Mumbai’s shrinking green cover is responsible for the animal attacks on humans, said environmental experts on Friday. A day earlier, a crocodile killed Vijay Bhure (32), a crane operator, at Powai lake. Bhure, the police said, was fishing when he was attacked.
“Such incidents are inevitable in a city where space is a problem and development a priority,” said Krishna Tiwari, head, City Forest Project, Bombay Natural History Society. “With infrastructure development in protected areas, residential and commercial complexes are eating into green zones. Man-animal conflict is bound to increase as humans enter their space.” The Powai incident is not an isolated one. Two months ago, the decomposed body of a crocodile was found at the lake. Environmental activists and residents blamed the ongoing beautification project along the shore.
“Crocodiles’ resting and breeding spots on the sloped shores were concretised to build facilities such as a jogging track. The project was directly responsible for rising property values in the area. There was no need for such a track; adjoining Hiranandani Complex already has one,” said Sunish Subramanian, founder, Plant and Animal Welfare Society. “If you disturb nature, there will be repercussions.”
A two-kilometre retaining wall has been planned along the lake shore as well as a nature park with shrubs, flowerbeds, trees, lawns, seating arrangements, a children’s play area, a viewing deck and toilets.
Three fountains — one of them a musical one — will be built on the lake. Music will also be played on the jogging track and pathways.
“We don’t want the fountains, they will affect animals’ habitats. The civic body hasn’t even done an environmental assessment,” said Elsie Gabriel, Powai resident and environmentalist.
Additional Municipal Commissioner Anil Diggikar, who’s in charge of the beautification, said the civic body was merely desilting the lake and had not taken a final call on the fountains. “For now, we are putting up signs warning people against fishing and about the crocodiles,” he said.
In the past few months, residents have regularly spotted leopards around housing colonies in areas such as Goregaon and Mulund, which are on the periphery of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). SGNP is the largest urban protected forest in the world that is located within a mega city like Mumbai. About 3 lakh people live around the 100 sq km park.
Encroachments in the park have reduced the prey and food base of predators, forcing them to stray out and get into confrontations with humans. “For instance, tribals forage through the forest for fruit, leaving little for the monkeys. Likewise, leopards have been entering residential colonies looking for dogs and livestock,” said Tiwari.
“Such tragic incidents can be reduced by taking elementary precautions. Swimming or walking along lake edges is forbidden. Colonies next to the national park must enclose compounds with scientifically designed leopard-proof barriers. And, with the civic body, they must keep localities free of garbage around which dogs [that leopard hunt] breed,” said Bittu Sahgal, editor of Sanctuary Asia magazine.
With inputs from Bhavika Jain