Our Rivers

The transformation of SABARMATI

State governments and local civic bodies across India are eagerly monitoring the remarkable improvement that has taken place along one of the most famous rivers in the country, the Sabarmati

WORDS: N.B. RAO

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The Sabarmati is one of the most prominent rivers in India. This westward flowing river actually originates in the Aravalli Range of the Udaipur District of Rajasthan and meets the Gulf of Cambay of Arabian Sea after travelling 371 km in a south-westerly direction across Rajasthan and Gujarat. As per legend, Lord Shiva brought the goddess Ganga towards Gujarat and this is how the river actually came into being. The ancient river was then known as Bhogwa, and on the banks emerged the two cities of Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar. Today, both cities reflect the wealth and grandeur of the Gujarat State – as being commercial and political hubs.
However, the Sabarmati gained much international repute in the early 1900’s when Mahatma Gandhi set up his ashram on its banks in 1917. Of course, since then the river saw much activity during his lifetime including various historic incidents involving India’s freedom struggle like the ‘Dandi March’ in 1930.

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Taking forward the Mahatma’s legacy, the Sabarmati today is reckoned as one of the most well maintained rivers in India, thanks to the unrelenting efforts of the prevailing State Government and of the people of Gujarat. The Ahmedabad Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project which was set up in 1997 began winning several laurels after the river – which had been neglected for decades – began reflecting its past glory.

THE INNOVATIVE RIVERFRONT PROJECT
Under the Sabarmati Riverfront project, a waterfront is being constructed wherein visitors and residents of Ahmedabad can enjoy the beauty of the river for recreational, sustainable and educational purposes. Since 2012, the riverfront has gradually opened up to a variety including a two-level promenade for pedestrians and cyclists, areas for hosting cultural and educational events, leisure activities like boating, public parks as well as retail areas for commercial activities. This would go a long way in building a better relationship with the river, and ensure its posterity for the residents for years to come.
The project was classified as the ‘100 Most Innovative Projects’ in urban regeneration by KPMG in one of its reports in 2012. It also won the Hudco National Award in the same year for innovative infrastructure development for the riverfront project.

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STATE GOVERNMENTS – DRAWING INSPIRATION
The dramatic transformation of the Sabarmati in recent years has seen several state governments seeking advice and tips from Gujarat on the transformation of the river.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Government is studying the drastic changes that have occurred along the Sabarmati in order to replicate the same to save the Rispana, a major source for water in Dehradun. The Government is working towards constructing a similar riverfront in Dehradun to resemble the Sabarmati one in Ahmedabad.
Down south in Telangana, the Musi Riverfront Development Corporation, which has been tasked with transforming the water body, is also keen on following the footsteps of Gujarat and replicate the Sabarmati success story.
Similarly, other states are also closely monitoring the measures deployed in recent years to improve the river in Gujarat. They include Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu as well.
The Pune Municipal Corporation has planned riverfront development along the Mula and Mutha rivers in the city on the lines of the Sabarmati project.
In Madurai, the civic body, which is implementing development projects under the Smart Cities Mission, is planning to transform the two-km stretch along the Vaigai into a Sabarmati-like riverfront. The stretch will feature aesthetic walkways, gardens and a railing, S. Aneesh Sekhar, the municipal commissioner of Madurai revealed recently.

LUNI A rare river in the Thar desert

The Luni is one of the few rivers in Rajasthan, which flows westward and ends up in the Rann of Kachchh after traversing through parts of the desert

WORDS: N.B. RAO

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IT is a unique river, but many people in India are not very familiar about its existence. The Luni is one of the few west-flowing rivers, which originates at an elevation of about 700 m in the Aravalli ranges near Ajmer in Rajasthan and flows south-westwards for more than 500 km before entering the marshy Rann of Kachchh.
It is one of the few rivers that flows into the western part of Rajasthan, which is mostly desert land. Because of the high salinity of its water, the Luni is also known as Lavanaravi or Lavanavati (salt river in Sanskrit).
Near its origin it is known as the Sagarmati, but is called Luni after meeting its tributary, the Saraswati, which originates from Pushkar lake. After originating from the Aravallis, it flows south-west through the hills and plains of Marwar, enters the Thar desert, before flowing into the Rann of Kachchh.
The desert state of Rajasthan witnessed goods rains in the 2017 monsoons, resulting in heavy flow of water along the Luni. Thousands of residents living along its banks in Rajasthan feared that there could be a repeat of the 2006 floods, when many parts of Barmer district along the riverfront were inundated.

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FLASH FLOODS
Flash floods struck the normally drought-prone Barmer district and water levels in some villages, located atop sand dunes, went up as high as 25 ft. More than 1,200 people died in the floods and about 75,000 cattle also became casualties.
Many of the villagers had to be moved to camps as the ferocious Luni rushed across its banks and flooded villages and even towns. Unlike most rivers, the Luni expands its width during floods, instead of deepening the bed.
This is because of the soil along the banks, which can be easily flattened by the rushing waters. When it rains heavily in western parts of Rajasthan, thousands of farmers and residents in the area pray for their safety and wish that the river does not unleash its fury.
Four years later, there was similar flooding, though the casualties were low. Some of the villages and roads were blocked for a fortnight.
The Luni has a lone tributary on its right bank – the Jojari – and 10 tributaries on its left bank. The major ones include Guhiya, Bandi (Hemawas) and Jawai.

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JASWANT SAGAR DAM
One of the prominent landmarks along the river is the Jaswant Sagar Dam in Pichiyak near Bilaara in Jodhpur district. Maharaja Jaswant Singh got the dam built in 1892. The water from the dam is used for irrigating land in the district. It also ensures greenery of the lovely city of Jodhpur.
The lake surrounding the dam is also one of the largest artificial ones in India and irrigates nearly 50 sq km of land surrounding it.

Geologists and experts have been conducting research along the Luni, especially along a 100-km-long palaeo-channel in Bhaniyana in Jaisalmer district. The experts warn that growing human encroachment of the largely dry river could cause enormous problems.
Some are also discussing the prospects of linking the palaeo-channel to the Himalayan rivers, which would ensure regular water flow to the desert state from the mountains.

Sailing high Inland waterways to take-off in a big way

An ambitious move to develop India’s inland waterways system will see millions of tonnes of cargo being sent across the country through the cheaper mode, besides enabling tens of thousands of passengers to travel long distances by modern boats and vessels

WORDS: N.B. RAO

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For a country with vast coastline and hundreds of rivers flowing into the seas, India indeed has an extensive network of inland waterways.
According to the Inland Waterways Authority of India, the country has an extensive network of inland waterways in the form of rivers, canals, backwaters and creeks.
Indeed, of the total navigable length of 20,236 km, 17,980 km of rivers and 2,256 km of canals can be used by mechanised crafts.

Unfortunately, freight transportation by waterways is highly under-utilised in India as compared to the US, European Union countries or even China.

Need for cheaper,
greener mode
According to the World Bank, which is financing the development of the Ganga waterway with a $375 million loan, the country is yet to develop a cheaper and greener mode of transportation.

“Goods still travel by congested road and rail networks, slowing the movement of cargo, adding to uncertainties, and increasing the costs of trade,” says the Bank. “So much so that logistics costs in India are estimated to account for as much as 18 per cent of the country’s GDP.”
Many countries around the globe, including Europe (such as Germany and France) have over the decades utilised their rivers, which act as major transport corridors.
The European Commission notes that more than 37,000 km of waterways connect hundreds of cities and industrial regions in the continent.

“Some 21 out of 28 member states have inland waterways, 13 of which have an interconnected waterway networks,” says the commission. “The potential for increasing the modal share of inland waterway transport is significant.

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Compared to other modes of transport which are often confronted with congestion and capacity problems, inland waterway transport is characterised by its reliability, energy efficiency and major capacity for increased exploitation.”

Despite the enormous progress made by inland water transport, the European Commission aims to promote and strengthen the competitive position of inland waterways in the transport system, and to facilitate its integration into the intermodal logistics chain.

Landmark project
Fortunately, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is working briskly to activate the inland transport network in India.
Last month, Modi inaugurated the first phase of the 31-km Ghoga-Dahej ‘roll-on, roll-off’ ferry service linking Bhavnagar and Dahej in Gujarat, describing it as “a landmark project not only for India, but also for South East Asia.”

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According to him, the earlier government had not given any importance to transportation by waterways. “Before we (NDA government) came, there were six waterways. Now we have identified more than 100,” he said. “We have 21,000 km of waterways which includes 7,500 km of coastal waterways and 14,000 km of inland waterways through rivers. India is naturally blessed with it. But our earlier government did nothing about it.”
Goods can be transported through waterways at a cost of a mere 20 paise per tonne, as against Rs1 by railways and Rs1.5 a tonne for transporting by road, he said.
The Indian government is now reviving National Waterway 1 (NW-1), which will ferry cargo from Haldia to Varanasi, about 1,360 km inland.
The World Bank notes that it will traverse through one of India’s most densely populated areas. “A sizeable 40 per cent of all India’s traded goods either originate from this resource-rich region or are destined for its teeming markets,” says the Bank. “While the region is estimated to generate about 370 million tonnes of freight annually, only a tiny fraction of this – about 5 million tonnes – currently travels by water.”
The project will also result in cargo from states including Uttar Pradesh and Bihar being sent by the river to Kolkata, which will be the nearest port, instead of to Mumbai or ports in Gujarat, resulting in huge savings in time and money.
India’s inland waterway system is expected to take-off in a big way over the coming months, boosting trade, generating new jobs and creating infrastructure that will hopefully improve the livelihood of millions of people in the poorer parts of the country.

NARMADA Revitalising drought-prone districts

One of India’s seven holy rivers, the Narmada is hugely popular among pilgrims. And with the massive Sardar Sarovar dam finally being developed, it promises to transform the lives of millions of farmers

WORDS: N.B. RAO

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It is a beautiful river and the stories behind its origin are even more fascinating. Legend has it that Lord Shiva was meditating intensely and was perspiring tremendously. The sweat then accumulated in a tank and began flowing as a river, which became Narmada.
The river has its origins in Narmada Kund on the Amarkantak plateau, which is located at a height of 1,000 m and nestles the Vindhya and Satpura ranges and Maikal hills. Besides the Naramada, the Sone and the Johila also have their source from Amarkantak.

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Naturally formed smooth stones – also known as ‘banalingas’ – are found along the banks of the Narmada and are considered extremely sacred and represent Shivalingas.

ONE OF SEVEN HOLY RIVERS
The Narmada is among India’s seven holy rivers (the others being the Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswati, Sindhu and Kaveri).
It has been mentioned in ancient literature including the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Puranas and even in Greek literature, where Ptolemy described it as ‘Namade.’
After emerging from Amarkantak, the Narmada – India’s third-longest river – traverses across Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, before entering Gujarat, where it ends up in the Gulf of Cambay. The river runs for more than 1,300 km before entering the sea.
Narmada has nearly 100,000 sq km of basin area, the majority being in Madhya Pradesh (85,000 sq km) and Gujarat (about 10,000 sq km) Way back in 1946, the initial plans for

harnessing the river for irrigation and power generation were initiated.Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation stone for a dam in Gora in Gujarat in 1961.
The original height of less than 50 m for the dam was raised a few years later to more than 150 m to resolve differences between Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
But since the dispute continued, the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal was set up in 1969. Ten years later, it came out with its final award.
But over the past few decades, the Sardar Sarovar dam project got delayed – almost derailed – by controversies, many of them triggered by vested interests.

PM MODI DEDICATES DAM TO NATION
Last month, however, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an ardent proponent of the project, dedicated the Narmada dam to the nation on his birthday. He said many people had conspired to stop the construction of the dam to see that Gujarat did not make progress.

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WHEN GODS RULED AMARKANTAK
As per mythology Narmada descends from heaven, from Lord Shiva’s being and onto earth at the holy town of Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh. From here the great river flows towards the Arabian Sea.
Situated near the ancient city of Kalinga, Amarkantak is a place where Gods, Gandharvas, Asuras and Rishis had achieved divinity and spiritual powers. This river has its own story to tell, one that is unique and particularly different from that of the Ganges.
Today Amarkantak is a pilgrim town and a Nagar Panchayat in Anuppur district and the region is a unique natural heritage. It is here that the Vindhya and the Satpura Ranges meet with the Maikal Hills being the fulcrum. The forests here are much richer than the thorn forests of the north-west part of Madhya Pradesh.
Kalidasa is known to have visited Amarkantak and names the place Amrakoot after the beautiful mango groves that dotted this sacred land. Adi Shankaracharya is known to have come and resided by the river side and consecrated its banks, he also founded the Pataleshwar temple at Amarkantak from a clump of bamboo trees. This place is called Surajkund today.
Amarkantak has found its place in the Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vasishtasamhita and Shatapatha Brahmana.
Brahmins recite thrice daily a prayer on Narmada Devi while performing Sandhyavandanam ritual which translated means;
(Salutations to the Goddess Narmada, the river Goddess in the morning and in the evening. Oh Goddess I bow to you, I salute you, please protect me from the venomous serpents and purify my soul)

CHAMBAL From fearsome dacoits to wildlife

Chambal River was associated once with dacoits ruling over its ravines. Today the place is where rare birds and animals take sanctuary. It is also home to the critically endangered gharials

WORDS: N.B. RAO

Chmbal River, a tributary of Yamuna river, was for centuries been associated with ravines dominated by dacoits. Even today, the ‘notorious’ Chambal ravines is a dreaded place though many dacoits had laid down their arms or were eliminated in encounters.
But way back in ancient times, the river – which was also known as Charmanvati – was a water body where the ‘chamda’ (skin) of slaughtered animals, especially cows, were dried on its banks.
The river, which rises from the Singar Chouri peak on the northern slopes of the Vindhyas in

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Madhya Pradesh, turned red because of the constant slaughtering of animals on its banks. It is said a king, Rantideva, used to kill cattle and its blood would run into the river.
Charmanwati river also flowed in the kingdom of Shakuni, of Mahabharata fame. After attempt to disrobe Draupadi in open court, she cursed her tormentors that anyone who drank water from the Charmanwati river would end up in hell.
For centuries people abandoned the area and not many would dare

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use the water for agricultural purposes or for drinking. Consequently, no major cities or towns cropped up on the banks of the river.
The 960-km-long river originates from Singar Chouri peak – from a height of nearly 850 m –located near Mhow in MP. It flows north to Rajasthan, then turns east into Madhya Pradesh and finally heads south and meets the Yamuna in Uttar Pradesh. Some of its tributaries are the Banas, Mej, Parbati, Kali Sindh and Shipra.
The Chambal ravines was once notorious for dacoits who ruled supreme in the region. Many were ‘reformed’ through political initiatives and entered the national mainstream. Some like ‘bandit queen’ Phoolan Devi, surrendered and came into politics (she was in the Lok Sabha for a few years), but was killed in Delhi in 2001.
Though many raise doubts about the quality of the river water, the fact is the river is home to amazing range of water creatures including mugger crocodiles, the ‘gharials,’

freshwater turtles, otters, dolphins, skimmers, sarus cranes, black-necked storks and black-bellied terns.
The Turtle Conservation Union of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says the Chambal is the last known stronghold for the red-crowned roofed turtle.
The Turtle Survival Alliance, the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, and the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust have been jointly engaged in a conservation programme on the National Chambal (River) Sanctuary since 2005.
“This has had good success with series of riverside hatcheries, two head-starting rearing facilities, poacher conversion initiatives, and public awareness campaigns,” says the IUCN.
According to officials of the National Chambal Sanctuary project, there are more than 550 muggers, 1,250 gharials, 75 dolphins and 400 skimmers. With gharials — on the endangered list — more than 85%

of them live here in the Chambal region.Chambal river incidentally was declared a sanctuary in 1978 to provide a fully-protected habitat for conserving the gharial and other wildlife. The total length of the river inside the sanctuary is about 600 km.
However, the number of mugger crocodiles and gharials have increased thanks to preventive measures by the authorities as the sand mafia is quite active in the region.
Today the National Chambal Sanctuary (or the National Chambal gharial wildlife sanctuary) comprises 5,500-sq km area and falls near the tri-point where Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh meet on the banks of the Chambal.
The river also generates hydropower following the construction of dams such as the Gandhisagar, Rana Pratap Sagar, Jawahar Sagar and Kota barrage. This also helps in irrigating land in the neighbourhood.

JHELUM Amazingly beautiful, frightfully ferocious

The Jhelum is focus of a massive development plan in Kashmir to revive inland water transport

Words:N.B. RAO

It is one of the seven rivers (‘sapta sindhavah’ or ‘sapta sindhu’) mentioned in the Rig Veda. Known in Sanskrit as Vitasta, the Jhelum is a tributary of the Chenab and forms part of Punjab’s five renowned rivers.
According to Indian mythology, Goddess Parvati was asked by sage Kasyapa to come to Kashmir to purify the land from impurities. She assumed the form of a river and Lord Shiva used a spear to make a stroke near the abode of Nila, resulting in her emergence at Verinag spring.

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Originating from what is the one of the largest springs in the country, about 80 km south of Srinagar, the river flows northwards to Wular, once one of the largest fresh water lakes. It passes through Kashmir before Pakistan. The 725-km-long river has fascinated civilisations in the area for centuries.

The ancient Greeks, who considered it as a god, called it the Hydaspes. Alexander and his troops crossed the river in 326 BC.

He then struggled in a fight – known as the Battle of the Hydaspes – with king Porus of the Paurava kingdom and finally emerged victorious.

Mughal emperor Jahangir got the original Verinag spring (located at a height of nearly 1,900 m) renovated by getting an octagonal-shaped base built. His son Shah Jahan, who also loved nature, continued with the work of beautifying the spring.
The spring is located just below the Jawahar tunnel, the main highway that links Jammu to the Kashmir valley. The river emerges in beautiful surroundings in a trough formed between the Great Himalayan and the Pir Panjal ranges, and flows down through loops from Anantnag to Srinagar and Sopore.
The river, which is the westernmost of the five rivers of Punjab, drains off the Kashmir valley.

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But it has over the centuries triggered off floods that have done enormous damage in the Kashmir valley.
Hundreds of thousands of homes in Srinagar and other cities in the valley have been washed over hundreds of years after the swollen Jhelum wiped across the state, killing thousands of people.
Ashraf Fazili, a former chief engineer with the state PWD (between 1963 and 2003) recently highlighted the major floods that have destroyed the valley since 2000 BC.

“Kashmiris have faced floods since the very beginning of life in the valley,” he wrote in a piece on the Jhelum. “Over the years, many measures were adopted to confine floods, but it is unfortunate that the authorities never devised a serious strategy to safeguard the lives and property. The last deluge in September 2014 is one such instance that highlighted a lapse in state government’s preventive measures.”
The Jhelum is today the focus of a massive development plan that has been taken up by the state government of Jammu & Kashmir.

It aims to launch public water transport in the river and the Dal lake.
State chief minister Mehbooba Mufti wants to revive water transport in Srinagar, especially between the two large water bodies. The water bodies will not only ease travel within the Kashmiri capital, but hopefully encourage more tourists to visit the valley.
According to tour operators, the development would encourage ‘shikara’ rides in the Jhelum, which would be much better than the ones in the stagnant Dal lake.

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