Godavari: Worshiped, Destroyed & Forgotten River of Nashik

Guest Blog by Shilpa Dahake

One of the youngest participants of the river walk along the Godavari, which happened on 10th December 2017, asked – “आपली गोदावरी खरच मेली का?” (Is our river Godavari, really dead?)

Such an innocent query, but it raises multiple issues and questions – Why we worship, and simultaneously pollute our rivers? Do we abuse rivers because we haven’t understood them? To deliberate upon these questions, I present a case study of Godavari River in Nashik city. In a span of about 30 km from its origin at Brahmagiri Mountain, the Godavari encounters a fast developing and urbanizing city of Nashik.

The spirituality and the sacredness of the Godavari lure thousands of the devotees, every day along the banks of Godavari in Nashik. Nashik owes its existence, and recognition as an important city on the religious map of India and the world, to Godavari. But the irony is that the image of ‘pure and sacred Godavari’ is only encaged within the religious cosmos, and hardly translates into reality. Dr. Kailas Kamod, an eminent writer of Nashik, very aptly illustrates this gap between material and intangible reality of Godavari –

Since the rivers are sacred for us, thus, there is a Ganga in our minds, and in reality, there is one another Ganga. I worship the Ganga of my mind, and consider it very pure and sacred… Similarly, we celebrate the religiosity of Godavari symbolically… but we do not respect the materiality of the river, thinking that – let us clean the river, remove the encroachments along the banks, and let the river flow properly… By elaborately emphasizing the religiosity of Godavari, we consider ourselves to be free to pollute the river in any way we want.

Figure 2

Graffiti along the walls of Godavari Ghats, depicting gap between tangible and intangible realities (Photo: Shilpa Dahake)

Godavari meandering through the center of Nashik, provides the city a mesmerizing intersection of land and water of about 13 km, along both the banks of the river. However, instead of celebrating and preserving the riverscape, the city began to control, tame, and exploit the river by encroaching into the space of Godavari. Over the years, with changing governance gradually transformed the river from a ‘common’ into an ‘institutional’ entity. This began, in 1912, with the introduction of the piped-water system in Nashik1. As mentioned by several of the residents of Nashik, “आता गोदावरी नळातून येते” (Now, Godavari reaches us through the taps). Such a phenomena grossly altered the river-society relationship, and society’s outlook towards the Godavari. Further, in 1954, with the construction of the Gangapur Dam, upstream of Nashik in the catchment of the river, the communities living along the Godavari completely lost their rights over river water.

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Immediately downstream of the Gangapur Dam, the Godavari meanders through some villages, and then enters into the limits of Nashik city. In the rural stretch, the riverbed and banks still retain natural features of still retain riparian ecology, even though the water flow regime has hugely changed. Unfortunately, the tourism activities are springing in and around the dam, due to the presence of several wineries in the vicinity, thus increasing the risk of encroachment in these patches as well. Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC), in 2014, developed a boat club and initiated construction of resort in the premises of the dam2. Owing to the protest of local environmental activists, this project was brought to a standstill.

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Boat Club standing at the edge of Gangapur Dam (Photo: Shilpa Dahake)

Further ahead, as soon as it enters the limits of Nashik Municipal Corporation, multiple sewage pipes and storm water drains (in reality they bring sewage water) can be seen opening into the river. In addition, the width of the river starts decreasing as one moves towards the center of the city. Moreover, in the absence of proper flood-line mapping, several developmental encroachments, like Goda Park project, can be observed along the banks of the river. At the heart of the city, where all the religiosity of Godavari is concentrated, the river is tamed and controlled by multiple layers of concrete everywhere (supposedly built for the convenience of the pilgrims). Besides, the religious respect is only restricted within the premises of the Ram Kund. From Ram Kund and downstream, till the river flows out of the NMC limit, the Godavari is suffocating under the burden of waste of the city.

Figure 3

Layers of Concrete along the historic ghats of Godavari (Photo: Shilpa Dahake)

Several modernist visions of development and state-sanctioned initiatives are inculcating the notion of the river as a resource, which is out there to be exploited, in the public conscience. This is further strengthening the ignorance towards Godavari in public sphere of Nashik. The ignorance turns into empathy only during the Kumbh Mela, as one of the resident suggested, because the “Kumbh attracts lots of funds, which is almost ten times the budget of Nashik Municipal Corporation.” In a hurry to utilize the funds, the administration implements dubious and extravagant projects along the riverfront, which are becoming perils for the Godavari. Such projects began with the Kumbh Mela of 2003 and include concretization of the historic kunds and riverbed, the extension of ghats, construction of parks and gardens along the river banks. These projects firstly, have completely ignored the mapping of the flood-lines. They secondly severely injure the riverine ecology leading to destruction of biodiversity, groundwater recharge capacity and extreme phenomena like flash floods. And lastly, these newly conceptualized parks and gardens remain underutilized or unutilized, as they are just planned to physically represent the expenditure of funds and not according to the needs of the city dwellers.

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More concretization for the Kumbh Mela, now act as redundant spaces (Photo: Shilpa Dahake)

Recently, the Project Goda (under the scheme of Nashik Smart City) is proposed for heritage conservation, promotion of cultural tourism, and reduction of pollution along the Godavari riverscape within Nashik. The project includes – Package I include cobblestone paving, stone benches, cycle track, signboard installation, tree plantation, heritage walk, jetty and floating fountain, and Package II includes cleaning of the entire river, construction of pedestrian bridges, interception of tributaries of Godavari3. The proposal of the project is full of ambiguous conceptualization of heritage conservation, beautification, and cleaning. Like all the previous schemes, the focus of Project Goda is cosmetic infrastructural development along the Godavari riverscape. It does not recognise or try to sustain or rejuvenate Godavari as a river, an ecological entity.

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Godavari downstream of ghats in Nashik, covered with layers of algae and vegetation (Photo: Shilpa Dahake)

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Labourers trying to move huge chunks of algal formation (Photo: Shilpa Dahake)

The social, political, and bureaucratic ignorance is turning the Godavari into a neglected space, a destroyed river and the backyard of Nashik city. Recognition of Godavari as a River, an ecological entity and a ‘sense of belongingness and stewardship’ towards Godavari is completely missing in Nashik. Even the communities which are living along the river are only exploiting the Godavari. There are few campaigns, led by citizens of Nashik, which are fighting for the rights of Godavari. Some court cases have been filed, and some useful orders have come, but we have yet to see an impact of all this on the river.

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Drainage Pipes constructed within the riverbed (Photo: Shilpa Dahake)

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STP water outlet, from partly treated water is discharged into Godavari, as the river leaves Nashik (Photo: Shilpa Dahake)

The river Godavari, which has flourished several human generations in Nashik, has lost all characteristics of being a ‘living river.’ It only flows during the heavy monsoon showers or if the water is released from the Gangapur Dam. Otherwise it is meant to carry waste water that the drainage pipes release into it.

Shilpa Dahake (shilpabd26@gmail.com)

(PhD Candidate, Dept of Humanities and Social Sciences, IISER Mohali) 

References:

[1] Shirwadkar, V. V. (1964). Jivan Ganga: A centenary report of Nashik Municipal Council and City. Nashik Municipal Corporation.

[2] Sarkar, Sumita. (2014, March 27). ‘Boat club conducts trial rides sans permission’. The Times of India. Online at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nashik/Boat-club-conducts-trial-rides-sans-permission/articleshow/32741383.cms

[3] Sarkar, Sumita. (2017, October 31). ‘Goda ghat project to boost cultural tourism’. The Times of India. Online at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nashik/goda-ghat-project-to-boost-cultural-tourism/articleshow/61364894.cms

Earlier Blogs of SANDRP on the subject of Godavari River in Nashik:

https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/07/17/%E0%A4%97%E0%A5%8B%E0%A4%A6%E0%A4%BE%E0%A4%B5%E0%A4%B0%E0%A5%80-%E0%A4%A7%E0%A5%8D%E0%A4%B5%E0%A4%9C%E0%A4%BE%E0%A4%B0%E0%A5%8B%E0%A4%B9%E0%A4%A3-hoisting-godavaris-flag-this-kumbh/

https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/06/15/borewell-water-in-a-concretized-ramkund-has-religion-helped-rivers-at-all/

https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/goda-park-riverfront-development-project-violation-of-court-order-and-destruction-of-fertile-riparian-zone/

Blogs on Godavari River Basin Profile:

https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/godavari-basin-in-maharashtra-a-profile/

https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/11/24/an-introduction-to-godavari-basin/

 

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