On the banks of Vishwamitri River in Gujarat

It’s sad to see a river being called ‘Gutter Ganga’. I’m on the banks of river Vishwamitri, a river which flows through the city of Vadodara in Gujarat. Originating from the Pavagadh hills, Vishwamitri is a small (135km) but an important river, like all natural water bodies. Some 30km downstream from Vadodara, I’m in Medhad, Virpur village where Vijay, a young boy is guiding me to the river bank. There are sign boards warning people about the possibility of crocodiles. Aptly named ‘Vijay’ (which means ‘Victory’), he doesn’t go to school and enjoys his time playing in the village, learning while living.

Me: Have you seen crocodiles?

Vijay: Yes, I see them almost every few days.

Me: Do you play on the river bank?

Vijay: No. I am usually in the village playing marbles.

Saying this, he slung a small stone at a nearby hen which immediately ran away creating a minor ruckus. He pointed me in the direction I should be walking and left me from there.

The path is muddy, almost slushy and there are footmarks which lead the way. It is monsoon owing to which there is a certain wetness everywhere and the air is laden with moisture. I am excited to see this river which I had ignored while I grew up on its banks for almost 17 years. The only recollection I have is of the river flooding during monsoons and we’d drive upto the bridge which used to get submerged. This was often followed by news clippings talking about baby crocodiles coming into homes through toilet sinks! For the decade and a half that followed, life took me all over and showed things which planted seeds of a deep curiosity within. This search brought me back to Vadodara to spend some time and see this river on the banks of which Sage Vishwamitra is said to have done his tapasya.

Over the last many decades, this beautiful river has been reduced to an urban drain. All of the sewage waste from the sprawling city of Vadodara and industrial waste from the major factories in the vicinity is thoughtlessly dumped into the river. Apart from this, uncontrolled construction and building on the flood plains add to the woes. Over the last two decades, there have been efforts by individuals, NGOs, and many others to try and revive the river. The driving force however needs to come from the VMC (Vadodara Municipal Corporation) which currently seems absent. As the river stands today, it is a very sorry sight.

In Medhad, as I reach the banks and look around, there is beautiful greenery between which a brown river with a mild stench is flowing gently. Moving towards the Gulf of Khambat where it meets the Arabian Sea, some 50kms downstream. This is monsoon. The waters are high. I look around and speak to a couple of people living there.

Me: Do you use the water of the river for anything?

Medhad resident: Absolutely not! The water is terribly dirty. In other seasons, sometimes the water is red, sometimes black and mostly looks like a drain. We don’t even go near it. A few decades ago, people still used to use it but now, it is not even worth going near.

Another resident: There’s the problem of crocodiles too. They come till the doorstep and take away dogs and cattle sometimes. It is a danger for humans too. We live in poverty and these are hard times.

The Patel community owns the land here used for farming and the people I’m speaking to are employed as labour on these fields. The lane of houses I walk past give a sense that there’s a struggle for life; the relatively rich have haphazardly concretised their houses while the poor have crumbling mud houses. It is a kind of village no one from Vadodara would step into but it’s weird and funny how the needs to keep that city running has brought the surrounding villages to this state. To make a generalization, if the river had been in a better condition and if we can take care of our natural resources, lives can be made so much more liveable for rural India.

Vishwamitri is home to more than 260 mugger crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris, a legally protected species) and the river has played a special role in sustaining the city (Youtube Video). A Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project (VRDP) is on the cards but environmentalists say that blindly following Ahmedabad’s model of ‘beautifying’ the Sabarmati will lead to more harm (read University of Michigan report). Rohit Prajapati told the Bastion how the VRDP will not help in mitigating the flooding situation and on top of it, the project can prove detrimental to the aquatic life that the river holds (source).

As I walk back after my visit to this village, there is only prayer in my heart. A prayer for all of us to be more sensitive, follow our heart, our true nature and live in harmony. This post is only a plea to the citizens of Vadodara to at least take the basic steps- segregate waste, push authorities and society groups to have better systems, be sensitive towards the environment. We need our authorities to be made accountable for their actions and inactions. Please read this post, research further, visit the river downstream from Vadodara, share this information and let’s do our bit to protect this potentially beautiful river.

Mirdad (Jubin) is an explorer of the beautiful world within and outside. After graduating as a mechanical engineer, he worked for Tata Motors for a while before moving on to YourStory.com to pursue his passion for writing. A deeper inner quest brought him to Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh where he has been living since last five years and is a part of Saadho. His interest lies in sustainability, adventure and media.

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