Good and bad side of Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project

Sabarmati River
Sabarmati River
Sabarmati River
Sabarmati River

‘World Class Cities’, ‘Modern Cities’, Global Cities’ are the few terminologies that created an interest in the urban development and transformation for recreation and international investment. To become a mega city, every city in India takes up mega projects. Based on the requirements, these projects either change the existing infrastructure or develop a completely new infrastructure. Ahmedabad which is one of the seven mega cities has followed the same path and working hard to become a world class city.

Out of all the developments, transformation of Sabarmati Riverfront is the most talked about development. The Riverfront now looks amazingly wonderful with an ambiance of spic and span environment. Public can enjoy the remarkable walkway of 10.4 km stretch and take rides such as speed boat and motor boat between Nehru bridge and Gandhi bridge.

Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project has been developed by the Sabarmati River Front Development Corporation Limited (SRFDCL). The Central government funded the project with the capital of 10 million (US$170,000) that includes the development of near about 10.4 km stretch of the river flowing through the city of Ahmedabad and rehabilitation of slum dwellers in that area. Though it looks quite new but the first proposal for developing the riverfront consisting of residential, recreational and commercial space was given by the French architect Bernard Kohn in 1961.

The initiative was a part of urban regeneration and a way to create a recreational place in the city by connecting city life to the river. For such an innovative transformation and infrastructure development Ahmedabad Muncipal Corporation (AMC) has received HUDCO National Award 2012. The project brought marked improvement in the ground water of the city which is now providing clean water to the residents.

Regular flooding, rehabilitation of slum dwellers and opposition from activists were the main hurdles of the Riverfront project in Gujarat. But in spite of all the obstacles the project has now been completed, applauded as well as criticized. Sabarmati Riverfront was inaugurated by the then CM Narendra Modi on 15 August 2012.

Sabarmati River now has an improved sewage system in which sewage is diverted to treatment plants before throwing into the river.

Reason for criticism is the inadequate rehabilitation facilities for the slum dwellers who were residing at that place before the project. As per different studies the authorities succeeded in taking the land from slum dwellers but put fewer efforts in resettling them. Many newspapers covered the stories related to poor rehabilitation work. An article “The untold story behind the Sabarmati riverfront“presented the present condition of slum dwellers who used to live there. It stated that rehabilitated slum dwellers are living in self-made huts in the Piplaj rehabilitation site, called Ganeshnagar.

Eviction process to develop Sabarmati Riverfront started on November 9, 2011. At that time there were near about 120,000 hutments on both sides of the rivers. Government has given 10,000 houses to the affected families within the city limit. 1,500 families were shifted to temporary housing. Some were not given any house. The project amount included the urban development scheme for placing slum dwellers in new houses. But the one who were not given new flats were asked to shift to Ganeshnagar. They are now living in kuccha houses in an area full of dirt and no facility. Moreover the place is very close to the dumping site so always stinks.

In Wikipedia it is written that 4,400 families out of 10,000 living along the riverbank have been resettled and rehabilitated.

Swapan Garain of the International Institute for Social Entrepreneurship Management, Mumbai conducted a survey in 2003 and concluded that there were 14,555 households along the riverbank and 6,293 are still needed to be rehabilitated.

This is regarded as the only negative point of the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project.

Such incidents are not uncommon with mega projects. Between November 2004 and January 2005 near about 90,000 to 94,000 slum units were bulldozed in Mumbai. In Delhi 27,000 families living in the Yamuna Pushta area were forced to leave slums in the period of eight years.

Such sort of developments lead to discontent among poor. For the overall success of any such project dignity of human life must be considered. Authorities must understand that such a treatment will create a completely different and deeply demarcated society of underprivileged and privileged citizens. New projects are generally constructed by demolishing slums. Modernity is creating a displeased poor segment in the society. It is possible that poor suffering today may gain strength with the passing time and revolt in future. Such discrepancies must be checked and avoided. Mega projects must consider the poor so that they can positively take part in the overall development of the nation or any city.

Can Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project be considered as an example?

In recreational development yes it is an examplnary project. During election campaigns Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to clean the Ganga just like Sabarmati River in Gujarat. Some experts believe that riverfront development is not a conservation program. The Ganga River needs intense cleaning before any such beautification project.

One of the founder members of the Sabarmati project and a 1976-batch IAS officer from Gujarat cadre Keshav Varma told of the leading newspaper that Project Sabarmati Riverfront cannot be replicated in Varanasi because of urban problems. The main issue with the River Ganga is its cleaning and keeping it free from garbage and dead bodies.

Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project is actually a development project and not a restoration project. Though it indeed is a very impressive project but other rivers of India need cleaning before such projects.

In a hope to have better India!!!