'Sab ka Saath, Kuch Ka Vikas' - The Story of Ahmedabad's Sabarmati Riverfront
Ahmedabad is known for its many identities; from UNESCO declared World Heritage city to one of the most rapidly developing cities in all of India, a perfect example of the Gujarat model of the Modi government.
The Sabarmati riverfront that stands in the heart of the city is one of the biggest jewels in the crowns of both the State and Central government. This 10km stretch of the river and its banks resulted in one of the biggest urban resettlement the country has ever seen. Around 20,000 residents of the riverfront were resettled by the government but at what cost? Reports from experts state that the development project is a great prototype for public funds being utilised for middle-class Indians; ignoring the needs and wants of those at the lowest tier. "Development is not meant to be for us; it's only for rich people and foreigners," said Khatun Bibi, who had to forcefully evict her house and relocate to a government allocated space with her family of 8 in 2011.
Today, development only means beautification of spaces; things that 'look nice'. In the pursuit of this idea of (infrastructural) development, we often forget that these public spaces are out of the reach of the poor. "We were born right here in riverfront, and now, even if we want to visit it for a family outing we need to buy tickets just to enter, and sometimes people like us don't even get that. Imagine having to pay for visiting your birthplace." With an almost negligible plan for rehabilitating these families and no specific budget allocated for it until after the riverfront construction began, the government gave the green signal for the promenade, speed boats, lush green gardens and many more facilities. Facilities that only benefit the middle class and upper middle-class citizens, if not politicians and state representatives.
In 2011, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation won an award from the Union Minister of Urban Development for being the "best city in the implementation of Basic Services to the Urban Poor". The same year many houses of these families were broken apart, leaving them shelterless and unemployed.
Khatun Bibi lived in Ankleshwar chaali in Shahpur, with many of those who were displaced due to the riverfront construction. Almost every family who lived in the area earned their livelihood from the area; the women would get work from nearby garment factories and the men would work in nearby hotels, restaurants, etc. "Our lives were nearly perfect in our old house on the riverfront. Even though we lived in slums, at least we knew we would earn enough to sustain ourselves, at least we got clean water to cook, clean and drink" said Khatun Bibi.
Living in one-third space of what they had, with sewage water flooding the roads and little supply of clean water, the family of 8 stays like many others; unnoticed complaints to the authorities have yielded almost no positive results for the last 11 years. Livelihood gets more challenging to access every day. With the ongoing pandemic, people have lesser opportunities to earn and being situated in an area far away from their earlier workspaces, people find it difficult to sustain themselves. "How do you expect us to travel 10-15kms up and down every day in the middle of a lockdown to earn a day's wage? How are we supposed to feed and educate our kids?"
As her son takes his afternoon nap in the sizzling heat of Ahmedabad, Khatum Bibi said "I have a son who is 18 years old and works at a chocolate factory in Shahpur in the night shift. We have no other option but to make him work there otherwise how can 8 people eat?" The Riverfront Flower Garden is a vast stretch of shimmering gardens that are well-maintained by the state. An eye candy of the Sabarmati riverfront, the park houses a wide variety of flora that require sufficient water and nourishment duly provided by the state. The same government fails to deliver these basic amenities of sanitation and clean water supply to those families whose houses were broken to build this very garden.
As young citizens of India, we should question the priority for our city developmental plans, and, more importantly, who is it for?
-Written by: Manasvi Nag, Divy Bhagia