Regatta, as it is called, is one of the most prestigious college festivals, not only in the city but almost all over India. It is a unique event which is focused on water sports which include Kayaking and Rowing among others. The students of the College of Engineering Pune (COEP), the host institution, who have been looking forward to participating in this opportune event, however, are having to practice in the dirty, polluted water of the Mula river.
COEP is located right next to the Mula river bed at Shivajinagar in Pune. The river, just a few hundred metres ahead, joins with the Mutha river and the confluence is called the Sangam of these two rivers. Both these rivers, which flow through various parts of Pune, are infamous for their bad condition due to pollution, garbage dumping, untreated sewage and industrial waste. While boat clubs world over have a certain quality of the environment to function in, Regatta participants are practising in waters as mosquitoes hover over them and pigs spectate from the swamp on the banks.
The COEP boat, club, which was formed to take advantage of this proximity with the water body, organises the Regatta, a festival which is in its 91st year currently. “The alumni from the 70s and the 80s had recently visited the college,” says Kaustubh Pimprikar, a student member of the organising committee of Regatta this year, adding, “They were shocked at the state of the river. They told us the river used to flow at least 10 feet above the current levels and the water was very clean.”
While Indie Journal was speaking to the participants of Regatta as they took a break from practising in the water, a vehicle stopped on the Sangamwadi bridge and dropped a bag of garbage.“The river is much better during the monsoons when it is flowing. As summer approaches, the water becomes stagnant and the waste from upstream and such garbage being dumped turns the water murky,” Pimprikar says, adding, “There were huge patches of garbage and hyacinth in the river, which have been removed by us and also the municipal corporation. But that is not enough of course.”
“The students who want to participate in the event have to swim across the river from this bank to the other as part of a test. Only if they pass that test are they allowed as participants,” says Namrata Kala, another member of the organising committee, adding, “Many students think twice before entering the water because of its condition. Many of them who want to participate, get discouraged because of the smell and the dirt in the water.”
“I have been participating in Regatta for four years now. I have been waiting eagerly to get into the water and wished to participate in rowing. It not only improves your stamina and health but also reaches your team spirit. This event is unique to COEP and one is always eager to be a part of it,” says Avni Kulkarni, a participant in Rowing, adding, “Initially we despised the water, but then got used to it as once in the water, you are feeling a different thrill.”
Roshan Gupte, another participant, says, “I don’t think that once we get used to the water then it is that huge an issue. We haven’t seen anyone get sick because of practising in these waters yet,” adding, “But that does not mean that just because we have gotten used to it, things have to remain as they are. We know that there are slums upstream, but those people can’t be blamed for this. The people in the administration should be the ones who should be making proper provisions to make things work better.”
“We have been in touch with the administration as well as responsible personalities to get this issue resolved. This cannot be handled by the COEP alone and support is needed from the relevant authorities,” says Sandip Meshram, who has been a faculty at COEP for 23 years and is the faculty in-charge for Regatta, adding, “We are always afraid that the students will get sick, some develop rashes. There are many industries upstream and there is also a sewage treatment plant (STP). We have tested the water in our own labs and submitted samples to authorities. Currently, there is an ambitious programme to clean up the river thoroughly, but let’s see what it does.”
While there has been an alottment of some 800 crore rupees for riverbed development on the grounds of the Sabarmati riverfront, on being contacted by Indie Journal, the Pune Municipal Corporation officials did not find it relevant to their department to respond to the story.