Indore: The Under-Estimated Task of Kahn River Restoration


Kahn River (Kahn Nallah) is a 21km long river in Indore and its Wikipedia Page mentions, “There have been several attempts to clean the river since 1985, but none of them have materialized till date.”

Cleaning & restoring a river flowing through an urban area is a mammoth task. Years of negligence from the government, corporate and the people have made it very difficult to restore an urban river.

The strategy to restore an urban river is simple, “Stop throwing waste (solid & liquid) in it.” It would just require one monsoon for the river to flush and cleanse it selves thoroughly. But, it’s easier said than done.

The way Indore city has developed over centuries, the task of stopping sewage and other waste from entering the river is very difficult. There are people living right adjacent to the river with their balconies overhanging on the river. There is no other way to stop their sewage except to remove these built-up spaces from near the river.

Image: IndoreHD // Indore, the commercial capital of Madhya Pradesh, is one of the
fastest-growing Tier-II cities of India.

The law of the country also states that no construction can be done on either side of the river for 100ft (30m) and that this should be a green, buffer and a no-development zone. But this is where the problem starts.

Step 1 – Clearing the Green Buffer Zone of Current Establishments

This is the step with by far the most difficulties and roadblocks in it. When we are talking about clearing 100ft on both sides of the river, we are also talking about clearing 30ft on both sides of its tributaries.

The Indore Municipal Corporation would have to displace approximately 20,000 households and a population of approximately 1,00,000 people (give or take) to achieve the green buffer zone. In a democratic country such as ours, this is a massive challenge. In countries such as China, this would have been a little simpler and faster.

Image: Source // Emerging Pattern of Urbanization and Population in Indore

It is critical to realize here that many of the establishments that we are trying to demolish here are heritage sites, households which are older than the current concept of India and may have been established 300-400 years back. There are also illegal encroachments near the river, but most of them are fair legal properties as per the law of India. But the river restoration is not possible without removing these establishments.

Whenever the government decides to remove these encroachments, the local leaders and people will unite as one and resist the demolition of their homes. The matter would pass through the judicial system of India and postpone the proceedings but it will have to be done anyways.

Post this the actual work will start which would involve surveying both sides of the 21km stretch and then finally demolition of the establishments.

In a fair world, you cannot expect to just remove these establishments and not compensate them by giving them money or an alternate place to live. Houses would have to be built for the vast majority of these people so that they can be relocated there before the demolition starts. This activity would add a lot of time and cost to the River Restoration project.

Step 2 – Cleaning the River Bed

The river bed of the Kahn River has got a lot of sludge and other solid waste which has accumulated over the years. In some parts of the river, this may be deeper than 6ft as well. Removing so much waste over a stretch of 22km in the muddy terrain and limited space is a big task in terms of manpower required, soil moved and other logistics.

Image: CatchNews // Polluted Khan River in Indore, MP

Cleaning a lake bed is easier but cleaning a river with flowing water is all the more difficult. Additional challenges such as the inability to work during monsoons further increases the timeline.

By building small check dams and breaking the bigger task into smaller parts, it can be done.

Step 3 – Building the Waste-Water Treatment Infrastructure

Removing the establishments does mean the wastewater has stopped from entering the river. Pipelines from kilometres out, come and dump the wastewater in the river. Only when the green buffer zone is cleared of the establishments can the work of constructing these Wastewater Treatment Plants begin. The IMC has a fair idea of the sewage pipelines draining into the river but there will be a few surprises and a survey would also have to be done before the actual construction begins.

Image: StructurePoint // Waste-Water Treatment Plant Infrastructure

There would be 2 challenges to build these treatment plants. First, the limited width of 30m on both sides would only allow medium capacity treatment plants to be built. This can be countered by opting a decentralized approach and setting up more number of Treatment Plants. Second is building concrete structures so close to the water, but this is not a big enough challenge our civil engineers cannot manage.

Step 4 – Putting Other Infrastructure in Place

Many other activities would have to be done simultaneously as a part of the river restoration project such as:

  1. Planting trees on either side of the river in as much area as possible
  2. Preparing solid stable bunds and designing the channel in which the river flows
  3. Installing Floating Islands & Aerators to provide oxygen to water and restore the eco-system of the river.
  4. Designing & executing other elements of the Riverfront such as walkways, etc.
  5. Fencing the river wherever necessary

Step 5 – Restoring Supporting Water Infrastructure such as Lakes, Wells, step-wells, etc

A river is only as good as its basin. Restoration of Lakes, wells, step-wells, etc are essential for complete restoration of River.

Restoration of urban lakes has its own set of challenges. The urban lakes today also face problems of encroachment, sewage and solid waste disposal, construction in its watershed area, loss of bio-diversity, etc.

Image: Source // Atal Bihari Vajpayee Regional Park in Indore

Rain-water harvesting is a crucial component in River Restoration which most people miss out on. The task is not just to ensure clean water flowing throughout the year in the river. This water should be available for the city and its residents to use. During the monsoons, majority of the water runs off. We need to ensure that more rainwater is harvested and allowed to enter the groundwater table so as to replenish it.

Thousands on new bore-wells need to be dug across the city which would help in rain water harvesting.

A river cleaning project should always begin upstream and then work its way downstream so that the river can be cleaned properly. We cannot expect to begin the work somewhere in the middle of the city (where there are the most eye-balls) and then work our way upstream.

To conclude, it is essential that all citizens of the city realize the magnitude of the task at hand and work as a team to restore the Kahn river which would benefit one and all.

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