Sabarmati is reminiscent of the times of Mahatma Gandhi who set up his Ashram on its banks. Today, the Sabarmati river reminds us of the ambitious riverfront project taken up by our Prime Minister, which resulted in a stretch of glistening yet stagnant water. The lesser noticed river stretch downstream is no more than a channel that carries sewage from the city and effluents from the industries nearby.
A recent study by Discipline of Earth Sciences of IIT-Gandhinagar on microplastics in the riverine systems led to the isolation of two groups of microplastics from the Sabarmati sediments. Microplastics are plastics less than 5 mm in size and plastic microbeads are used daily-use items such as shampoos, toothpaste, polyester clothing. These particles are small enough to pass through waste treatment plants and could severely affect the water drinking sources in Gujarat.
The highest amount of microplastics have been detected when the river passes the Pirana dumping site. A large amount of debris that is exposed to the sun regularly leads to microplastic generation, which is the current situation at Pirana. The quantity of microplastics further increases during the rainy season.
The team found 4 grams of small and 47.1 mg of abundant category microplastics at the Pirana-Gyaspur banks. A team from IIT Gandhinagar analyzed samples from Kankaria and Chandola lake finding superbugs in Chandola lake. These have been attributed to leachates from the Pirana dumpsite. Leachate is the liquid that passes through a landfill and carries suspended matter with it. Adding to the worsening situation is the presence of E. coli in both the lakes, which also displayed significant resistance to antibiotics.
The Gyaspur bridge is the point where effluents have been released into the Sabarmati for the longest time. The effluents that are released aren’t treated properly at all. The water in this area is black, and the sewage stench makes it impossible for one to stand for more a few minutes. Despite such a situation, no notices are present that state the hazards in this area.
Ironically enough, The Sabarmati River Front has been pictured in the news in the last years as “Gujarat’s model of river beautification”. But looking at the complex picture just described, a question arises: “Is this what mean by river restoration?” This project did not entail any Environment Impact Assessment nor any public consultation was held. Also, there was not even any proper cleaning of the river. The project has just contributed to increase the polluted water and untreated sewage with all its toxic effluents were carried out of the Ahmedabad city.
Moreover, completely disregarding the health hazardous nature for the entire area, parts of the river front have also been put for sale with the aimof creating a modern residential and businessneighbourhood in a truly “unique” river facing setting.
What it looks like is that the entire ecology of this river has been completely disregarded to satisfy the commercial greed of a bunch of interested people. But what about the health implications of this on people?
There is urgent action needed since wastewater quality standards in Gujarat do not include antibiotic resistance parameter. This lack of visibility about antibiotic resistance would impair the ability to evaluate water quality and lead to disease outbreaks in the future.
The current situation has resulted in reduced groundwater discharge, thereby putting more pressure on the already ailing Narmada river. The antibiotic resistance analysis stresses the need for effluent sterilization. The development initiatives at the riverfront have also led to the relocation of around 5000 families. With not enough money to afford RO systems and lack of clean drinking water supply, who should these masses turn to for help?
The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) had announced in October 2018 that it would increase the sewage treatment plant’s capacity along the Sabarmati by more than 66% by the end of 2020. The cosmetic changes made to the riverfront in the past cannot dismiss the fact that a river is made by clean flowing water. The walk to the Pirana dumping site and Sabarmati river left us with a lot of questions ranging from
“How difficult is it to increase the capacities of pumping stations?” “Why don’t the farmers downstream get interim compensation for forcibly using polluted water?” to “Why are the effluent treatment requirements for industries not being enforced?”
The more important question to ask here is, do we have time to delay this further by relying on projects that might not come to action? Can we hope that it would not be too late to reverse the damage done by multiple sources around us?
Manyata Chopra is a student of IIM Ahmedabad.