Map of 1917,” Devang said.
The activist said the locations of these ponds mentioned in the documents coincided with the stretch where concretisation was done.
“Further studies from experts revealed that the 17 ponds were natural springs and small water sources, that ensured the river water keeps flowing, keeping the river alive,” Devang said.
The activist then filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with the Bombay High Court in 2015, seeking to de-concretise and restore the river to its original state.
However, after the Nashik Municipal Corporation (NMC) failed to reply to the application by 2017, the High Court instructed the Devang to make a presentation to the NMC. The NMC had to listen to that, and take the necessary steps in two months.
In his presentation, Devang argued that removing the concrete was crucial, as it was disturbing the flow of the river, polluting it, and the water remained stagnant above the concrete river bed.
“Later in 2017, the then municipal commissioner Tukaram Mundhe approved the decision and ordered to de-concretise the structure under the Smart City project,” Devang told The Better India.
After many administrative delays, the work order was finally sanctioned, and the work of removing the concrete began from the Gandhi Talav (lake), downstream from the Ahilyadevi Holkar bridge, on December 13, 2019.
“But, some residents opposed the move, and the work stopped abruptly again,” Devang said.
Undeterred, the activist said he filed a contempt notice against the NMC, after which de-concretisation started in another patch of the river bed.
“The local body took up reviving five ponds initially, of which two have been restored in June this year,” he added. About 150 dumpers, carting 200 tonnes of concrete, were removed from these two spots alone, Devang added.
According to Devang, the natural springs have started flowing again after 19 years, and the change is visible at various levels.
“The pollution level due to water stagnation has reduced. The natural springs ensure the river is flowing naturally and the floods have reduced as well,” Devang said.
Prakash Thavil, Chief Executive Officer at of the Smart City project, Nashik, said a scientific approach was adopted to restore the natural springs.
“The concretisation was done in 2002 for the Kumbh Mela, one of the largest religious congregations in the world. Two ponds were chosen to get de-concretised initially for the first phase. We are yet to see the results and will know once the water recedes post-monsoon,” Prakash said.
The official said the report from Central Water and Power Research Station (CWPRA) also suggested to remove obstacles from the river bed to ease the flow of water.
“Steps are currently being taken accordingly, and the immediate results are that these areas did not get flooded like they usually do,” Prakash said. Prakash emphasised the need for a more scientific approach on the origin of the natural springs and the possibility of an aquifer in the area.
“Only then the remaining works of removing concrete from the bed will be carried out. The ultimate aim is to rejuvenate the water body to its original state,” he said.
Residents claim this year they did not have to undergo much of the suffering and fear the floods due to the move.
“Every year the water is released from the Gangapur dam which eventually floods the river and swells the water flow area. However, the removing of the concrete before the monsoon increased the depth and size of the water channel,” said Narendra Dharne, a resident along banks of the river.
Narendra said residents often have to relocate in fear of flooding. But this year, the residents around the patch could heave a sigh of relief.
“We realised that concretisation causes artificial flooding and hence the decision to remove the concrete is for the better,” he added.
Another local Jagdish Ramaiya, living beside the river for 50 years, said. “The swelling of the river when the discharge of the dam crossed 5,000 cusecs was common. If the discharge was at 10,000 cusecs, it guaranteed that water entered my house.”
Ramaiya said this year the water did not leave the bank, as the water in the river started flowing freely. “The chances of floods have reduced drastically,” he added.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)