When the Colaba-Bandra-SEEPZ Metro 3 underground route is finally ready, it may revolutionise travel in the commuter city but the process of constructing it is throwing up challenges. The indiscriminate axing of thousands of trees along the route, the proposed clearing of the ecologically-rich Aarey forest, and unbearably high noise levels at construction sites are the latest.
Different groups of Mumbaiites have agitated on these issues to drive home the point that while Metro 3 is a much-needed addition to the city’s north-south travel corridor, it cannot be constructed at the cost of all else including, literally, their few hours of sleep at night. From displacement of Mumbaiites in Girgaum and other sites in south Mumbai to these issues, what comes across from the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited is its unpreparedness – or unwillingness – to anticipate citizen’s concerns and offer resolutions.
The ruckus over the MMRCL and private contractors’ rock drilling machines typifies this. The last month brought a sea change in the SEEPZ and surrounding areas which have mixed commercial and residential zones. Large lush green trees were hacked to bare trunks, streets were reduced to a single lane, and the largely peaceful area overwhelmed with the thudding and eardrum-splitting noise of rock drilling machines.
On decibel meter apps, the noise recorded from these is 95dB to 100dB spanning at least 12 hours a day, on occasion even 15 hours, merrily violating the provisions of the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000. Often, the crashing and clunking noise can be heard in the wee hours of the morning. But neither the MMRCL nor the private contractor has so far offered anti-noises devices that ought to be used at such construction sites. The mere thought of the noise and dust pollution suffered by men working at the site is over-whelming.
The residents at Marol village, a stone’s throw from SEEPZ where too drilling and piling work led to noise levels of around 95dB for 18 hours a day, took the MMRCL to the local magistrate’s court last month for violating the Noise Rules. Their vigilance paid off. After weeks, the MMRCL agreed to provide sound-proof windows and noise barriers for the worst-affected homes. These could cut down the noise by 75%.
The Noise Rules do not permit noise levels beyond 55dB and 50dB during the day and 45dB and 40dB during the night in residential and silence zones respectively. Importantly, noise from construction activities and use of public address systems are banned between 10pm and 6am; the latter can be relaxed for 15 days a year with prior notice from the government.
Construction noise and dust have turned out to be silent slayers of people’s health in Mumbai in the last decade. The government and independent authorities have shown little determination to regulate this source of pollution. Instead, last year, construction work was permitted from 6am to 10pm. Now, a state agency shows scant regard for even these norms. In fact, reports are that various authorities involved in the Metro construction want to extend the deadline beyond 10pm so that work can be wrapped up sooner.
That a total of 5,012 trees will face the axe for Metro 3 has received less attention that it should have. The MMRCL has promised to replant about 3,600 of them but the less said about this, the better. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has apparently called for a report on the massive felling of trees. The clearing of a section of the Aarey forest ear-marked for the Metro car shed is, of course, beyond discussion now.
Noise standards and safety precautions for public were similarly violated during the construction of the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar Metro but pleas had fallen on deaf ears. With Mumbai witnessing a slew of large-scale infrastructure projects, it is imperative that the state government and civic body establish and enforce comprehensive rules to avoid – certainly minimise – harassment to citizens.