Pune Rivers- Classic Example Of Civic Apathy And Neglect

Pune River
Mula Mutha, Pune Image used for representation only

The civic authorities have been facing flak for the past few decades for the haphazard release of untreated sewage into the Mula-Mutha Rivers despite expensive Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs).

The situation is worse than it seems and has caught the attention and irked the National Green Tribunal too. 

The Mula-Mutha Rivers that cut through the heart of Pune should have ideally worn the look of refreshing water bodies where birds, aquatic and other river organisms flourish and the entire stretch was an ideal example of ecological balance and scenic beauty for citizens.

Sadly, the Mula-Mutha river beds and banks emanate a stench and have been attacked with illegal constructions and consequently dumping of material, despite a lot of these areas being no-development zones. 

The main reason for the stench, the pollution and destruction of the living organisms (so required for the ecological balance of the water bodies), is the release of untreated sewage water into the rivers. Over the past several decades, the municipal authority has spent enormous amount of money, to augment the number of existing Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) and make the existing ones, more efficient. But alas, the untreated sewage continues to flow into the rivers due to the alleged inefficiency of the STPs.

Recently, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has slammed the PMC and directed the formation of a committee to overall make a study on the status of the STPs and their efficiency. The order was the result of a petition by activist Sarang Yadvadkar, because dumping of garbage by private citizens had led to the bursting of one of the STPs. 

 Most Puneites are aware of the string of marriage halls with lavish lawns and restaurants with open gardens that line the DP Road along the Mutha River (near the downside of the Mhatre Bridge). This strip of road is indeed an elite address for weddings and host big budget weddings and family functions.

Of course, there’s a twist to the story as the actual land use as per the Development plan, on which these commercial outlets have been built is a green belt as it runs along the Mutha River Bank, where apparently  no development whatsoever is permitted.

Yadvadkar, who has been consistently campaigning for saving the river beds and banks from destruction since the last several years, was aghast when he noticed that the owners have been dumping garbage in the floodline area of the river bank, after elaborate wedding functions. The dumping along the Mutha river bed between Rajaram Bridge and Mhatre dumping comprises plastic, decorations and flowers and even soil so as to illegally reclaim more of the river bank.  Importantly, this is the stretch where a five feet diameter sewage pipe runs through. During peak wedding season, several thousands of people visit these various marriage halls, every single day. Says Yadvadkar, “so much waste was dumped that it reached the height of around 20 feet. Even then the owners did not relent and continued to dump garbage and due to that pressure, the sewage pipeline broke and untreated sewage began flowing into the water along the Kothrud and Warje area. Not only that -; an inspection chamber of about 15 ft high also toppled.’’

Can you imagine that due to the vested interest of the owners, citizens of Kothrud and Warje have to suffer the stink and the health hazard of untreated sewage water flowing through their neighbourhoody? Angered by this state of affairs, Yadwadkar, along with activists, Vijay Kumbhar, Narendra Chugh, Vivek Velankar and Kamble filed a petition with the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The petition of course raised the issue of illegal dumping of soil and encroachment along this stretch. The petition brought to the notice of the court that despite the PMC being responsible for the maintenance of the `prohibitive zone’ being a green belt, it has failed to carry out its duties.  In an earlier order, the NGT had directed that no encroachment/dumping be allowed within the blue line that is the prohibitive zone of the Mutha River.

The NGT in its recent order has asked the constitution of a committee consisting of Municipal Commissioner, Pune, Chief Engineer, Irrigation, and Maharashtra Pollution Control Board to inspect the site under question and submit a factual and action taken report with regard to allegations made in the present application. 

The NGT has also asked the Committee to detail the total number of drains discharging untreated water into the river; the total number of dump sites on the river bed; the action plan and any proposal with to no-construction zone on the river bed; the total number of STPs installed and working; the total number of STPS under proposal and construction and with the capacity for treating untreated water; total generation of sewage of the city and the capacity to treat the water and so on. The MPCB has been asked to file the joint report.

The sad and frustrating fact is, that Puneites pay their taxes so that the civic body gives them a healthy and clean governance and environment.

However, for years, time an again, it has to be reminded of its basic duties.

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#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and/or individuals or organisations who may be quoted and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to the same. 

Vinita Deshmukh

Vinita Deshmukh

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