AFTER MUCH delay, the Bihar government is finally pushing ahead with its 20.5- km expressway project, being built along the banks of the river Ganga in the state capital Patna. For the past two years, construction has been going on in full swing on the Ganga Pathway, whose foundation was laid way back in 2013 but the execution has repeatedly gotten delayed due to suspension of its environmental clearance and hurdles in land acquisition. So far, authorities have completed about 35 per cent of the project, which will connect Digha, on the western edge of Patna, to Deedarganj in the east.
The government claims that the four-lane wide roads, being built at an estimated ₹3,390 crore on the southern bank of the river, will not only reduce the travel time between eastern and western Patna from over an hour now to just 20 minutes but will also decongest the capital city's busy Ashok Rajpath. The pathway will remain connected to Ashok Rajpath at eight places (see 'Trespass'), and will be flanked by green belts and 1.5 m-wide footpaths along the river bank to resemble Marine Drive of Mumbai.
A few visits to the project site between June 2020 and March 2021, however, show that the impact of the construction works on the Ganga, its surroundings, and those living in the floodplains will far outweigh the benefits. In all probability, the project will make the capital city prone to flash floods, leave it bereft of fertile lands and reduce groundwater availability in this sprawling metropolis.
At several stretches, the pathway is being built on the Ganga's active floodplain, which acts as the river's extended boundary and absorbs excess river discharge during the monsoon or extreme rainfall events, and allows it to change its course. During the process, the river recharges groundwater, provides life-sustaining conditions to plant and animal habitats along the banks, and deposits fertile alluvial soil on its banks. Any damage or fragmentation of the floodplains thus harms the riverine ecosystem, hinders its groundwater recharge capacity, and poses threats of flash floods.
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