Pooja Sukhdeve writes about her experience of participating in the City Caravan, a course conducted by YUVA on co-creating inclusive cities with the youth, in the year 2018. With the learnings from the course, Pooja furthered her study to better understand factors behind the increasing pollution of Nagpur’s Nag river. She complemented her primary observations and data collection with case studies to better understand the reasons for increasing river pollution as well as suggest a more people-led approach for change.
Nagpur is fed by the Nag river, which gives the city its name. Originating from the Ambazari lake, the Nag river takes a winding path for approximately 16 km through the city before it joins another stream called Pili Nadi, which originates at another lake. This stream then merges into the Kanhan river on the outskirts of the city.
Until 50 years ago, the Nag river served as the main source of water for the city. However, now the quality of river-water is so poor that it is not fit for consumption. This served as the prime motivator for undertaking this project. I started this project and midway through it I got a chance to participate in the City Caravan, which provided me with the right approach and perspective in undertaking this study. It helped change my perception of the research questions and encouraged me to view it through various lenses.
As I progressed in my research, I found that there were several causes for pollution and it could not be pinned down to just one. Because Nagpur has experienced fast urbanisation and migration to the city in the last five to six decades, there is increased use of water for domestic purposes and industrial production has increased, causing a sudden surge in sewage quantity. Discharge of untreated wastewater causes environmental degradation and many health issues such as respiratory illness, gastrointestinal issues, and different malignancies. The polluted Nag river threatens the health, safety, and well-being of nearby communities and places emotional and financial burdens on families, communities, and the nation as a whole. The Ambazari Lake which was the prime source of water to Nagpur city is filled with waste and sewage (which gives it an unnatural dark gray colour and a foul smell), and despite receiving rainwater during monsoon it is not fit for consumption.
Interactions with State Departments
Multiple news articles and video clips were collected by me on the Nag River Cleaning Program run by the Nagpur Municipal Council (NMC) and Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB). I visited these departments to get more information on the project. The duty of the NMC includes maintaining cleanliness, supplying street lights, and water supply with government assistance. The MPCB, which functions under the administrative control of the Environment Department of the Government of Maharashtra, implements a range of environmental legislations in the state of Maharashtra. However, secondary data that I collected shows that the NMC does not have the necessary infrastructure to collect and treat all the sewage generated from Nagpur. Civic bodies are grossly unprepared, with inadequate environmental infrastructure, leading to unchecked environmental degradation. Old newspaper opinion columns (such as that published in The Times of India) showed the dissatisfaction of the public as well. People like Pramod Manmode, the chairman of the Nirmal Urban Cooperative Bank, were ready to support the cause provided the NMC takes a positive approach in mitigating the adverse conditions of the Nag river.
The Nag river water quality is supposed to be tested by the MPCB. The High Court directly blames MPCB for Nagpur’s pollution and the improper water quality maintenance in the river. Instead of taking steps toward alleviating the water pollution problem, the MPCB had been busy with the de-notification of the Nag river, which is in dire need of restoration. However, with de-notification comes heavy industrial activity which will only worsen the river’s state, having a direct impact on the Nag River and the health of Nagpur citizens.
According to the Nagpur Improvement Trust (NIT) chairman, Pravin Darade, the mosquito menace at Daga Layout in Corporation Colony will end soon. The NIT plans to appoint a consultant who would be responsible to ensure that sewage water does not stagnate below the illegally constructed parking for the skating rink. The bridge’s pillars stop the flow of sewage water into the Nag river and hence, this space becomes the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. However, Darade ruled out the option of demolishing the illegal parking ramp over the river while also promising to demolish the six extra pillars in the river near the rink, behind a flat scheme in the Daga layout. Darade also blamed the NMC for the problem, saying that it had neglected the sewage discharge from residential areas into the river. The problem of mosquitoes will reduce drastically if the NMC stopped the flow of sewage water into the river.
In support, residents of the locality expressed satisfaction with the NIT plan. Chandrapal Choukasey of Daga Layout stated that Darade met with a delegation, which welcomed the NIT move to appoint a consultant, but demanded that the agency be given a deadline. Many Daga Layout residents had been demanding the demolition of the ‘illegal’ construction of the skating rink parking area over the Nag River.
A Corporation Colony resident, Smita Adbe, said the lack of communication and coordination between NIT and NMC is forcing residents to live in very unhygienic conditions. She pointed out that recently, mayor Anil Sole and municipal commissioner Shyam Wardhane claimed an imminent demolition of the illegal parking. ‘If the civic agencies fail to solve the problem soon, residents may approach the High Court’, warned Choukasey.
Primary Research through Physical Survey
The real challenge that the MPCB and NMC face is the alarming rise in river contamination. After collecting data from the NMC and MPCB, I met with the people residing in the vicinity of the river, including people living in nearby informal settlements, as well as street vendors, and stakeholders. Ratanakar Meshram, a 67-year-old resident near the Ambazari lake for 16 years stated, ‘Ambazari garden is a good place for relaxation and exercise but during monsoon, the area gets flooded’. Although the government invested heavily in the project, the implementation was improper. Because of the poor state of the river and the terrible stench, human consumption had already come to a halt. Industrial waste pipelines go into the lake, as a result of improper waste management. On the residential front, both household garbage and toilet waste get dumped in the river, and no one gets penalised for the same. Apart from these, there are many stalls along the Nag river that dump waste into the river, which contaminates it with lethal chemicals and parasites. As a result, people face health issues because of the runoff of agricultural chemicals, sewage, and liquid waste from nearby hospitals and slaughterhouses during the monsoon. Additionally, many children living close to the bank of the waterway are observed to have respiratory infections.
It was observed that people dump untreated garbage in the river banks because of unsatisfactory waste management services from the NMC — the practice of door-to-door collection of waste is non-existent. Wastewater mixes with river water without undergoing treatment, thus having an impact on the river ecosystem, especially marine life.
Case 1 — Hiwari Nagar
In Hiwari Nagar (see Image 1), industries, schools and notified slums often dump untreated waste into the river. There seems to be a clear issue of lack of awareness in concordance with the inefficiency of NMC, since the slum-dwellers dump their garbage as a result of lack of door-to-door collection of waste.
Case 2 — Svatantra Nagar
Svatantra Nagar is another classic case, with similar geographical positioning as Hiwari Nagar. However, here the people use the river water for household chores such as bathing and washing utensils. Citizens are not fully aware about the implications of using this water on their health.
Case 3 — Bharatwada
The Bharatwada side is bound on all sides by farms and a village. The Nag river is used in farming and cultivation of local vegetables. However, in this settlement also garbage is dumped daily into the river because of the lack of door-to-door collection of waste by the Municipality.
Clearly, from all the three cases it can be observed that a lack of education on waste management and failure by the Municipality to collect garbage from households is a major factor towards increasing pollution in the river.
Despite a project in the pipeline to revive the Nag River, due to multiple inefficiencies as observed, the project has not come to fruition. It is clear from the study conducted, that the Nag river needs immense work and cleaning for restoration. The three case studies I conducted by the riverbank indicates a lack of awareness among the public and the inefficiencies of NMC in civic responsibilities. I am of the belief that if multidisciplinary staff including the staff of the agricultural department and irrigation department, and the staffs of nearby hospitals and factories, as well as the many small vendors near the river, come together to create an effective action plan aided by the government, the river restoration can be implemented in a timely and sustainable manner.
Note of Thanks
I feel immense gratitude towards the City Caravan, which encouraged me to develop skills like leadership quality, observational skills, problem-solving, open-mindedness, creativity, analysis, and quick decision making. Also, it played a vital role in furthering my research analysis capabilities to help me draw reasonable conclusions from a set of data, identify relevant details, to solve problems or make decisions, and analyse the site through city walks and surveys.
Pooja Sukhdeve, participant of City Caravan, batch of 2018; edited by Priya Ramakrishnan
The views expressed in the article are those of Pooja Sukhdeve.