Calcutta Notebook

Return Riverfront Back to the River

Bharat Jhunjhunwala

Proposal is that the Yamuna riverfront be developed along the lines of Sabarmati riverfront. Certainly Ahmedabad has benefitted from the riverfront development. Places have been made for washermen and weekly markets. Displaced persons have been settled elsewhere. The width of the river bed has been reduced from 382 meters to 275 meters and the eighty percent of the land reclaimed has been kept open. Tree plantation has been done on part of the reclaimed land. More importantly now Sabarmati is ever full and brimming with water. This is not only enjoyable but also helps recharge the ground water. This model has been adopted in the development of the Thames riverfront in London. Many countries of the world, however, have implemented a different model of riverfront development in the recent years. The riverbed is widened instead of being constricted. Some countries have purchased land on the river banks and left it open, that is, so to say, given it back to the river. The widened river bank is planted with trees and inhabited with wildlife and the river is enabled to flow in her earlier natural condition.

Land may be reclaimed by reducing the width of the riverbed as done in the Sabarmati model. Economic progress may be advanced by building houses and offices on part of the reclaimed land. But the land is actually reduced in the prevailing model. This leads to increase in the price of land near the expanded riverfront just as a house facing the park fetches higher price than a house in the narrow lane. This increase in price also adds to the GDP just as increased area adds to the GDP. The alternative model is especially beneficial for India because the share of services sector such as hospital, university and software parks is rising sharply. The greenery and naturally flowing river is good for such offices just as eating small numbers of roti with vegetables is more beneficial than eating large numbers of roti without vegetables.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had planned to make Varanasi located on the banks of the Ganga as a global psychic capital. He had said “Mother Ganga has called me to Varanasi.” The Prime Minister has deep respect for the psychic powers of the Ganga. The same holds for the Yamuna. Prayagraj is venerated because here the two rivers bringing their psychic charges meet with each other. Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto pasted a label saying “Love” on a bottle of distilled water; and another label saying “Anger” on another bottle. 24 hours later he found that the water crystals made from the water from the bottle saying “Love” were beautiful while those made from the water of bottle saying “Anger” were ugly. This establishes that water has the capacity to absorb psychic waves. The water of Yamuna brings the psychic power of Yamunotri. However, almost all water of the Yamuna is removed for irrigation at the Hathnikund Barrage above Yamuna Nagar. The Yamuna is often completely dry between Panipat and Sonipat. Thus it is necessary to release sufficient quantity of original water of the Yamuna from Hathnikund so that the psychic charges from Yamunotri reach Delhi and energise its people. The Government must assess the economic benefits from giving Yamuna water for agriculture; and the economic benefits from giving the same Yamuna water for flow near the software parks in Delhi. This author’s assessment is that the benefit from the same quantity of water to the software parks would be only Rs 1,000 from agriculture against Rs 1,00,000 from the software parks. Delhi can give adequate compensation to Haryana for releasing the water out of this additional income. Then release of more water from Hathnikund will become beneficial both for Haryana and Delhi.

This potential benefit of riverfront is not being obtained in the Sabarmati model. The water of Sabarmati is wholly removed by a dam upstream of Ahmedabad. Then water from the Narmada is put into the Sabarmati. Another dam downstream prevents the Narmada water from flowing into the ocean. The Sabarmati riverfront is a 10 kilometre long lake of stagnant water of Narmada. It is doubtful that this water has the psychic power of Narmada because the water comes here after crossing many hurdles for a long distance. It like the water from a shrine being passed through RO before giving to the worshipper.

Scientists have said that Delhi is facing a danger of massive floods. Making the Yamuna flow between concrete walls will reduce her capacity to carry the flood waters. Normally, the riverbed of a river is of “V” shape. The water spreads as more water comes from upstream and its level rises less. The riverbed of a river flowing between concrete walls becomes of “U” shape. The water is not able to spread as more water comes from the upstream and its level increases hugely leading to floods.

[Formerly Professor of Economics at IIM Bengaluru]

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Vol. 54, No. 23, Dec 5 - 11, 2021