Slow death of a river

River Mutha, which was once the lifeline of Pune, is in dire straits. Concerted and systematic efforts involving citizens, experts and administrators need to be made urgently to save the river.
River Mutha, as it flows through Pune city. (Source: India Water Portal)
River Mutha, as it flows through Pune city. (Source: India Water Portal)

River Mutha, the pride of Pune, lovingly called 'Muthai' or 'mother Mutha', is dying a slow death, thanks to the rapidly urbanising city which is depositing huge amounts of untreated sewage and dirt in its waters.

Mutha originates at a village named Vegare, in the Western Ghats, about 45 km to the west of Pune and has two tributaries, Ambi and Moshi. The Mutha is dammed at Temghar, while its two tributaries Ambi and Moshi are dammed at Panshet and Warasgaon respectively. The Ambi and Moshi join together and flow as the Mutha river through the rural areas around Pune before being dammed at Khadakwasla.

The river enters the city after the Khadakwasla dam and meets the Mula river at Sangam bridge. The Mula-Mutha eventually meets river Bhima and later the Krishna before they drain into the Bay of Bengal. Starting from its source, the Mutha travels approximately 1,100 to 1,200 kilometres till it reaches the Bay of Bengal.

Panshet and Khadakwasla are the two main sources of water supply to Pune city. The real beauty of the river can be seen from where it originates and flows through parts of rural Pune before entering the city. However, the Mutha turns toxic as it enters the city. Recent reports show that the pollution of the river has been consistently rising and the situation is so bad that the river has been declared a dead one at many stretches! The river waters have been showing a consistent rise in chemical oxygen demand (COD), biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and lower dissolved oxygen (DO) which signify high levels of pollution of the waters (Hindustan Times, Pune, January 18, 2018).

Sunil Joshi from Jalabiradari, a conservationist working on river rejuvenation, says that the poor state of the river has to do with the building of cement banks on the river that have restricted the natural flow of its waters. Mixing of large quantities of untreated sewage and industrial pollutants have further worsened the state of the river, he adds. (Hindustan Times, Pune, January 18, 2018).

Mutha is dead, thanks to the apathy of the administrators and the citizens. Social activist and founder director of Jeevitnadi, Pune, Shailaja Deshpande, says that the Mutha is not a free river, her flow has been controlled by the irrigation department, worsening her situation further while citizens too are responsible for the high level of pollution (Hindustan Times, Pune, January 18, 2018).

The impact of the high pollution levels in the river have also been found to pose a threat to health. Recent research has found that high level of contamination of water from untreated sewage and industrial wastes have led to growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the river water!

A large number of activists, environmentalists and citizens have been directing attention to the sad state of the Mutha river. For example, organisations such as Jeevitnadi-Living River Organisation, organise regular walks, river festivals, citizens cleaning drives in the city to make people aware of the river's condition.

According to the Maharashtra State Budget 2017-18, the central government will provide an assistance of Rs 100 crore for reducing the pollution level in Mula and Mutha rivers. This is part of the Rs 990 crore project – Pollution Abatement of River Mula-Mutha, for which the Centre has signed a loan agreement with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) under the National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) in the year 2015. The total cost of the project will be shared in the ratio of 85:15 between the Central Government (CG) and the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) respectively. The PMC has proposed to build 11 new sewage treatment plants (STPs) with a treatment capacity of 396 MLD (Million Litres per Day).

The work will also include laying of sewer lines and renovation/rehabilitation of existing intermediate pumping stations. The project also includes installation of Central SCADA system for monitoring the functioning of STPs, the construction of 24 units of community toilet facilities in slum and fringe areas, public participation and awareness programme, GIS mapping of sewerage facilities for better asset management.

However, many gaps remain, and experts have raised questions about the relevance of such a hugely expensive model, without adequate planning and citizen, activists and expert participation in the process. Many questions remain unanswered such as the lack of reliable information about the amount of sewage generated in Pune and the inefficiency and problems associated with the already existing STPs. Experts also point out that after preparing the original budget in 2015, no steps have been taken till now to clean the rivers and the condition of the river is going from bad to worse. 

A look at the river as it flows from its source to the city shows that the river undergoes drastic change as it reaches  Pune.

 

The serene Mutha river flows towards Pune city from its origin.

 The river is a source of water for agriculture as it flows through the rural areas around Pune before being dammed at Khadakwasla. Shivaji Ranaware, a farmer who owns 10 acres of land says, “I use water from the borewell in my farm, which is always full. We never face water scarcity in this area."

 He works with his wife and son in his farm and mainly grow vegetables, millets and groundnut. His wife says, “We work in the field and we also have a small hotel by the road where we serve food to passing travellers. This is a good alternative source of income for us. We use what is grown in our farm at the hotel and sell the excess ones at the market. We are not using bullocks to plough the field as the area is very small.”


As the river flows further downwards and approaches the Khadakwasla dam, one can see a unique effort being made by an organisation, Green Thumb that has launched a drive to remove silt from a stretch of 44 kilometre along both sides of the dam to increase the storage capacity by 1 TMC. Lt Col Suresh Patil from Green Thumb informs us that the silt from the dam has been used to develop a waterfront around the sides of the dam while some of it is also distributed among farmers. They are also planting trees to prevent erosion into the dam waters. The organisation has also taken an active role in keeping the water clean by undertaking regular efforts to clean the sides of the dam banks by involving people from the village. They also beautify the area and encourage visitations by birds by planting a variety of trees.

A buffalo lazes around in the plentiful waters of the Mutha as it flows into the Khadakwasla reservoir.

 

A view of the Khadakwasla reservoir as one approaches Pune city. It is the largest of the four reservoirs taking care of the water needs of Pune.

 

The river undergoes change as it approaches and flows through the Vitthalwadi ghats before entering the city. The ghats look neglected, the river has very less water and the garbage floating over the waters presents a revolting sight! Channelisation has choked the river, killing its springs and streams. Studies show that the river’s pollutant levels at Vitthawadi have been consistently worsening over the past few years (Hindustan Times, Pune, January 18, 2018).

 

Children enjoy flying kites, oblivious to the state of the poisoned and garbage-laden river flowing behind them.

 

A view of the polluted and waste-laden water as the river flows further into the city at the Siddheshwar ghats.

 

Pipes carrying sewage from the city get drained into the river at different points along its journey.

 

Mutha river meets the Mula to form the Mula-Mutha at the Sangam bridge in the city. The Mula-Mutha then flows further into the Bhima river which empties itself in the Ujani dam passing on all the sewage generated from Pune to around 30 lakh people in Solapur district who depend on the dam water for drinking and agriculture.

 

With the Mutha crying for help and her sorry state neglected, what does the future hold for her?

 

 

 

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