The Sabarmati River is a monsoon-fed river that flows north-south through Ahmedabad, bisecting the city into its western and eastern halves. It has been an integral aspect of Ahmedabad city since its foundation. Initially, the river was the city’s prime source of water. Today, water is supplied from many distant sources. Nonetheless, the river continues to be important. It has provided space for cultural and recreational activities along the banks. Mahatma Gandhi set-up his ashram along the banks of the river and during the freedom movement, the Salt March began from here. The wide, oft-dry riverbed and riverbanks were used more extensively to launder clothes and to dye textiles. During the dry seasons, the river bed was used for farming. It also became a venue for other informal economic activities such as the ‘Ravivari’- Sunday flea market. Gradually, many of the city’s migrant and poor population began to live in informal settlements on the river banks.
All these uses and abuses along with rampant urban growth led to the Sabarmati River becoming polluted, abused and neglected. The riverfront became characterized by unimaginative and unplanned development. Property owners along the banks, who could afford it, built their own retaining walls to protect their properties from flood erosion. The poor citizens living along the riverbanks in slums were disastrously flood prone and lacked basic infrastructure facilities. Sewage-contaminated storm water outfalls and the dumping of industrial waste in the river posed a major health and environmental hazard. In addition to the declining ecological health, the river itself became inaccessible to the majority of the city’s residents. Owing to private ownership of most riverside land and the informal settlements, there were very few public access points to the river. By the 1970s, the bridges were the only places from where citizens could enjoy the expanse of the river running through the heart of the city.