11 years on: 26/7 repeat just a cloudburst away | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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11 years on: 26/7 repeat just a cloudburst away

Mumbai continues to abuse the Mithi river and devour saltpans, mangroves to satiate real-estate frenzy

mumbai Updated: Jul 26, 2016 01:05 IST
Sanjana Bhalerao
The three-day deluge and its aftermath claimed the lives of more than 500 people, damaged 20,000 cars, 2,500 buses and more than one lakh houses.
The three-day deluge and its aftermath claimed the lives of more than 500 people, damaged 20,000 cars, 2,500 buses and more than one lakh houses.

It was on this day July 26, in 2005, that a cloudburst brought the country’s financial capital to a standstill.

The three-day deluge and its aftermath claimed the lives of more than 500 people, damaged 20,000 cars, 2,500 buses and more than one lakh houses.

The worst affected: Localities around the Mithi river, especially those living at Bandra-Kurla Complex and near the airport. Reason: The course of the river had been re-aligned twice at right angles to expand the runway.

Eleven years later, there is no guarantee that the river, which originates at Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) and meets the sea at Mahim, won’t flood its surrounding areas again in case of heavy rainfall.

But what can be guaranteed is that 11 years later, no corrections have been made to the faulty urban planning and dilution of stringent rules.

The areas still have encroachments running parallel to the river. The river, which was a natural drainage system during monsoon, has been reduced to a sewage carrier, with effluents from illegal settlements and industries flowing directly into the river.

Nearly Rs1,600 crore has been spent to desilt, widen and deepen the river. But the work is far from over.

A retaining wall constructed in 2009 along the stretch has converted the river into a canal.

“Rivers cannot and should not be tied. The authorities have built walls along the river’s length to contain the water and avoid flooding. However, during high tide, when the sea water gushes in, there is no space for water to disperse, leading to more flooding,” said Janak Dafatri, from Jalbiradri, which along with Vanashakti, NGO, has procured orders from the National Green Tribunal on the legality of walls built.

The group had highlighted that the wall had interfered with nature and was built into the mangroves along the river.

Seven years after a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) had been filed, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in May 2016 slapped a fine of Rs25 lakh on the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) as environmental compensation. The retaining wall, however, remains.

Even after the devastating floods, land-starved Mumbai has devoured mudflats, saltpans and mangroves to satiate its real estate frenzy.

Environment clearance, coastal regulatory zone are still circumvented by builders to get the plans approved. Plans are afoot in the ambitious development plan 2034 to allow private developers to construct

affordable housing on more than 13,000 hectares of No-Development Zone (NDZ) land and salt pans.

Adding to the misery is the multi-authority involvement in rejuvenating the Mithi.

Of the 17.8 km stretch, 6km is handled by the MMRDA, while the rest is the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) responsibility. But the division of work has not resulted in better coordination, just a war of words.

At least four studies have concentrated on flood prevention and urban planning methods in Mumbai with scores of observation and recommendations and warnings, but another 26/7 deluge still remains a very real possibility.