Human civilization is nothing without its cities and as we all know the greatest cities in the world like Amsterdam, London, New York, Baghdad, Belgrade, Bangkok, New Delhi, etc have one major factor in common- WATER. Yes a city cannot thrive if it does not have a water source like rivers, oceans or in some cases ponds or even an intricate network of streams (any guesses to what we are hinting at). As humans we have understood that water is a precious resource.
Nations rise and fall, cities crumble due to various reasons like invasions, man-made disasters, lack of economic growth but the major contributor to the abandonment of cities is their water source. Yes, fool around with a city’s water source and you end up living in the jungles! Regardless of how much geo-engineering you end up doing, nature will find its way to circumvent it. For example the floods in Mumbai happened because over the years the Mithi river has been encroached upon and at some places integrated with the sewerage system which when a downpour happens traps the storm water intermingling it with the sewerage drains causing flooding.
Bhubaneswar is no such exception too, our states capital designed by Otto Von Konigsberger- The site we call today as Bhubaneswar was once a menagerie of hillocks and undulating terrain with small valleys and a natural drainage system called as the ‘Gangua River.’ A river whose main source originates in the high terrain of the Chandaka reserve forest and then flows down through what is now the modern city of Bhubaneswar and finally emptying into the Daya river near Kuruki hill just south of Sisupalgarh. It is joined by nine out of ten other natural drainage channels of which some parts have been converted into concrete drains to discharge excess storm water and keep it segregated from general sewerage lines. With a combined drainage area of over 150 square kilometers. Just for the sake of comparison Bhubaneswar is spread out on an area of 450 square kilometers.
Apart from the Patia drain all of these other drains or natural streams as they should be correctly referred to fall into the Gangua river. Some of which surprisingly originate from right here inside the city. For example the Nicco park lake and the cesspool that is now the Vani Vihar lake empty into the river bringing along with them all kinds of trash, rubble, plastics and waste water. Why does this happen? Because all of these areas are densely populated places where waste management is non-existent. (Bhubaneswar people like me say… so what!) Well the attitude is like this because of our own fault.
People in the last twenty years have grown up to understand that Bhubaneswar’s main water source is from the Kuakhai and Daya rivers which to some extent is correct. The other major source of water in the city is by tapping the ground water. I am sure dear readers you know at least twenty places on the Janpath where ground water is tapped by installing submersible pumps. The best thing about ground water is that- it’s easy to extract and the source is usually quite pure without any pollutants and harmful substances in it. But what we all fail to recognise is that ground water is limited and will one day go dry! Then what? Do you think that the Kuakhai and Daya rivers would be enough to cope with the water requirements of our city? Well the answer is a big No. But thankfully planners like Otto Von Konigsberger probably identified this problem long ago and planned Bhubaneswar on a undulating terrain so that our residential colonies, office spaces, governmental buildings and other utilities are built on a higher terrain as compared to the ‘Gangua River’ so that this natural network of streams does their job, one of which is recharging the ground water table along with the cities numerous historic ponds like the Bindusagar, ponds at Brahmeshwar, Kedar Gouri and Mausima temple to name a few. Even the step well at the Museum also contributes to this simple but highly effective method of storing water and recharging the ground water table of the city.
Why should we care about the Gangua river? Decades of neglect, wrong town planning, illegal construction and a burgeoning population has put these natural streams and the Gangua river in peril. At some places the river has been reduced to a little trickle of water hardly few feet across. Once where crystal clear water flowed now flows, a dark black coloured discharge crossing and cutting across the city. We went to the mouth of the river to where the Gangua meets the Daya. We met one Saroj (last name withheld) who told us “Twenty years ago the mouth of the river was much wider and we used to go fishing up the Gangua but now if you spend only a few hours in the water you get rashes, the skin becomes itchy and scaly. The water is full of pollutants, chemicals, waste, polythene and even parts of humans are also found in the Gangua. The water is no longer safe for drinking too its causing a lot of difficulty for us to bathe or use drinking water because the Gangua’s water mixes here with the Daya making its water also undrinkable. Even fishing stocks downstream of the Daya have decreased massively.” Saroj whose prime occupation is fishing, river bank agriculture and odd jobs in the Badakanti village near the Buddhapada Somnath Temple is deeply agitated and worried about the Gangua river.
The Gangua is so polluted now that it could on any day become ground zero for a brand new ‘superbug.’ Yes! If we aren’t careful enough with this river system nature can pull a fast one on us and wipe out our Bhubaneswar for good. Such an outbreak could kill thousands of people just like swine flu which originated in a pig farm due to concoction of antibiotics, water and chemical which over the years created drug resistant bacteria and worse go airborne and kill millions! Would you like Bhubaneswar to have that sobriquet of being the ‘zombie apocalypse harbinger’, guess not.
The implications of this pollution is not just limited to Bhubaneswar and its adjoining areas but a dirty Gangua river is a major threat to the Daya river significantly polluting it and since the Daya empties its water into the Chilika Lake. We think you have got the point that we here at Coffee Bytes are trying to make.
So what do we do? Well the answer is simpler than explaining string theory to an ox being carried away by ‘Viserys’(the game of thrones, Dragon, we all love). What we need to do is be conscious of our surroundings, reduce, reuse, refuse and recycle apart from this we can create awareness by spreading more information about the Gangua river on the internet and through forums. Small concerted efforts are more needed now than governmental support. Let’s stop blaming the government for all our environmental miseries because the government is drawn from us and if we change then surely the governments view point would also change too. The civil society of Bhubaneswar should come forward and it’s about time we address this situation or else you kiss Bhubaneswar and the Chilika lake goodbye. So people remember water is scare and limited the more we pollute this intricate system the more we end damaging our ecology and environment. So if you don’t want Bhubaneswar to turn into a simulation model for Mars we suggest you start acting.
by Aditya Nag