Nashik Godavari Community Asset Mapping Workshop Report

PC: Srilata Sircar

PC: Srilata Sircar

Members of the project team conducted a second Community Asset Mapping (CAM) workshop in Nashik on July 23rd, 2019. The focus of this workshop was on the river Godavari that flows through the city and is central to the historical development of the temple-pilgrim economy around which the urban character of the old city of Nashik has crystallized.

PC: Shilpa Dahake

PC: Shilpa Dahake

The river – specifically the stretch flowing though the Panchavati area, where a number of temples and other religious sites attract a large number of visitors everyday – has been at the centre of several socio-political struggles in recent years. The city hosts a large-scale Hindu religious gathering every twelve years, known as the Kumbh Mela, during which thousands of pilgrims arrive in the city to take a dip in the river.

PC: Shilpa Dahake

PC: Shilpa Dahake

This particular stretch of the river also features in the smart city proposal in the form of ‘Project Goda’. The details of this project are obfuscated by recurrent revisions and the Detailed Project Report (DPR) is yet to be released into the public domain. Against this backdrop, the CAM workshop aimed to bring together various actors and organizations that are invested in the life and health of the river in various ways. The invited participants were drawn from the following groups:

i)               Activists involved in litigations around Godavari conservation

ii)              Members of civil-society organizations lending support to the activists

iii)            Members of association of priests working in the temple complex along the river

iv)             Local academics and professionals working on themes connected to the river

The exercise followed the method outlined in an earlier blog post. The participants were provided with props representing three categories of assets – people, infrastructure, and events/memories. They were then asked to think of examples representing each of the three categories and place them on the schematic map of concentric circles denoting the relative importance of each asset. For each of the nominated assets the members of the groups were encouraged to engage in discussions and negotiations around where it should be placed. The discussions were facilitated by members of the project team.

PC: Srilata Sircar

PC: Srilata Sircar

A number of key observations emerged across the three groups into which the participants were organized. One of the most prioritized assets identified by the participants was the Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) which was reported to be operating over its capacity and required upgrading. One of the landmark events that shaped much of the discussions was the Kumbh Mela of 2002-03. During this event, a large amount of concrete was poured into the river to level the river-bed and prevent incidents of drowning. However this resulted in the blocking of natural aquifers and posed a threat to the sensitive ecology of the river. Since then there have been ongoing efforts on the part of activists and civil-society organizations to de-concretize the river-bed and restore the underlying fresh-water wells. This has led to Public Interest Litigations (PILs) which in turn have led to the establishment of the Godavari Conservation Cell within the Nashik Municipal Corporation. While the participants unanimously expressed doubts over the efficacy of such measures, the fact remains that the river holds centre-stage in the everyday lives of many Nashikars and their imagination of the urban future.

The team also noted differences of opinions emerging between different participant groups. Certain members had a more modernist vision for the future of the river marked by increased damming and diversion of water for human needs. Others envisaged a future for the river where it remained entirely free from any human intervention and was restored to an imagined state of purity. The differences became starker during the open discussion at the end of the mapping exercise. While team members managed to ensure a democratic dialogue and exchange of ideas, it became clear that there was a fundamental clash of philosophies between different stakeholders as far as the river was concerned.

One of the issues that seemed to generate a consensus among the participants was that the proposed interventions under the smart city plan (as well as erstwhile urban development schemes) represented cosmetic changes rather long-term investments into the health of the river. Terms like “beautification” were seen with scepticism and demands were raised for a robust plan that can put in place the required physical and technical infrastructure for a thorough cleaning and maintenance of the river.

By Dr. Srilata Sircar, Project Postdoctoral Research Associate, Urban Futures research domain, Department of Geography, King’s College London