If to cause a rivulet to metamorphose into a gutter illegitimately and without any qualms can be termed a crime against nature, such a crime has been committed on the Ram Nadi. One look at the rivulet that flows through the western part of the city and provides water to residents of the city and Bhugaon town is enough to convince anybody how a natural body has been premeditatedly murdered.
Squeezed: Ram Nadi reduced to a gutter in Pashan.
Originally 48-km-long, the Ram Nadi, which originates near Pashan and flows through Bavdhan and Baner, has been reduced to a length of below 20 km because of encroachments and haphazard road planning in the past two decades. Several buildings have been built right in the rivulet, the stream channel and on the banks, which results in the formation of a narrow channel, accelerating the flow of water and causing erosion and disruption downstream.
Even the Pune-Mumbai highway built over the rivulet has been constructed in such a way that a third of the original width of Ram Nadi is allowed to flow under a drain, which is filled up completely with debris. "Developers constructed compound walls along the banks to avoid flowing of water and with the assistance of the corporation dumped debris in the river, which raised the level of water, increasing its flow during rains," said Sarang Yadwadkar, an activist and member of Save Ramnadi Samiti.
According to experts, one side of the rivulet falls under Pashan village Gram Panchayat, while the other comes under the jurisdiction of the PMC, with whose permission garbage and debris of a service road which is under construction was discarded in the river. Even migratory birds that used to flock to the place have disappeared from around the rivulet.
"The width of the river near Pashan has been reduced to less than 100 metres from 800 metres and only sewage water drains from there. All catchment areas have been squeezed and their directions changed. The water sources in eight catchment areas from Bhavdan to Pashan are packed with silt, mud, cloth and plastic. Not a single drop of water now flows from the its origin and whatever water is there is from the drainage," said activist Shailesh Patel, who with the aid of High Energy Materials Research Laboratory funded Rs 50,000 to install nets on Pashan Bridge to prevent people discarding garbage in the water.
In September 2010, residents near Bavdhan and Pashan had to face Ram Nadi's fury when nearly the entire areas were submerged under water and some four people lost their lives. Due to reduction in width along with decrease in depth along the course of the rivulet, during monsoon the water fills lowland areas surrounding the river by overflowing the banks, causing destruction in these areas.
"The width of the river on the rural side of the bypass is almost twice of what it is near the drain, which results in the water coming out in great pressure and speed during the rains," said Patel. Since alleged encroachments by one Eva developers along its banks were the reasons for the floods, residents last year went on a hunger strike and halted the work of the developer, who was planning to build a retaining wall in the rivulet channel.
"Floods were caused because of drastic reduction in water carrying capacity and due to the illegal construction, where soil and debris were dumped in the river. We sent a number of letters to the PMC to remove these encroachments but to no avail," said Yadwadkar.
"The PMC declared it as a nullah, which is criminal. After the floods we requested the PMC to broaden the river by at least 40 to 50 metres and reduce it at certain places by three to four metres, which it never did," said Patel.
Petition in HC
After a petition was filed by members of Jal Biradari in the Bombay High Court against the PMC for blocking the flow of natural water by illegal constructions, the court last year ordered the halting of any kind of construction work near the rivulet and had asked a team of the Ministry of Environment and Forests to inspect the site.
Though the team visited the site, the judgment is yet to be given.
Nitin Udas, ward officer of the PMC in Kothrud, said: "We had deployed about 17,000 trucks to remove the debris and had widened the width of the river. We can save the river only if we are given budget provision." PMC Additional City Engineer Vivek Khandwalkar said: "The matter is sub judice and environmentalists should wait before taking any decision. I can't comment further."