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The Economic Times (Delhi) 24-1-15

From a parched riverbed with puddles of industrial effluents and sewage to a bustling, swank riverfront, we look at how the Sabarmati, in the heart of Ahmedabad, has been beautified, writes Shramana Ganguly

It grabbed the world's attention in September, when the leaders of two Asian giants ­ Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping ­ discussed bilat eral issues as they strolled on the promenade along the Sabarmati River, which flows through Ahmedabad and is dubbed the “Thames of India.“ Last week, more than 1.5 million people thronged the riverfront, which was the venue of the International Kite Festival, as companies such as Amul, Havmor, Vadilal, Vimal, Monginis and Domino's Pizza vied for business.

It's possibly been an unimaginable transformation for the residents of Gujarat's largest city, which is divided by the river into eastern and western halves. A little over a decade ago, the Sabarmati was nothing but a parched riverbed -sometimes used for farming -with puddles of industrial effluents and sewage. It was a hotbed of water-borne disease, with slums mushrooming along the flood-prone banks.

Today , the Sabarmati in the heart of the city has been beautified. The river has been channelled to a uniform width of 263 metres, with parts of the riverbed reclaimed and a waterfront developed along both banks, each covering a distance of about 11 km. The two-level promenade runs along the water's edge, with the lower portion for pedestrians and cyclists and the upper level for various civic amenities.

“The riverfront has enabled new business opportunities where none existed,“ says Suresh Vankar, a Kutchi handloom weaver who travelled over 300 km to woo customers ­ national and international ­ during the kite festival in Ahmedabad. The festival is observed a week prior to Uttarayan, the start of the northward movement of the sun's relative position in the sky . A daily rental of Rs 100 for a temporary stall along the prome nade was a great bargain for doing business at such a happening location.

The concrete-paved flooring at the lower level of the promenade is ideal for walking, jogging and cycling. Uninterrupted seating arrangements have been made along with protective railing. There are ghats to serve pilgrims and boating stations. The upper level will host amenities such as parks, gardens and theatres.

It's taken about 50 years for the makeover from the time it was first suggested. Back in 1961, Bernard Kohn, a French architect who lived in Ahmedabad, along with Kamal Mangaldas, a city-based architect, Anil Bakeri, an engineer, and a few others prepared a proposal for developing the Sabarmati riverfront.

The state government declared the plan feasible in 1966, after the completion of technical studies. Things got going only in 1997, when the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation formed a special purpose vehicle, the Sabar mati Riverfront Development Corporation Ltd, to implement the project.

The municipal corporation lent Rs 445.15 crore to SRFDCL, while the Housing & Urban Development Company granted a loan of Rs 416.96 crore. As part of the project, a portion of the reclaimed land would be sold for commercial development, helping SRFDCL to develop and manage the waterfront on a selffinancing basis.

Construction work on the project started in 2005 and most of the heavy engineering and land reclamation work is now complete.Some portions of the promenade opened to the public in 2012.

The Sabarmati riverfront project gave a breather to the traditionally monsoon-fed river and has ushered in an era of economic activity ­ providing livelihood to petty vendors and business opportunities to national and multinational companies.

The kite festival and a flower show have become annual features on the riverfront, which now commands a leased out rate of Rs 25,000 per 2,500 sq metre plot. The reclaimed land is rented out for exhibitions, trade fairs and religious gatherings. SRFDCL's average monthly income is about Rs 21 lakh.

A laundry campus has been created on the eastern bank to provide facilities for the washing community , which used to be based on the river banks.

`Ravivari,' the traditional Sunday flea market, has been moved to a permanent site adjacent to its previous location. Now known as the Riverfront Market, it has 1,641 vendor platforms, seating areas, paved walkways, food courts, vehicular access, parking and public washrooms. SRFDCL plans to keep this open-air market open through the week, offering more opportunities for the city's vendors.

The once-dry Sabarmati, now fed with the waters of the Narmada river through a canal that crosses it a few km upstream of the city , draws about 5,000 people to the garden alongside the riverfront on weekends, while on holidays, the number goes up to well above 11,000. Facilities such as a floating restaurant, river cruises and an amusement park will add to the attractions in the years to come.

To keep the river clean, an integrated storm water and sewage system has been implemented. Sewage is captured from 38 discharge points along both banks and diverted with the help of pumping stations to treatment plants. Of the Rs 1,200 crore earmarked for the project, Rs 900 crore has been spent on land reclamation and development of infrastructure, says Naresh Rajput, GM, SRFDCL.

Apart from spots for recreation, the commercial development planned on 14.5% of the project land on the riverfront promises to change the city's skyline. Other cities including Vadodara and Surat in Gujarat, Pune, Varanasi and Chennai propose to replicate this urban infrastructure project.

Source: The Economic Times