The most critical aspect of the project is to ensure clean water perennially in the 11 km stretch of the Sabarmati River between Subhash Bridge at the upstream end of the river as it enters the city and Vasna barrage at the downstream end where it leaves the city. The problem with this is that there is a huge offloading of untreated sewage and industrial effluents into the river from sewer lines and open streams. This was proposed to be dealt with by constructing interceptors all along the river stretch that is to be developed and then diverting the untreated sewage and effluent mix downstream to sewage and effluent treatment plants to be constructed below the Vasna Barrage at Pirana. The STP to be constructed at Pirana was to have a system to incinerate the gases and sludge generated during the treatment of the sewage to produce electricity that would not only make the STP energy independent but also provide excess energy to run pumps to pump the treated water back upstream to Subhash bridge for release into the river and have it flowing perennially in the city stretch. This was the innovation that had heads turning across the world because nowhere else is treated water from an STP, which perforce is always located at the downstream end of a city due to gradient considerations in collecting the sewage, pumped upstream to make a river perennial.
However, this required huge investments which would have to be recovered. The best way to recover investments in an urban development project is to monetise land. So it was proposed that the Sabarmati River bed which on an average is about 380 meters wide would be constricted to 275 meters between high concrete embankments which would be able to accommodate the floods in the rainy season and the land thus freed would partly be sold for residential and commercial development to regain the investment and the rest of it would be developed as parks and promenades. Thus, in theory, the project looked a humdinger with innovative water management and good financial prospects and won accolades around the world.
However, in India there is a big gap between implementation and design. Since money was in short supply, the interceptors and the sewage lines to cut off and carry the sewage from the many outfalls and streams to the STP were given the go by and the construction of the concrete embankments were begun without these. This completely sabotaged the innovative rationale of the project as the highly polluted sewage was not stopped from entering the river and neither was there enough waste water for treating at the STP in Pirana. Moreover, the proposal of producing electricity from the incineration of gases and sludge from the STP turned out to be flawed. Only a limited amount of electricity can be produced in this way that can fulfil only part of the electricity demand for running the STP and there is no question of producing a surplus that can pump the treated water back 11 kms upstream.
Thus, there was no availability of water for making the river flow perennially and the bottom fell out of the project. As a stop gap measure water meant for irrigation of farms was diverted from the main canal coming from the Sardar Sarovar dam on the River Narmada which crosses the Sabarmati through an aquaduct just a kilometre upstream of the Subhash Bridge. However, this water itself is very costly as the Sardar Sarovar dam has cost thousands of crores of rupees to build. Therefore, the Sardar Sarovar Nigam which runs the dam and its canals is demanding to be paid a steep price for the water it supplies to the Sabarmati River Front Project and so large amounts of water are released only on a few occasions when the Government wants to showcase the project to some visiting dignitary so as to flush out the sewage and suppress the stench as shown in the 2012 picture below by Manjil Purohit.
Due to the fact that sewage is still flowing into the Sabarmati and there is no water to make it perennial except once in a blue moon, it is stinking to high heaven and so the proposal to sell land on the river front for commercial and residential development has not really found enthusiastic buyers and consequently the financial bottom has also fallen out of the project and it is getting by on meagre grants given by the Government of Gujarat. In the middle of all this some seventy thousand poor people who were living on the banks of the River Sabarmati in slums have been displaced and relocated to far off resettlement colonies. So Ahmedabad has a beautified river front without poor people to dirty it but the river itself is still stinking with sewage and with the ever present danger of a big flood spilling over the embankments, which have not been designed to cater for floods above 9000 cubic meters per second even though there are records of floods of 16000 cubic meters per second having taken place in the past. All in all it is a rank bad example of urban development and water resource management and so much more money down the drain, constituting one of the biggest bluffs of the century!!