Riverfront proposal in Panaji: development or demise?

The CCF team takes a closer look at the Panaji riverfront development proposal.

 

Rivers have long been the backbone of human settlements for many reasons: fertile floodplains, irrigation, and transportation. With the pressure of urbanisation, riverfronts across the world have come to represent open public space in otherwise dense cities. Today, Riverfront Development projects are viewed as a “means of economic and cultural growth, and are dominated by commerce and recreation to create a thriving and continuous public realm.” (Yadav, n.d.)

Under the Smart Cities Mission, many cities have taken up riverfront projects, some of which are budgeted over 100 crores:

Name of the project City Budget (crores)
Reinvigoration of Vishwamitri Riverfront Influence Area Vadodara 508
Riverfront Development Shivamogga 421
Ganga Riverfront Development Kanpur 125
Gomti Riverfront Development Lucknow 113
Goda-Riverfront Development Nashik 110

(Smart Cities Mission GOI, 2016)

What is the money being utilised for? Upon closer inspection, the projects amount to little more than the promotion of recreational and commercial activities on riverfronts which “typically include promenades, boat trips, shopping, petty shops, restaurants, theme parks, walkways and even parking lots in the encroached river bed.” (SANDRP 2014.) ‘Riverfront development’ has been reduced to, and is used interchangeably with, ‘river beautification’.

In Panaji, the Smart City Proposal calls for an “Improved riverfront development along the Mandovi river (landscaping near Cruise jetty), soil conservation measures and beautification of open spaces and bridges.”

 

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A recent news article lists initiatives along Rua de Ourem creek

According to recent news articles featured in Goa Today (Gomantak, Marathi) and Times of India, the proposal has been further elaborated into the following initiatives:

  • Redevelopment of the Santa Monica Jetty with seating, viewpoints and food stalls;
  • A foot bridge connecting the Santa Monica Jetty to the old PWD building near the Patto bridge;
  • A “Welcome Centre” in place of the old PWD building near Patto bridge;
  • Extension of the existing footpath lining Rua de Ourem creek, behind the Central Library;
  • A 1.6-km walking path overlooking the creek near the People’s High School;
  • Cleaning of the creek “without destroying the ecosystem”;
  • Boating facility along the creek (the depth of the creek will be increased along the route);
  • Providing CCTV cameras “at required locations” to stop people from throwing trash.

The proposal has been promised within 18 months after the 2019 elections.

Based on the limited information, the CCF team’s first reaction is to question the environmental impact of the project: the long-term viability of the cleaning of the creek is unclear with the introduction of tourist-drawing boating facility. There is no mention of addressing the inevitable negative environmental impact of such tourist-centric initiatives. With the “redevelopment” of Santa Monica Jetty, the proposal seems unlikely to become anything more than a make-up treatment of Mandovi river.

What will be the true cost of such a project? In the past, many waterfront projects have blatantly violated many environmental laws of the land, thereby setting many local species protection projects back by years. Fauna and avifauna along the edges of water bodies face threat under such economically-motivated schemes.

In the face of such a trend, the key takeaway for citizens is that there should be an informed awareness of the riverfront or waterfront project in the city. Looking beyond the attractive sheen of promised recreational activity is important to question the environmental, cultural and social ramifications of the proposal.

The South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) has called for restoration of rivers rather than beautification, concretisation, channeling or encroachment. A credible early-design-stage citizen participatory process, with an efficient mechanism for suggestions and objections, will strengthen the city’s backing of a well-designed programme (in a resounding example, effective implementation in the Netherlands has accounted for river water dynamics, erosion and sedimentation process, and the tides).

Factoring in ecological measures doesn’t have to dissolve citizens’ connection to the creek, or the river: if anything, experiencing the waterscape will only be enhanced by the protection of the water bodies. Isn’t that what Development is about?

 

Read more on Riverfront Development projects here:

Trend of Riverfront Development projects in India:
https://sandrp.in/2014/11/03/goda-park-riverfront-development-project-violation-of-court-order-and-destruction-of-fertile-riparian-zone/

Citizens’ action- Open letter to the Secretary, MOEF:
https://counterview.org/2016/01/09/cease-vadodaras-vishwamitri-riverfront-development-project-till-environmental-clearance-or-face-legal-action/

Netherlands’ Room for the River Programme:
https://www.riob.org/en/file/259093/download?token=L7PIEzs0

 

References:

SANDRP. 2014. “Riverfront Development in India: Cosmetic make up on deep wounds”. Accessed 2nd March 2019.
https://sandrp.in/2014/09/17/riverfront-development-in-india-cosmetic-make-up-on-deep-wounds/

Smart Cities Mission GOI. 2016. “List of Projects of Rs. 100 crore and above as per SCPs of 60 Smart Cities”. Accessed 2nd March 2019. http://smartcities.gov.in/upload/uploadfiles/files/List_of_Projects_60_Cities.pdf

Yadav, Vriddhi. n.d., “Riverfront Development in Indian Cities: The Missing Link.” Academia 1-6. https://www.academia.edu/32219232/Riverfront_Development_in_Indian_Cities_The_Missing_Link.

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