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Friday, January 28, 2022

The road to rediscovery of Kham, the seasonal river of Aurangabad

The story of Kham and its rediscovery carries lessons for other cities and civic bodies who are grappling with the rising pollution levels in their rivers.

Written by Parthasarathi Biswas | Pune |
Updated: December 29, 2021 8:55:11 am
Involvement of the local residents played an important role in the project. (Express photo)

WHEN ECOSATTVA started its project to reclaim the lost glory of Kham river in the city of Aurangabad a year ago, one of the main problems before them was to divert untreated sewage flowing into the seasonal river. Ecosattva managing editor Natasha Zarine said this proved to be the hardest to tackle. “Like 90 per cent of rivers in India, Kham is a seasonal river, which means its bed should ideally be dry post monsoon. Untreated sewage flows through its bed and the initial plans were to divert the same into the elaborate underground sewage system built by the municipal corporation,”she said.

However, protests came from unexpected quarters as farmers upstream and citizens along the river protested against the river “vanishing”. Farmers use water from the river to irrigate their fields and for them, the vanishing river meant loss of a precious commodity. “This was unexpected. We went back to the drawing board and drew up plans which would eventually see around 70 per cent of the sewage diverted to the underground system, while for the rest, in situ treatment would be adopted,” she said.

The story of Kham and its rediscovery carries lessons for other cities and civic bodies who are grappling with the rising pollution levels in their rivers. Rising in the Jatwada hills near the city, the 65-km river flows through Aurangabad before it meets the Nathsagar water body near the Nadikathche Gaon. For Kham, leakage from sewage system, indiscriminate encroachment and dumping of solid waste has reduced the once seasonal river into a perennial flow of garbage. Zarine said previous restoration efforts had failed due to various reasons, prompting them to give the project a complete relook. “When Aurangabad-based Varroc Engineering approached us to see if the river can be restored, we took to a 360 degree approach towards the problem,” she said.

In the first year, the company worked on restoration of 11.9 km upstream and 7.6 km of the river flowing by 30 wards of the city. Drone survey brought out 249 points where untreated sewage emptied into the river bed along with 16 fresh water springs in it. Sand mining, and dumping of solid waste were also problems they had to tackle.

A river, Zarine said, is a system on its own, which involves people along its banks, the cities through which it flows and the whole ecosystem it creates.Thus river restoration, she said should involve every part of the system or the work will fail. “Our initial surveys showed many did not even know about the river and thought the dirty nullah was meant to carry sewage,” she said.

Nullah cleaning, an annual pre-monsoon event tendered out by the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation was done by the civic body. Zarine said the work last year not only saved the corporation in terms of the budget, but also helped in preventing floods during the monsoon. Indiscriminate dumping of solid waste was tackled by micromanaging garbage collection. “We had to tweak the timings of garbage collection to ensure 100 per cent households give their waste to the collection vehicles, this needed micromanagement and people involvement,” she said. Reclamation of the river had its moments of surprise with the team identifying 27 species of bird and discovering turtle nests and snakes along the river bed.

River front redevelopment and creation of public spaces helped give visibility to the project. Kham restoration was included in the Namami Ganga project with Ecosattva working closely with the civic body in it. “At EcoSattva, we take a comprehensive approach to river restoration and are fortunate to work with partners such as Varroc Engineering and AMC administrator who value this approach,” she said.

The second phase of Kham restoration would involve work on solid waste management as well as river front development. Tarang Jain, chairman and managing director of Varroc Engineering, pointed out that river restoration is a complex endeavour that has multiple pieces, partners, stakeholders and factors that need to be understood, accepted, onboarded and coordinated. “We believe in investing in design thinking, systems planning, and execution while breaking down complex matters such as the intersection of river pollution, human activity and not disturbing the river’s capability for ecological balance,” he said.

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