Urban renewal and development, somehow, doesn’t figure high on the list of priorities of politicians who possibly believe that it makes better electoral sense to focus entirely on rural development. Not that it makes an iota of difference to the quality of life in our rural areas. But it passes for ‘concern for the poor and the toiling masses’. Also, funnelling funds for rural development offers myriad opportunities for politicians and babus to feather their nest. Examples abound; Uttar Pradesh showcases most of them.
As a result, urban development – the lack of it, the need for it – is largely ignored. What were towns yesterday are now classified as cities. What were cities are now described as megacities. Their boundaries have expanded and populations have increased, putting extraordinary pressure on existing infrastructure and resources. That has rendered our cities, big and small, decrepit. They are tottering and on the verge of collapsing into unmanageable chaos.
Gleaming chrome-and-glass malls, towering skyscrapers, posh enclaves provide the illusion of ‘development’. If you look beyond the glitter, you will find urban decay festering amid grey concrete slums. Delhi offers a perfect example of this: The CWG lipstick having worn off, the city wears a depressing look. Mumbai, for all it decrepitude, has a soul that beats to the rhythm of boisterous life. Delhi can’t even boast of that.
These and other thoughts came to mind as I strolled along the uncluttered, spotless promenade of Ahmedabad’s Sabarmati Riverfront earlier this week. A vast expanse of clean blue water shimmered in the amber glow of the setting Sun.
Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite river, on whose bank he had set up his famous ashram, had turned into a trickle of brackish, heavily polluted water, with untreated sewage flowing into it. Sabarmati, like Yamuna, faced a ghastly death.
Monsoon rains would make a desperate effort to resuscitate the river, flooding its banks, but rains over, Sabarmati would return to its dying pitiful self. The river’s sandy bed had turned into sprawling slums; the filthy water spawned diseases; and, crime flourished with poverty.
That’s till Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi decided to revive a project gathering dust for decades. A dedicated team of officials at Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, led by the Commissioner, got down to the task of recreating the lost magic of Sabarmati. The river bed was dredged, concrete banks were built, the slum-dwellers were relocated to free houses built for the disadvantaged, and a Narmada canal was used for feeding water into Sabarmati before flowing out to irrigate fields.
Low and behold, Sabarmati was revived. The river now flows, 12 months a year, through the city, and offers a sight which no other city in India can boast of. The spinoffs have been huge. Monsoon no longer brings with it severe outbreaks of enteric diseases as in the past; the water table has gone up and fetched ecological benefits; the municipal corporation saves Rs 15 crore a year; residents of this otherwise crowded city now have access to a vast well-maintained public space.
Urban renewal is not only about replacing ramshackle buses with spanking new ones or building un-aesthetic flyovers. Nor is it about building new malls and markets and gated societies that benefit real estate promoters more than people. It’s really about infusing life into a city so that it becomes an organic, living entity. The Sabarmati Riverfront project proves this point.
It also demonstrates that leadership matters – perhaps more than funds. Or else Yamuna would not be weeping over her tragic misfortune while Sabarmati celebrates rebirth and a new life that is tantalising to behold.
Changing Face of the Sabarmati Under Visionary Leadership of Shri Narendra Modi
Ask the older inhabitants of Ahmedabad and they will tell you that the Sabarmati of the yesteryears was everything but a river- there were regular circuses held and children played cricket on the river bed that was perpetually running dry.
When Shri Narendra Modi took charge as the Chief Minister, he was determined to change this. In the last few years the Sabarmati passing through Ahmedabad has become an icon in the urban landscape of Ahmedabad and led to environmental improvement in the city by allowing retaining of ground water and providing cleaner water to the city.
The Sabarmati Riverfront Project has been the recipient of a number of honors and special mentions. In July this year, KPMG, one of the world’s top advisory firms has included the Sabarmati Riverfront in the list of ‘100 Most Innovative Projects’ in urban regeneration that make cities livable and sustainable.
In the same month the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) received a special mention in the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize 2012. The statement by the prize authorities not only notes the inspiring role played by Shri Narendra Modi towards Ahmedabad’s urban regeneration but also takes the Sabarmati Riverfront as one of the prime examples of the nature and scope of urban development in the city.
Recently, in April this year the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) received HUDCO National Award 2012 for innovative infrastructure development for the Riverfront Project. On an earlier occasion, the Sabarmati Riverfront project also bagged the Prime Minister award for the best concept and design of a public project. In 2006, the Sabarmati Riverfront Project was the recipient of the National Safety Council of India, Safety Award (Prashansa Patra).
Part of the article published in Niti Central