THE SABARMATI RIVERFRONT DEVELOPMENT
by Anshuman Roy
On 15th August 2012, the 66th Independence Day of the Republic of India, the Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, was declared open amidst great celebration. The ceremony was presided over by the prime minister of India (then chief minister of Gujarat) Shri. Narendra Modi. As a project that had been confined to the blueprints of architects and planners for decades, the revitalisation of the riverfront would represent a major achievement for the state of Gujarat.
Over the years, the Sabarmati riverfront had been plagued by the flow of untreated sewage through its waters, the indiscriminate pumping of industrial waste and unmitigated slum proliferation. The river was rendered inaccessible and saturated, prone to frequent flooding, with no infrastructure in place to tackle the problem. Though a number of proposals over the years sought to revitalise the ailing riverfront precinct, it was only in 1997 that the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) formed the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Corporation Ltd (SRFDCL) for the express redevelopment of a waterfront stretch of over 11 kilometres, a designated priority project funded by the government of India.
The Sabarmati Riverfront Development (SRFD) project, estimated to cost US$190 million, overcame numerous roadblocks on its journey to fruition, in large part due to concerns regarding water levels and flooding. Opposition from activists involved with slum rehabilitation was another issue that made a number of headlines during the initial phases of this project. At the master planning stage, this was therefore a matter that merited urgent redressal. To accommodate the affected sections in the overall proposal, provisions were made not just for housing and rehabilitation, but also for a reorganisation of the existing informal markets and laundry facilities for the washing community, therein opening up new opportunities along the river for the displaced populace. The pre-construction stages of the project also involved detailed hydrological surveys and feasibility studies, which would all directly influence the strategising, massing and spatial organisation of the design. Construction on the project eventually began in 2005, and was centred principally on the creation of a public water edge along the length of the riverfront that would double up as an embankment to contain the river, curtail erosion and feature drainage systems that would prevent flooding.
To create a feasible and efficient promenade, the river was channelled into a constant width of 263 metres. The water level in the river had been retained through the Vasna Barrage and the Narmada Canal periodically replenished the water lost, a few kilometres upstream. By narrowing the river width, the normally seasonal and erratic water level of the Sabarmati could be maintained perennially, which in turn would enable groundwater to recharge, draw migratory birds and aquatic fauna, and facilitate investment through recreational activities. This endeavour led to 202 hectares of riverbed land being reclaimed and returned to the city.
This promenade, as the backbone of the project, would provide the city with an uninterrupted, two-level pedestrian walkway, nearly 11.5 kilometres in length. These walkways feature on both sides of the river, and have been christened the east- and west-side promenades. The lower-level promenade on each side is built just above the water level to serve pedestrians and cyclists. Thirty-one ghats are constructed at regular intervals along the lower promenade for access to the water, as well as boating stations for recreational purposes and for water-based public transport in the future. The upper-level promenade hosts a variety of public features, also connecting to the city via strategically positioned access points.
Facilities provided by the river promenade include:
1. Access points from the city level via staircases and ramps at regular intervals and under every bridge.
2. Elevators to make the lower-level promenade accessible to people with disabilities.
3. Ghats at key locations to enable continuation of cultural activities.
4. Boating facilities with a boating station.
5. Public washrooms at regular intervals.
6. Concrete paved flooring that can support walking, jogging and cycling.
7. Continuous seating arrangement at the river’s edge along with protective railing.
8. Evenly spaced tree plantation along the length of the promenade.
9. Circular concrete seating around the trees and provision of dustbins at regular intervals.
10. Platforms at regular intervals for regulated and organised vending activities.
11. Security arrangements to handle entry-exit, timings and emergencies.