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Citizen’s Initiatives for Environmental Improvements

The case of river Sabarmati (Ahmedabad India)

03 / 1995

The Sabarmati River holds a unique place in the hearts of the citizens of Ahmedabad. However, the steady deterioration of the river environment and mismanagement of the city’s infrastructure systems have created a sad state of affairs. The city has been unable to secure its contracted share of river water to be released and for most parts of the year the river is nothing but a cesspool of hazardous effluents and sewage

Fortunately a number of citizen initiatives during the past 30 years have kept alive the issue of mismanagement of the river Sabarmati. These initiatives have included several imaginative proposals dealing with development of the riverfront and upgrading the city’s infrastructure to prevent pollution of the river. It is discouraging to note that the local and state governments have been entirely unresponsive to these proposals

Infrastructure problems

- Water supply

The water supply system, run by the AMC (Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation), provides about 430 million litres per dpy (MLD)of water to its citizens. The supply is 180 MLD from the surface water of the river (only during the monsoon), 8 MLD from 27 infiltration wells constructed in the river bed and 99 MLD from five French wells

Heavy dependence on ground water

The average annual water supply in Ahmedabad from 90 MLD in 1951-52 to 317 MLD in 1971-72 to 423 MLD in 1990-91. Over the years, the proportion of river water to ground water has changed substantiallity. While in the 51-52, out of 90 MLD only 20 MLD was draw from wells (22%), in 1990-91 the share of ground water was 355 MLD (83%)of the total supply of 423 MLD


The Slums in Ahmedabad get water through 3100 stand-posts provided by AMC at a nominal contribution. However, a recent study by AMC (1991)has shown a substantial level of unauthorised water tapping. A study of 17 slums pockets revealed that over 53% of the residential units had private connections while the remaining were drawing water from public stand posts provided by the corporation


Contamination of the sources: There are 27 main outfalls through wich wastewater and effluents are coming into the river. Among these, 18 are located on the western bank and 9 are on the eastern bank

Apart from the above mentioned pollution sources, other activities such as river bed cultivation, laundry, washing activities, lavatories, dyes of textil fabrics, cremation, and solid waste dumping have caused considerable pollution of the surface as well as ground water

Past efforts

Incidently the idea of developing the Sabarmati River front was first put forward more than 30 years ago by the AMC following the decision to construct the Vasna Barrage upstream of the Sabarmati. However, due to usual paucity of funds the project was shelved. The first serious attempt to produce a holistic, implementable plan came from the noted French-American architectplanner, Mr. Bernard Kohn

The silence after Bernard Kohn’s scheme was broken again after 7 years when the issue resurfaced following the 1973 floods in Ahmedabad in an indirect manner. The AMC undertook a comprehensive project to reabilitate 12 000 floods affected people living in slums of the river bank in a townships that was being built by them at Johapura near Vasna

Both projects failed to evoke the interest of the local or state Government, save a few queries when technical feasibility studies were done. A possible reason could have been the fact that both proposals were mainly concerned with River Front Development in physical aesthetic dimension relegating several other aspects to the background

In 1985, a programme of pollution abatement of the River Ganga was launched by the Central Government under the Ganga Action Plan (GAP)

In this context, the AMC had appointed M/s. Dalal Consultants to prepare a preliminary feasibility study for the prevention of pollution in River Sabarmati, referred to as the Dalal Report henceforth

The Dalal Consultants examined alternative configurations for the sewerage and drainage system. The preferred alternative takes into account AUDA´S proposal for western peripheral areas and provides for laying of a main sewer parallel to the AMC’s existing peripheral sewer

Based on the Dalal Consultant´s feasibility study of the Sabarmati river, the AMC submitted a proposal for central government grant under the National River Action Plan (NRAP)

In 1993, once again a group of professionals -planners, architects, engineers- from several institutions and the National Enviromental Engineering Research came together to examine the problems and prospects of Sabarmati in a holistic manner, taking into account both its upstream and down stram stretches

Earlier NGO’s were actively involved on a partnership basis with the local government but over the years many such NGO´s and the local government are at loggerheads with each other. It can certainly be said that the NGO´s will have some contact with the local government and can work successfully with the local government. But in the case of implementation of such a project both will have to work hand in hand after devising suitable terms and conditions for their association

A possible solution lies in entrusting all aspects of the management of the Sabarmati river basin to a statutory public authority with necesary powers to ensure that this common property resource is used in a way that is consistent with the long-run welfare of all stakeholders

The main purpose of this authority is to a set policies prepare plans and implement projects aimed at regulating the use of the Sabarmati river for the maximum benefit to communities along its banks with minimum damage of the physical environment.

Key words

water, pollution, environment, water pollution

, India, Ahmedabad


The history of the city’s efforts to develop the river and river front is at once a story of hope and despair, wich began in the mid 60´s by Mr. Bernard Kohn was carried further by the RFDG - a collective of professionals and NGO´s in mid 70´s, and is recently being pursued by the groups RAGA and ACT with institutional support provided by CEPT

When political resistence is high and the government agencies are forth-coming with appropriate responses, it will become imperative for these groups to force them to act in public investiment for this purpose wider community support and participation will be necessary.



PANGORA, Prem, CEPT, HIC, 1995 (Mexico)

HIC MEXICO (Coalición Internacional para el Hábitat) - Tacuba #53, 1er. piso - Colonia Centro, 06000 México D.F.MEXIQUE - Tel: + 52-55-5512 1586 - Telefax: + 52-55-5512 6726 - Mexico - - info (@)

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