The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) will face a crucial test this monsoon season for its ambitious ₹5,500-crore Mula-Mutha riverfront development (RFD) project flagged by activists for environmental concerns. Part of the project, planned to cover 44.4 km of the city’s rivers, is complete and the rains this year will reveal whether it will not cause flooding in riverside areas.
The civic body has readied a 300-metre stretch between Ahilyabai Holkar Ghat and Bund Garden as part of pilot project (sample stretch) and work is underway at Yerawada and Koregaon Park locations. According to PMC and the water resource department, the height at which the riverfront project has been developed will not cause flooding of nearby areas, but environmentalists agree to disagree.
The data from PMC and the water resource department shows that while the high flood level (HFL) is 545 metres (from base sea level) at the stretch that covers the project, the promenade level from Sangamwadi Bridge to Ganesh Ghat (Mundhwa) is 546.46 metres, Patil Estate Bridge is 547.70 metres and Ganesh Ghat is 546.55 metres (from base sea level).
“The high flood line is one metre below the promenade levels at both ends of the stretch. Our work will be one metre above HFL along the 13-kilometre stretch from Sangamwadi to Mundhwa. Additionally, the HFL drops as we move downstream toward the Mundhwa due to the widening of riverbed,” said Surendra Karpe, deputy engineer, riverfront development (RFD) project, PMC.
The project includes construction of pavements, developing ghats, carrying out plantation work, and beautifying the riverfront. While environmentalists are waiting for the monsoon to prove their claims, PMC is determined to demonstrate the effectiveness of their project in checking flooding. They have taken steps to assess the possible impact of water flow during the monsoon season.
Vikram Kumar, Pune municipal commissioner, on Monday said that the top wall as a part of embankment work is nearing completion on a six-km stretch and pitching work is underway.
PMC initiated the ₹5,500-crore RFD work in December 2022 after the monsoon season and the private firms involved in the project have so far completed over 20% of the work under the overall project spanning approximately over 44.4 km — 22.2 km along the Mula river, 10.4 km along the Mutha river and 11.8 km along the confluence of both rivers. However, in the first phase, work will be carried out on 13 kilometres between Sangamwadi and Mundhwa.
Yuvraj Deshmukh, executive engineer, PMC, said, “We have worked out the floodline considering both 100-year and 25-year scenarios. Both the red and blue lines fall within the river in our project. We have implemented gabion structures to prevent soil settlement at the pavement and embankment and taken requisite technical precautions.”
As stipulated in the tender, if any soil settlement occurs, the contractor will be responsible for addressing it and maintaining the area for five years. However, environment activists said that besides soil degradation, the embankments will reduce the width of river and could cause flooding in areas beyond Wadgaonsheri.
Vijya Patil, executive engineer, Khadakwasla irrigation division, said the department has granted permission to PMC on the condition that the cross section of the river would not be reduced.
“They will have to ensure that the cross section allows passage of one lakh cusecs of water discharge for the red line and 60,000 cusecs for the blue line. Cross-sectional measurements are taken every 20 to 30 metres along the river,” he said.
PMC conducted a study in collaboration with Pune-based Central Water and Power Research Station (CWPRS) regarding the RFD project and the body has approved the hydrological and hydraulic calculations presented by the civic body.
“The only condition imposed was that water should flow smoothly through the river’s cross sections,” Patil said.
Pandurang Shelar, former executive engineer, Khadakwasla Irrigation division, emphasised the project’s importance in flood control for both the city and rivers.
“PMC has considered both the blue and red lines by deepening the riverbed, ensuring that water remains within its confines. They have also cleaned the riverbed,” he said.
Environmentalist Sarang Yadwadkar fears an increase in HFL during the monsoon due to the RFD work in the river. He said the project may get impacted by the river flow in the main city area due to the narrow width of river and encroachments.
In the detail project report (DPR), PMC has stated their main objective as reducing the flood level, but in another instance, they mention that the project does not guarantee a reduction in flood level. Yadwadkar also cited a 2014 report of the Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) commissioned by the Maharashtra government that had suggested that Pune would experience 37.5 per cent more rain but fewer days of rain and increased frequency of intense rain in the near future.
According to the RFD plan that PMC has shared, floods are a natural phenomenon, and the occurrence of higher floods cannot be ruled out. In such cases, adequate top and downstream protections can be implemented to minimise damage. These overflows would occur even without the new constructions under existing conditions.
A riverfront development project official on condition of anonymity said that PMC has prepared cross-sections at intervals of 25 metres to gather base data for hydraulic analysis of the existing river conditions and the project progress is vetted and cleared by their team of experts