Confronting the Riverfront: A conflict over Kharun Riverfront Development near Raipur
-- Abhishek Patane
Conflict over Kharun Riverfront Development Project (KRDP) near Raipur city, started when the consultancy firm WAPCOS, which was appointed to do the preliminary feasibility assessment for the project, had begun its survey between mid and late 2015. Survey of villages upstream of Mahadev Ghat, which was out of purview of proposed area, became another immediate reason for emergence of the conflict. Some Gram Panchayats were informed about the survey while some weren’t. Series of protests began in Amleshwar, Bhothali and Khudmuda villages, situated in Durg district, in early 2016. Protests involved Gheraos , Jal Satyagraha, FIR, marches and sloganeering. People from affected villages, mostly land owning farmers, and otherwise, were mobilised under the banner of a Chhattisgarh based Civil Society Organisation named, Rashtriya Kisan Kranti Morcha headed by Priya Sharan Tripathi. The conflict was covered by print and electronic media at regional level. In late January 2016, as protests intensified, the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, assured in one of the zero hours of the state’s legislative assembly, that the government won’t acquire private land; the project will only be developed on government owned lands. This assurance dissipated the protests. However, when Chhattisgarh’s Minister for Environment and Housing, Rajesh Munat, was interviewed, he conceded that the government is strongly willing to proceed with the project, as it is important for Raipur city and Kharun River. Presently, the project is suspended because the plan for formation of Special Area Development Authority (SADA) has been scrapped.
Figure 1: From left (a) Kharun’s perennial stretch in the month of May (b) Farm lands abutting Kharun
is a way of protesting where protestors encircle buildings or individual(s) and protest by sloganeering; putting forth their arguments and demands and giving ultimatum for demands at times.
River Kharun originates near Petechuwa village in Balod district of Chhattisgarh state. It flows through Balod, Dhamtari, Raipur, Durg and Bemetara districts for a stretch of about 129 km. Its average width is of 100 metres. It forms a natural boundary between Durg and Dhamtari district; Durg and Raipur district and Raipur and Bemetara district as it flows towards north to meet Seonath River (Shivnath River, a tributary of Mahanadi) near Sahgaon village in Bemetara district. Being a seasonal river with an average annual yield of 1802 million cubic metres (MCM), it mainly carries discharge during monsoon. The river’s catchment area is of 4112 km2 with an average annual rainfall of about 1022 mm in the basin. Kharun is the main source of drinking water for Raipur city. Two anicuts, namely, Bhathagaon and Ghugwa reserve water diverted from Gangrel dam through Mahanadi branch canal, which is conveyed to Raipur city for drinking purpose. Kharun is polluted due to release of industrial effluents and sewage, especially downstream of Bhathagaon anicut. There are eight main sewerage outlets which convey sewage directly into Kharun of which some coming from Raipur are near Bhathagaon anicut, Mahadev Ghat, Kathadih, Raipura and Sarona. The river is covered thickly with water hyacinth downstream of Mahadev Ghat, which indicates high level of eutrophication, thus having a negative impact on the fluvial environment.
Figure 2: Map of Kharun River with anicuts and sewage outlets near Raipur city.
Source: Google earth map
KRDP is being planned on lines of Sabarmati Riverfront Project in different phases by Government of Chhattisgarh (GoCG) and Raipur Development Authority (RDA). The first phase of this project is proposed to be developed on around 20 km of stretch and 300 metres on either side of the river with an estimated cost of around Rs. 2000 crores. Streamlining of river course and reclamation of land; promotion of recreational amenities to encourage tourism; plan housing and commercial complexes; risk reduction of erosion and flooding and making river pollution free by preventing direct flow of sewage, are the larger aims and objectives of this project. The prospective project area is mentioned as the ‘special area’ according to RDA. This delineated area was proposed to be administered SADA, which was supposed to execute implementation plan of this project Section 69 of the Chhattisgarh Town and Country Planning Act, 1973. It confers SADA with the powers for the purpose of municipal administration and taxation. This may lead to overlaps between powers of existing local governments.
Figure 3: KRDP’s proposed area along with extended area surveyed by WAPCOS
Source: Google earth map
In the project’s preliminary feasibility assessment report made by WAPCOS, it is mentioned that SADA’s authority will prevail from Kharun’s origin till its confluence point with Seonath river. This is indicative of intention to gradually extend this urban river front agglomeration throughout the river’s stretch of 129 km. Total delineated area for this project is 1192.97 hectares, of which only 288.34 hectares is government owned land and 904.36 hectares is privately owned land. Parts of villages, namely, Bhathagaon, Raipura, Sarona, Chandandih, Atari, Hathbandh, Gomchi, Guma and Bana from Raipur district, and Khudmuda, Amleshwar, Bhothali, Magarghata, Kumhari, Kapasda and Akola from Durg district are delineated for proposed SADA.
In the month of May, 2016, I visited three villages abutting Kharun, namely, Khudmuda, Amleshwar and Bhothali in Durg district, to interact with the stakeholders. Sonker (farmers), Sahoo (farmers), Kurmi (farmers), Dhimar (fisher persons), Nishad (fisher persons), Kewat (fisher persons), Kumhar (potter), Koshta (weavers), Dhobi (washer persons) are some of the communities largely found in this area. Of these, except Sonker, others belong to socially vulnerable categories of SC and OBC. This shows their dependency on Kharun for their livelihoods. Though Nishad community and Dhimar community were traditionally involved in fishing activities, over the period of time due to increasing pollution of Kharun, they have shifted to farming or have become landless labourer. Some of them even continue fishing in farm ponds. Rohu, Katla and Tulsi are some of the fishes caught by the fishing communities. Gangaprasad Nishad, Sarpanch of Bhothali belonging to Nishad community conceded, “Couple of generations ago our family left fishing job and turned toward agriculture due to perennial nature of Kharun near their village.” Another respondent from the same community, Tameshwar, said that, he recently left fishing and shifted to housekeeping job as the catch is decreasing day by day due to pollution of Kharun.
This area is highly fertile which produces a bumper crop of vegetables. According to Manish Singh, a journalist from Patrika news agency, this area supplies most of the vegetables to Raipur city followed by Arang block. But, except this stretch of area, no other area has perennial source of water and can ensure continuous supply of vegetables to Raipur. According to him the project will lead to loss of livelihood on large scale and affect this robust economy of farmers. Another journalist, Anuj Saxena from Naidunia news agency, had a slightly different view. He opined that though there is a considerable chunk of vegetable supplies coming from this area, it has been declining due to mass exodus of farmers who are selling their lands to people from cities. Bhuvaneshwar Sonker, a farmer belonging to Sonker community owns 12 acres of farm land just 100 metres away from Kharun river in Khudmuda village where he grows vegetable crops for three seasons round the year. He said that around April, cultivation of tomatoes on 1.5 acre of land earned him about Rs. 2.5 lakh. This indicates the quantum of prospective loss if the project involves acquisition of such lands.
Figure 4: Fishing activities in Kharun river
Bhuvaneshwar also conceded that fearing acquisition nobody is willing to buy land in special area, even though the rates are around Rs. 45 lakhs per acre. One of the inputs from P. S Tripathi and Gangaprasad Nishad regarding the land market of this area unravels the grim picture of land deals where buyers buy land from farmers by just paying a token amount between Rs.2 to 3 lakh with an agreement on stamp paper, but they do not pay the whole amount for five to ten years together. P.S Tripathi also points out land-liquor-acquisition nexus where many of the people in Raipur, especially farmers, also from the special area are addicted to liquor. An anonymous source said that people of this area are heavily addicted to countryside liquor, Pahua and Aadhi, which is also used to mobilize people for social and political events. Their attachment to liquor increases their need for money to buy liquor over a period of time. And this dependence makes them sell their valuables and their land eventually. This whole trigger has made land acquisition. He further concedes that farmers become landless labourers, and landless labourers become downtrodden and poor over a period of time. He is of the view that farmers of this area may also meet the same fate due to this project.
Bhothli, a village with a population of around 1100, is most probably the only village which completely falls in the delineated area and settled on government land called as Kabil-kasht land. It is a type of class II land occupancy where the land is inheritable, but not transferable, except with prior permission of the collector. These lands (Kabil-kasht) were distributed among the landless people under ‘Grow more food Scheme’ in 1948. Probably, this is why it is the most active village in the protests along with Khudmuda and Amleshwar.
Above all, it was found that the interests of conflicting actors at the forefront are important to identify space for possible dialogue on basis of their commonalities. Apart from P.S Tripathi’s manifested interest of mobilising farmers for their rights and saving Kharun from pollution, his ownership of land in Amleshwar, abutting the river; his religious and cultural interests considering his profession as astrologer and Pandit and his political aspirations are collectively involved which seem to drive him in this conflict. On the contrary, state government’s policy to attract big industries, housing, political and financial electoral goals are largely involved as driving force in this conflict. The environment minister, Mr. Munat, said that the conflict is also being escalated by the land mafia with their own vested interests which are served by exploiting the farmers and hence they don’t want this project.
Considering the incompatibilities and commonalities, conservation of river and development of cultural hubs can be identified as the shared interests. Agro-tourism including fisheries and local boating can be a possible option for the project. Re-development plan for private land owners who are willing to participate in the project can be a possible option to cater to the needs of housing and hotel industry. Instead of cluster or consolidated development on a contiguous stretch, a confederation of small parks and recreational hubs can be planned on government land, which will integrate the existing village settlements and provide them with complementary source of income. The drifts of conflict dynamics will have implications on riparian rights and customary rights of the stakeholders. Minimum intrusion over the natural flow of river is imminent to ensure Kharun’s conservation.