Dehradun, June 14 (Ajit Weekly News/ 101Reporters) Even as the Uttarakhand government pushes for an elevated road over the Rispana and Bindal rivers that serve Dehradun, residents and activists cry foul. An elevated 11km road over the Rispana and another 15km road over the Bindal, to be built at a cost of Rs 4525.53 crore and Rs 4927.18 crore respectively is planned to rid the city of its traffic congestion. But the people here would rather have authorities rejuvenate these dying rivers that are the lifelines of the city.
Of the two, Bindal is a seasonal river that flows only during the monsoon and helps prevent flooding in the city. Rispana, on the other hand, is a perennial river that originates in the Laal Tippa hills of Mussoorie, and after flowing past the Massey Falls and Sikhar Falls, enters Dehradun near Rajpur. Journeying through Amwala and Tapovan, it meets the Bindal at Ajabpur. In its 27km journey, Rispana covers a catchment area of 53.45 sq km.
The deteriorating state of Rispana
Dr Sunil Naithani from Doon University’s Environmental & Natural Resources Department emphasised the importance of the Rispana river to the location.
“Rispana flows both on the surface and underground. Hence, it plays an important role in maintaining the groundwater level in the city,” he said.
Until recently, Rispana catered to the needs of the city’s population, as the Rajpur Canal built on the river brought its waters to central Dehradun, while helping irrigate farms on its rural banks, said Doon Science Forum Coordinator Vijay Bhatt.
“Although there are some other rivers around Dehradun, Rispana was instrumental in recharging the city’s waters due to its proximity,” he explained, adding that the city’s growing population took a toll on what was once a broad, clean river.
“People took to throwing household garbage directly into the river. Once Dehradun became the capital of Uttarakhand, slums housing migrant labour came up along its banks. These slums have metamorphosed into permanent colonies now.”
From a breadth of 100m, the river has now narrowed to a 10-20m drain. The many tributaries that flow into it have also become victims of unplanned development all over the city.
Activists working to rejuvenate the river believe that the administration had provided water and electricity connections to the many unauthorised slums on the riverbank, nurturing these housing developments as a vote bank by political parties. These unauthorised slums in Dehradun, have been questioned through many public interest litigations filed in the Uttarakhand High Court and explanations have been demanded from the Mussoorie-Dehradun Development Authority (MDDA) and Dehradun Municipal Corporation.
The resulting water crisis in Dehradun
The deterioration in the state of the Rispana has resulted in a major water crisis in Dehradun, since the water requirement in most homes is met by groundwater. According to a March 2022 news report, of the total demand for 324.91 million litres per day (MLD), only 275.12 MLD is being supplied.
In the summer months, the water crisis becomes acute. In some parts of the city, tankers are needed to supply water all through the summer months.
Lekhraj, who lives on the banks of the Rispana in Karanpur, told 101Reporters that in summer, the water level drops so low that in spite of using a motor, their tanks don’t get filled. The issue has worsened markedly in the past decade, with open spaces in Dehradun, which once helped recharge groundwater in the river’s many tributaries, being built over by concrete structures to cater to the growing population.
According to the World and National Data, Maps and Ranking, the groundwater level of Dehradun has dropped by 12.33m from 2015 to 2019. The Preparation of Strategic Land Report tells us that Rispana recharges the groundwater level in Dehradun at the rate of 23.556 million cubic metres (MCM). In the monsoons, Rispana has 120.102 MCM of water, out of which 55.601 MCM flows away and 40.939 MCM gets evaporated.
A draft report from November 2019 prepared by the National Institute of Hydrology (NIH), Roorkee — titled ‘Preparation of Strategic Land & Water Management Plan for Rejuvenation of Rispana River’ — for the Government of Uttarakhand’s Irrigation Department, claims that the river starts getting polluted immediately beyond the Rajpur Canal. The level of pollution rises as it proceeds further. And when it joins the Bindal near Mothrowala, the Bindal brings along the dirty waters from sewers and drains in the city.
As per the NIH report, 9.386 MLD of dirty water from 177 drains and outlets of 2,901 homes finds its way into the Rispana. In the same manner, 18.14 MLD of dirty municipal waste finds its way into the Bindal. When these rivers meet at Mothrowala, the pollution level of the water spikes so much that the Rispana transcends all prescribed parameters.
Speaking to 101Reporters, human rights advocate and conservation activist Reenu Paul said, “I had filed a suit regarding the encroachment and illegal structures in the catchment areas of the Bindal and Rispana rivers in the Uttarakhand High Court in December 2021. A joint bench comprising Chief Justice RS Chauhan and Justice ND Dhanik, directed the MDDA Secretary and Dehradun District Magistrate to file their response on the issue within four weeks. In spite of so much time having elapsed, there has been no action yet.”
In 2018, journalist Manmohan Lakhera filed a public interest litigation in the Uttarakhand High Court regarding encroachments on the banks of the Rispana and Bindal and across Dehradun. The court had ordered all encroachments to be cleared within three months. When some residents of this settlement challenged the order in the Supreme Court, it ruled in favour of removal of encroachments from the streets, while allowing a hearing on riverbank encroachments. The municipal authorities then complied with the order, while the Uttarakhand government obtained a stay on the demolition of riverbank slums for three years.
In view of the sorry state of the river, the then Chief Minister of Uttarakhand Trivendra Singh Rawat had announced Mission Rispana in 2018, wherein the river would once again be turned to the ‘mythical Rishiparna’. As per the project, 2.5 lakh trees were to be planted from the mouth of the Rispana until where it met the Bindal.
The sewer outfalls into the river were to be shut and instead connected to sewage treatment plants. Around 10,000 people had contributed saplings to the project back then.
Since the Rispana and Bindal join the Ganga at Suswa, and later Raiwala, as tributaries, the project was brought under the Namami Gange Programme, the National Mission for Clean Ganga, and Rs 63.75 crore was planned to be spent under it. However, Mission Rispana was reduced to a pipe dream when neglect killed the saplings planted under the project.
Citizens’ apprehensions over the elevated road project
Located between the Ganga and Yamuna, and once famed for its picturesque valleys, Dehradun has slowly been losing its identity over the years. The logging of the Asharodi forest for the Delhi-Dehradun Highway and construction of the elevated road over Rispana and Bindal rivers spell a long series of assaults on Dehradun and its precincts.
“We have yet to learn of the technical features of this elevated road. But if pillars are inserted into the river to build this elevated road, it will certainly affect its ecology,” warned Dr Ravi Chopra, director of the People’s Science Institute, Dehradun. “If the water level of the river is higher than the level of the groundwater, the river recharges the groundwater. In case the groundwater level is higher than that of the river water, then the groundwater gets discharged. When pillars are dug into the river, there’s a fair chance of an untoward effect.”
Advocate Reenu Paul echoed Dr Chopra’s view and cautioned: “Encroachments on the riverbank have narrowed down the river and blocked the flow of water. Every monsoon, water enters homes, resulting in a flood-like situation. With pillars being put up for the elevated road, the situation is bound to worsen.”
A detailed project report is underway for this elevated road construction which should include an Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) of the same.
(The author is a Uttarakhand-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)
–Ajit Weekly News