Giving back riverfront to the river
It is proposed that the Yamuna river front be developed along the lines of the Sabarmati river front.
Certainly, Ahmedabad has benefited from riparian development. Places have been made for washers and weekly markets. The displaced people have settled elsewhere. The width of the riverbed was reduced from 382 meters to 275 meters and about 80 percent of the reclaimed land remained open. Tree planting was carried out on part of the reclaimed land. More importantly now, Sabarmati is always full and overflowing with water. This is not only pleasant, but also helps recharge the groundwater.
This model was adopted in the development of the Thames seafront in London. However, many countries around the world have implemented a different model of riparian development in recent years. The river bed is widened instead of being constricted. Some countries bought land on the banks and left it open, that is to say, so to speak, returned to the river. The widened bank is planted with trees and inhabited by wildlife and the river can flow in its previous natural state.
We get land by reducing the width of the river bed as in the Sabarmati model. We are achieving economic progress by building houses and offices on part of the reclaimed land. We reduce the land available in the alternative model and plant dense trees and populate the riverside with wildlife such as turtles and deer. This leads to an increase in the price of land near the widened riverside, just as a house facing the park costs more than a house in the narrow lane. This price increase also adds to the GDP just as the increase in area is added to the GDP.
The alternative model is particularly beneficial for India as the share of the service sector such as hospitals, universities and software parks is increasing sharply. Greenery and the naturally flowing river are good for such offices, just as eating a small number of roti with vegetables is more beneficial than eating a large number of roti without vegetables.
Our tradition addresses our rivers as “Mother”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans to make Varanasi, located on the banks of the Ganges, a psychic capital of the world. He had said “Mother Ganga called me to Varanasi.” The Prime Minister has a deep respect for the psychic powers of the Ganges. The same goes for the Yamuna. Prayagraj is revered because here the two rivers bringing their psychic loads meet.
Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto stuck 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 in the bottle saying “Love” were beautiful while those made from the water in the bottle saying “Wrath” were ugly. This establishes that water has the capacity to absorb psychic waves. Yamuna water brings the psychic power of Yamunotri. However, almost all of the water in the Yamuna is taken for irrigation at the Hathnikund Dam above Yamuna Nagar. The Yamuna is often completely dry between Panipat and Sonipat. Thus, it is necessary to release a sufficient amount of original water from the Yamuna of Hathnikund for the psychic charges of Yamunotri to reach Delhi and energize his people.
The government needs to assess the economic benefits of Yamuna’s water supply for agriculture; and the economic benefits of giving the same Yamuna water for flow near the software parks in Delhi. My estimate is that the benefit of the same amount of water for software parks would only be Rs 1,000 for agriculture versus Rs 1,000,000 for software parks. Delhi can give adequate compensation to Haryana to release the water from this additional income. Then the release of more Hathnikund water will become beneficial to both Haryana and Delhi.
This potential riverside advantage is not achieved in the Sabarmati model. Sabarmati’s water is taken entirely by a dam upstream from Ahmedabad. Then the water from the Narmada is poured into the Sabarmati. Another dam downstream prevents water from Narmada from flowing into the ocean. The edge of the Sabarmati River is a 10 km long stagnant water lake from Narmada. It is doubtful that this water has the psychic power of Narmada because the water comes here after crossing many obstacles for a long distance. It is as if the water of a shrine passes through RO before giving it to the worshiper.
We also need to consider what human need we meet by making the riverside. Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of seven needs beginning with âphysical well-beingâ, âsecurityâ, âconnectednessâ, âself-respectâ, âknowledgeâ, âaestheticsâ and âself-realizationâ. We meet the lower needs of “physical well-being” and “security” by making concrete river banks and by expanding the land area. We meet the higher needs of “knowledge”, “aesthetics” and “self-realization” by developing greenery. Delhi citizens will then be able to enjoy the nature and running water of the Yamuna and also enjoy health benefits.
Scientists have said Delhi faces the danger of massive flooding. Sinking the Yamuna between concrete walls will reduce its ability to carry flood water. Normally, the bed of a river is “V” shaped. The water spreads as the water comes from upstream and its level rises less. The bed of a river flowing between concrete walls takes the shape of a “U”. Water is not able to spill because more water comes from upstream and its level rises dramatically, leading to flooding.
We must dispassionately examine the two models of riparian development for all rivers in the country. The river can be kept full of water, whether we narrow or enlarge its shore. Benefits such as places for washers, weekly markets and groundwater recharge will be achieved in both models. The difference is that the amount of land is increased and agriculture is extended in the Sabarmati model. The value of land is increased and hospitals, universities and software parks will be enlarged in the alternative model. Citizens will get psychic energy from free-flowing rivers, their higher needs will be met, and the danger of flooding will be less. The government should make a decision after studying both models.
(The author is a former professor of economics at IIM, Bangalore)
(The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)