Skip to main content

Vishwamitri project for Vadodara problematic, high-handed, a rushed attempt


Opposing the decision of the authorities for floating tender for “rejuvenation” and “flood mitigation” for the Vishwamitri River in Vadodara, several concerned citizens* have said that this has been done “amidst chaotic conditions in the city, Gujarat and the country, in the wake of the world-wide pandemic, COVID-2019.”
In a representation, they said that the tender document has numerous discrepancies and spelling errors “indicative of a high-handed and rushed attempt to undertake the project” at a time when there is “lack of clarity” regarding the Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project (VRDP), adding, the the project area mentioned in the tender is “problematic”, because the ethos and approach of VRDP was “heavily questioned by informed and concerned citizens of Vadodara.”
The representation – sent to municipal commissioner Vadodara; secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India; Gujarat chief secretary; Gujarat Forests & Environment secretary; Gujarat urban development secretary; and chairman, Gujarat Pollution Control Board — seeks cancellation the tender in its current form “in the wake of the pandemic and other environmental concerns and lack of understanding about “ecological sciences and implications.”
Text:
***
We, the Concerned Citizens of Vadodara, would like to bring to your attention key concerns regarding the “Tender for the consultancy for preparation of Detail Project Report for Master Planning of Rejuvenation and Flood Mitigation for the Vishwamitri River (Vadodara) from the origin of the river (Pavagadh) to end point of the river (Gulf of Khambhat)”, which was introduced on March 6, 2020 with a closing date of May 7, 2020.
We question:
(1) The announcement of a project of this stature, through the notice inviting E Tender, amidst the chaotic conditions in the city, state and country, in the wake of the world-wide pandemic, COVID-2019.
(2) The manner in which the Tender document for a project of this scale and esteem is drafted, with numerous discrepancies and spelling errors, is indicative of a high-handed and rushed attempt to undertake this project for reasons best known to the proponents.
(3) The implications of and lack of clarity regarding the inclusion of “Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project” (VRDP, 2014) and its area, in the project area mentioned in the tender are problematic, because the ethos and approach of VRDP 2014 had been heavily questioned by the informed and concerned citizens of Vadodara.
(4) The issuance of the aforementioned Tender while said VRDP of 2014 is under litigation in the National Green Tribunal, with an uncontested and unexecuted Interim Order in effect, along with many other directives of The MoEFCC and the GPCB. We would like to put on record that the entire project of VRDP, 2014 was withdrawn by the proponents indicating that the proponents accepted the various flaws and fallacies in the intent, direction, process and contents of the withdrawn VRDP.
(5) The complete lack of sound Vision and Approach, that is essential for the firms to bid effectively, especially for a project of this scale and magnitude. As per previous deliberations by us on the same subject, there MUST be a sound Vision and direction in order for firms to bid. Clear directions have been given to the nodal agency, the VMC, in the recent past with regards to the approach towards projects such as the VRDP 2014 and the current project mentioned in the Tender.
(6) The preparation of a DPR for a master plan in the absence of a visioning exercise and set direction (feasibility report). It reeks of presuming that the earlier HCPDPM proposed Feasibility Report (VRDP, 2014) is final and accepted and it may be embedded in this new project. This must neither be final nor accepted.
(7) Inclusion of “…flood mitigation by re-sectioning and flow diverting, development of land at the bank of river” in the Consultant’s Scope of Work in the Tender. It is ill-advised to narrowly instruct the Consultant to mitigate flood by “re-sectioning and flow diverting”. It is also not acceptable to then put in the same sentence the ambiguous word “development” of the land without defining or qualifying it in any way.
Having stated the broader apprehensions about the approach and attitude towards this subject, the following are our staunch concerns regarding the contents of the said Tender:

Approach and Direction of the Project

Continuing further on the point 7 above, definition and comprehension of the words “Rejuvenation” and “Flood Mitigation” are very ambiguous. River rejuvenation and flood mitigation are perceived as separate entities of the same plan. The Consultant’s Scope of Work, on page 10 of the tender, clearly states: “mainly to prepare DPR for the work of River Rejuvenation, flood mitigation by re-sectioning and flow diverting, development of land at the bank of river.
All the necessary government permission like EIA, EC, CZA, Forest, wetland act shall also included in the scope of work”. How can the river be rejuvenated by re-sectioning and flow diversion? Also, the tender pre-supposes a PPP model for the implementation (that doesn’t allow any scope of public consultation or participation) of the plan and requires the consultant to provide a revenue model; an important aspect of the withdrawn VRDP, 2014. Hence, real estate development is apparently the main priority, and not River rejuvenation.
Rejuvenation means “the action or process of making someone or something look or feel better, younger, or more vital” (from Oxford Dictionary). Should the project be focused on this only? If it is, coupled with still ambiguous “development of the river”, then it will surely and sadly turn into a 500 meters + 500 meters wide beautification and hard engineering based project along the entire River.
For a much abused and neglected river system like Vishwamitri, what are the prerequisites for and alternatives to mere rejuvenation? In this “environment friendly” river project, isn’t thorough knowledge, know-how, and open-mind for ecological science for this project more significant? Not a single word on this matter and “restoration” or “regeneration” is mentioned in the Tender.
Not surprising then, that the Tender pre-supposes hard engineering approach, in that it requires the latest Schedule of Rates to be followed and that a pre-selected IIT be the third party proof checking authority to monitor the performance of the consultant. Even though on page 10, the Tender states, “… the section shall be environment friendly”, in the same sentence, it also adds, “…proposing best techno-economic alternate.” Again, ecological sciences or their expertises are missing.

Area Under Consideration

The Tender refers to two explicit terms – “work area’’ and “project area”. While the tender notice states, “Please note that the end point of the river is revised and it is Gulf of Khambhat. Accordingly, preparation of Detail Project Report shall be from the origin of the river (Pavagadh) to end point of the river (Gulf of Khambhat)” the content of the Tender document refers to the project area as arbitrarily decided 500 meters from river boundary (while fixing of river boundary and controlled development boundary, both technically and scientifically much complex tasks, are yet to be determined by the Consultant).
The indicative location drawing shows Pavagadh to Pingalwada, which again is unclear. How can a river be rejuvenated by focusing on absolutely arbitrarily decided area within 500 meters from the ambiguous river boundary and not considering the entire watershed!? The Tender itself displays the Government’s lack of understanding about ecological sciences and the River as a system.

Pre-Qualification Criteria for the firms

The Technical bid neither requires any technical expertise related to ecological or socio-cultural-psychological knowledge or know-how nor asks for planning / design documents based on such holistic knowledge or approach. The consultant is required to provide technical data related to NGT and other legal and statutory matters (prevailing Acts), while the eligibility criteria do not require the prospective / contesting firms to have in-house legal expertise to be familiar with or interpret these Orders and Acts.
The Tender document also assigns the tasks for all the technical surveys to be conducted by the consultants, implying that the consultant should also have in-house survey and technical analysis team; this too is not a technical requirement in the eligibility criteria. Our Vishwamitri River is an exemplar of ecological diversity, but this too is not reflected in the technical criteria, instead, Clause 6 of payment terms and time limit explicitly states CZA permission related to crocodiles!
We strongly oppose the sole ‘technical’ criterion of financial and other performances for a multifaceted project as this and are compelled to ask the following questions:In a river rejuvenation and flood mitigation project, why should firms having experience with river development be included? The previously withdrawn project was proposed by one such firm.
  • Why is monetary cost of previously executed projects such a prime criterion?
  • Expertise doesn’t have an expiry date; why 5 years?
  • Flood Mitigation and EIA are the sole foci; what about experience in River / Stream / Pond Restoration, Regeneration, or Rejuvenation?
  • Can and should such a project be started and accomplished without acknowledging and including the local expertise for key decisions and roles for the entire project?

Governance and Monitoring

The extent of the Study Area is beyond the VMC boundary. If the VMC is the nodal agency, then which is the governing and monitoring body? If this body exists, then what is the member composition? The Tender clarifies that the Municipal Commissioner, VMC reserves the right to accept or reject proposals and that the VMC will have the final word in case of contentions. How can the client (the VMC) be the sole arbitrator and who keeps a check on the interest of the project, citizens, consultant, and Nature?

Financing and Feasibility

It is well acknowledged that the Central and State Governments are in financial crisis. On other hand, it is also going ahead with procurement / tendering processes for projects for which the Tender is floated, while there are implementation works are pending on various Orders of the Courts and other concerned authorities. In addition, the Scope of the Work in this Tender asks for flood mitigation by not only the questionable river re-sectioning, but also by “flow diverting”. Is this a feasible strategy that may require additional expenses and legal procedures to acquire land for flow diversion?
We strongly believe that Vishwamitri River and Vadodara city deserve much better. This Tender falls miserably short of this expectation as well as potential. It should be an ideal and exemplary “Smart City”, especially in the era of pandemics and climatic crisis of the 21st Century, that represents the beginning of the Anthropocene Era, a project of such a scope and potential impacts, this is a golden opportunity to rethink and re-plan and design our relationship with Nature. Our city and state can and must help evolve better models of holistic planning and apt designs for sound and inclusive development that other river systems and cities can take inspiration from.
The current situation will gravely worsen if the Vishwamitri River Watershed and Vadodara City, as a collective whole and with the help and coordination with the State, does not take any substantial, participatory, proactive, and accountable initiatives in the right (holistic and inclusive) direction. Hence, we demand that the concerned authorities:
  1. Cancel the Tender in its current form in the wake of the pandemic and other environmental concerns as well as its current lack of understanding about ecological sciences and implications.
  2. Prohibit previously hired consultants form participating or else the purpose of this Tender is defeated.
  3. Implement immediately, in letter and spirit, ‘The Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016’ and ‘The Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016’. We have been raising the questions in this regard and we now need reliable answers and verifiable action on ground. As needed, study and adapt already existing best practices in India and elsewhere to achieve goals of these Rules.
  4. Establish a semi-statutory body, with legal teeth, that would include subject experts (ecologists, geologists, hydrologists, environmental-ecological planners, wetland specialists, landscape architects, legal and legislative specialist, sociologists, investors and such) as well as knowledgeable and experienced members of the community at-large, to guide and monitor the remediation and restoration of the damage done and new development initiatives that the Governments would undertake proactively to improve the quality of the local ecosystems and lives of the citizens of Vadodara and many other communities of life in the Vishwamitri River Watershed area.
  5. Establish a fully functional, effective, and knowledgeable Urban and Environmental / Ecological planning Department in the VUDA and/or VMC that also includes experts from various related fields (such as well-qualified ecologists, environmental and civil engineers, geographers, landscape architects, and urban designers) for ensuring better plans and detailed designs for the city.
  6. Commission for the preparation of a new Feasibility Study that would focus on larger vision and related effective strategies, followed by a DPR for multiple phases of the project as may seem appropriate, building upon the existing data and add new studies as required.
  7. Conduct a Pre-bid meeting to add transparency to the consultant selection procedure.
  8. Ensure inclusive transparent and democratic processes for all stages of the project.
  9. Work towards bringing about a paradigm shift in the way we envision, govern/administer, and plan our cities and eco-regions. It is time to redefine administrative boundaries (like wards and districts) according to the boundaries of watersheds and sub-watersheds. Though seemingly difficult, it has been done elsewhere and provides a better model for well-conceived development that honors nature and human aspirations.
We look forward to your positive response and immediate action to protect, restore, enhance, and nurture the environment while following sounder and saner paths to development that will add to the brand value of Vadodara city and River Vishwamitri, nationally and internationally, as well as sense of pride for and responsible actions by the citizens.
Instead of spending our energies and time reacting to the Centre, State, and Local Governments’ initiatives, we are willing to offer our expertise, energies, and time proactively. We are willing to collaborate with all stakeholders, including the Government departments and bodies, for a better tomorrow for all.
We sincerely hope that all the concerned and responsible government authorities, that aspire to make Vadodara a “Smart City” will go beyond such labels and strive to work with us to make Vadodara and the River Vishwamitri eco-region a timeless, healthy, and happy place, will heed to our inputs and demands at the earliest possible.

*Concerned Citizens of Vadodara:
Rohit Prajapati, Environment Activist, Researcher, and Writer
Deepa Gavali, Wetland Ecologist
Arjun Singh Mehta, Biotechnologist
Jitendra Gavali, Botanist
Neha Sarwate, Environmental and Urban Planner
Ranjitsinh Devkar, Zoologist
Shishir R. Raval, Landscape Architect and Ecological Planner
Shakti Bhatt, Water Resources Expert
Hitarth Pandya, Educationist and Writer
Jayendra Lakhmapurkar, Hydro-Geologist
Rutvik Tank, Civil Engineer and Urban Planner
Dhara Patel, Landscape Architect and Architect

Comments

TRENDING

Although sporting genius, Wasim Akram was mascot of cricket globalisation era

By Harsh Thakor*  Since Independence India and Pakistan produced a galaxy of cricketing stars that permeated cricketing artistry of legendary heights. Amongst this bunch.Wasim Akram manifested pure cricketing genius to the greatest height.I speculate how India’s fortunes would have changed had partition not taken place and Wasim playing for India. Wasim Akram explored realms untranscended in bowling wizardry, like a painter devising new art forms or a scientist experimenting. He simply re-defined the art of reverse swing, reversing the ball in and out. There were bowlers quicker, more accurate and with better records, but none equalled Wasim in an all-round package. He was more lethal with a new and old ball than any fast bowler ever. Wasim could produce balls that were surreal, with his reverse swing, defying laws of bio mechanics He was simply the epitome of versatility, possessing a repertoire of six different deliveries within an over itself, disguising deliveries in the manner of

Zakir Naik tumult, Catholic Church power abuse: will Anwar Ibrahim save Malaysia?

Anwar Ibrahim By Jay Ihsan*  Anwar Ibrahim, a hardcore reformist who took a punch to his eye in 1998 from then inspector-general of police, Rahim Noor, has finally been given the mandate by Malaysians to serve as the nation's 10th prime minister. Anwar knows too well the burden of staying true to both trust and faith the people have in him requires every once of commitment and dedication. The question is will he be apologetic for his transgressions enroute to "rebuilding" Malaysia? In his overzealousness to get the job done, Anwar, 75, needs to safeguard every bit of gumption to address prickling issues plaguing the safety of the nation especially those involving communal sensitivities. For one, dare Anwar get rid of terrorist hate preacher and fugitive Zakir Naik for inciting religious unrest in Malaysia? In November 2016, India’s counter-terrorism agency filed an official complaint against Naik, holding him responsible for promoting religious hatred and unlawful activi

Galileo-Catholic church affair: must history repeat at Malaysia’s St Francis Xavier church?

By Jay Ihsan*  Christianity is the enemy of liberation and civilization -August Bebel Christianity taught men that love is worth more than intelligence -Jacques Maritain Real Christianity can be summed up in two commands: Love God and love people. - Joyce Meyer Pious XI was too neutral to mention the gas chambers; decent people like my own family were turned into devils by crude Christianity - Lionel Blue Religious doctrines cannot escape the liberty of thoughts and expression. To each their own, so it is said. From all things nice to all things that make one cringe - religion is polarised and in this regard, Christianity has over time faced the wrath of bigotry espoused by those "bequeathed" to protect it. Take Pope Francis for example. He had a secret meeting with giant pharma Pfizer chief executive officer Albert Bourla last year while the world struggled to make sense of the word "lockdown" and suffer adverse effects of the Corona virus vaccines produced by Pfiz

Qatar World Cup has a strong Bangladesh connection: stadium construction, t-shirts

By Mashrur Siddique Bhuiyan*  The FIFA World Cup fever has unquestionably cut through the minds of mass people all over the world. Stadiums in Qatar are buzzing with football fans and athletes representing their countries at the “Greatest Show on Earth". The magic of the FIFA World Cup is so enormous that even being unable to participate does not matter much to the fans who support different nations. This is one of the highest viewed events in the world, with the 2018 event viewed by about 3.6 billion people worldwide. But this crowd is not aware of the contribution of migrant workers who helped build the very stadiums where the matches are playing in. Qatar won the bid in 2010 to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, which got the oxymoron of celebration and controversy. This also created the potential for Qatar to Showcase its monumental economic achievements and unique culture on the global stage. The motto for Qatar’s bid team in 2010 was ‘Expect Amazing’ and migrant workers across th

A classic, 'Gandhi' ignores merciless cruelty unleashed on militant freedom fighters

By Harsh Thakor  The movie ‘Gandhi’ produced by Richard Attenborough, which was released 40 years ago on November 30th, 1982, was classic in it's own right. Ironical that it took an Englishman to embark upon the making of a film on this legendary figure. I can't visualize a better pictorial portrayal of Gandhi's life or an actor getting in the skin of the character an exuding the mannerisms as actor Ben Kingsley. Episodes are crafted and grafted surgically, illustrating how Gandhi wove fragmented bits into a cohesive force, to confront he British empire. Most boldly the movie unfolds how British colonialism subjugated the Indian people to barbaric cruelty. With great mastery the cinematography captures the vast Indian landscapes and essence of livelihood of Indians under colonial rule. The movie most illustratively shows the crystallisation of anti-colonial fervour from the embryonic stage and how it fermented into an integrated movement. In a most subtle manner it illustr

Implementing misleading govt order to pollute Hyderabad's 100 year old reservoirs

Senior activists* represent to the Telangana Governor on GO Ms 69 dated 12.4.2022 issued by the Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MA&UD), Government of Telangana: ‘...restrictions imposed under para 3 of said GO Ms 111 dated 8.3.1996 are removed...’: *** Ref: GO Ms 111 dated 8.3.1996: ‘To prohibit polluting industries, major hotels, residential colonies or other establishments that generate pollution in the catchment of the lakes upto 10kms from full tank level as per list in Annexure-I...’ We come to your office with grievance that GO Ms 69 dated 12.4.2022 issued by Government of Telangana not only contains false information issued ‘By Order and in the name of the Governor of Telangana’ , without any scientific or expert reports, but also that implementation of the said GO is detrimental and can be catastrophic to the Hyderabad city as two 100 year old reservoirs Osman Sagar and Himayath Sagar were constructed as dams on river Moosa and river Esa, with the first and

Film on evidence of viability of in situ communitarian urban water management

By Rahul Banerjee  Over the past few years it has become increasingly clear that centralised urban water management in India is in deep crisis. Water supply is both inadequate and extremely costly, water harvesting and recharging and used water treatment and reuse are mostly absent and storm water management is a disaster. Under the circumstances, the only viable solution is communitarian in situ water management and this is what has been proposed in the latest guidelines of both the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation and the Swacch Bharat Mission. Our NGO, Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti , has not only implemented communitarian in situ water management but has also carried out research to provide evidence of the unviability of centralised water management and the suitability of the former. Here is a film based on a detailed research that I did on urban water management in Chhattisgarh for the National Institute of Urban Affairs, New Delhi, that succinctly critiques cen

Terrorism and right-wing politics in Bangladesh: Exploring the nexus

By Shafiqul Elahi*  Although terrorism as broadly understood as violent extremism or militancy has long historical roots, in Bangladesh, it surfaced in the 1970s through leftist militants. Later, it shifted to Islamist extremism in the 1980s and flourished throughout the 1990s, and reached its peak in the early 2000s. The menace of terrorism particularly in the form of Islamic militancy has widely been felt in Bangladesh's society and polity since 1999. Since then, several militant groups have gained ground and started to challenge the government over the issues of the political process and social systems in the country. The central goal of the operations of the militant groups is to establish an Islamic regime in the country. The Fifth Amendment of the Bangladesh Constitution under the Zia regime in the late 1970s and the eighth amendments of the Constitution under the Ershad regime in the early 1980s have placed Islam at the state level to recognize its importance in the country

Floods: As ax falls on most vulnerable, Pak seeks debt cancellation, climate justice

By Tanupriya Singh  Even as the floodwaters have receded, the people of Pakistan are still trying to grapple with the death and devastation the floods have left in their wake. The floods that swept across the country between June and September have killed more than 1,700 people, injured more than 12,800, and displaced millions as of November 18. The scale of the destruction in Pakistan was still making itself apparent as the world headed to the United Nations climate conference COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November.  Pakistan was one of two countries invited to co-chair the summit. It also served as chair of the Group of 77 (G77) and China for 2022, playing a critical role in ensuring that the establishment of a loss and damage fund was finally on the summit’s agenda, after decades of resistance by the Global North. “The dystopia has already come to our doorstep,” Pakistan’s Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman told Reuters. By the first week of September, pleas for h

Chemical project promoters of Tamil Nadu have a lot to learn from Gujarat

By NS Venkataraman*  When good investment opportunities in chemical industry exist which are known in a region and which are yet to be exploited, it can be said that the chemical industry in the region is at the cross roads. However, when there are good investment opportunities in chemical industry but which are ignored and focus shifted to some other sector, it can be said that the scenario amount to poor strategy. Tamil Nadu government has now fixed a target for achieving one trillion dollar economy in the state by 2030. This is a bold and forward looking initiative and certainly this target is achievable, even though the year 2030 is only seven years away. With the target of achieving one trillion dollar size economy, it is necessary to give due role and importance for the growth of the chemical industry, since several chemical products are feed inputs for several other industrial sector such as automobile, electronics, textile and so on. Growth of such chemical in