In photos: Life along Pune’s Mutha riverbank in the time of COVID-19

These astounding captures by photographer Abhay Kanvinde during the lockdown urges us to reconsider the need for clean urban rivers and open riverfronts.

In the ongoing Covid crisis, accessible green, open spaces are a dream for many city dwellers. And yet, there is burgeoning work on the profound positive impacts of urban green spaces on the physiological and psychological health of city dwellers.

Despite being polluted, dammed, encroached and thwarted, rivers continue to be free and open public places. Today more than ever, rivers, riverbanks, floodplains and bridges are an invaluable resource for any Indian City. This momentous service is ignored in our riverfront development projects, metro and road plans and city development plans which encroach upon rivers.

Green, open riverbanks in India are also pockets where myriad people find their livelihoods. This is true even for a highly polluted and encroached rivers like Mula-Mutha in Pune, which routinely feature in India’s most polluted river lists, which have roads and buildings encroaching in them, nallahs bringing untreated sewage, a metro line running through them and a riverfront development plan which shows no respect either for the river or the people. Salutes to all those who are fighting to stop destruction of the river.

In this photoblog, Abhay Kanvinde looks at the most polluted and populated stretch of Mutha River in Pune and astounds us with the life that abounds here. He has been a silent observer of the people who come by the river and shares their stories with us.  These photos urge us to imagine a clean, flowing urban river and green riverbanks where people come together.  A wellspring of a new reality?

All photos were taken between March 2020 and July 2020.

With good pre-monsoon showers, exceptional dam levels and reducing industrial pollution, Rivers looked different during Covid. This is Mutha River Pune, flowing in the heart of the City. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
Little Boy and Mutha River. Metro Line encroachment on the right and drainage lines on the left. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
He has no formal education about the river, but knows its history and ecology intimately. He knows when the ducks come, when the mongoose roam and when floods hit the city. He comes to the river every evening. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
They wait patiently for a catch. Just two decades back, Pune urban area recorded 64 fish species with some new discoveries. Now, an accidental Magur is a cause of joy. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
Cracks in the wall: A collapsed part of channelisation is a highway for buffalo herders, worm collectors and fisherfolk. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
A local milkman has been grazing his buffaloes on the urban river bank for years. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
Buffaloes enjoy a sunset dip in the floodplain. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
A schoolboy and his grandmother collect monsoon herbs from the riverbank to sell to a traditional medicine shop. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
These juicy Colocasia Leaves (Taro/Alu) look wild, but are tended and harvested with care and sold in local vegetable markets. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
Sheep of the Dhangars graze on the riverbanks. These traditional communities find no community or open spaces anymore in the city and so a green riverbank is a boon for them.                  Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
“There is a lot to learn from a river” People sitting at the bank opposite one of the biggest urban streams: Ambil Odha.  Once bringing clean drinking water, now a polluting nallah. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
A man sits on a bridge opposite the Municipal Corporation as the monsoon skies darken. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
Bridges and rivers connect banks and people. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
Crossing the channelled river. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
Each to their own. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
A group of teenage girls chat on the riverbanks. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
A baby shower shoot on the riverbanks! This reclamation of urban rivers as beautiful, common spaces is very remarkable. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde
Bearing witness. Photo: Abhay Kanvinde

All photos by Abhay Kanvinde. Text by Parineeta Dandekar.

The post was originally published on the blog South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People and has been republished with permission.

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