After 20 years of protests, complaints, disputes and disapprovals, Kalina residents finally emerged victorious in their struggle to revive a three-century-old pond located amidst Mumbai’s concrete jungle. The pond that was unofficially inaugurated by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) last week, making it one of the biggest water body restoration projects in the city.
The early 1970s saw residents of Kolovary village in Kalina spending their evenings fishing, swimming or idly sitting by the Kalina talao, a water reservoir, spread across 7.5 acres that ran from Our Lady of Egypt Church and emptied out all the way into the Mithi River.
About three decades later, more than 400 illegal shanties came up. Over time, the pond dried and a combination of construction debris, garbage and an unbearable stench resulting from open defecation changed the definition of the neighbourhood.
The East Indian Kolovary community comprising more than 4,000 people thought they had lost the spot where they would celebrate wedding traditions and sporting festivals every year. However, members of the Kolovary Welfare Association did not give up. They began their long battle to reclaim the pond handed over to them by their predecessors. The association was supported by other Kalina residents and members of a citizens’ group, Voice of Kalina.
“While years of sending countless letters, complaints and initiating dialogues with the civic body brought no favourable result, we did not lose heart,” said Johnson Misquitta, president of the Kolovary Welfare Association. “We staged numerous agitations to get back what belonged to us. Finally, we had to knock on the doors of courts.”
Another resident, Rudolph Jacinto, said, “Almost every third day, encroachments were removed only to see twice as many return.”
In 2002, the Bombay high court directed the BMC to revive the pond after the latter had come up with a Rs3.6-crore restoration plan that included a jogging track and a garden. The area was marked as a garden under the development plan (DP) 1991. Between 2005 and 2007, a jogging track and benches came up, but all the encroachments could not be demolished.
Following a lot of back and forth, in 2012, Brian Miranda, the local corporator, spearheaded the discussions and another plan was drafted along with the BMC to flatten the 15-foot-high construction debris and build an artificial pond along with a football field, garden and play area for children at a cost of Rs3.4 crore.
“I had 12 meetings with the then civic chief Sitaram Kunte to get the clearance for the project,” said Miranda. “People should get what they deserve because they are taxpayers and everybody elected should have a will to do something for them.”
On October 30 this year, the 31,044 sqmt plot was named Joseph Baptista Garden, after the first mayor of Mumbai, and was inaugurated with a boundary wall around the periphery with the all amenities under the BMC’s final plan.
Kalina residents, however, said that only 10% of the original talao has been restored. “From something that was as big as 7.3 acres, the current artificial pond is less than an acre and the total area under the revival plan is little more than 3 acres. There is no fresh water, other than rainwater being the primary source,” said Loy Dias, member, Voice of Kalina.
A senior civic official said, “With security beefed up at the site along with the installation of CCTV cameras, there are no chances of illegal settlements again at the plot. We plan to source water to the artificial pond and will not allow water to stagnate there.”
The city is home to more than a hundred such water bodies, according to the BMC. But less than 10% find place in Mumbai’s existing DP.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
- Water bodies such as lakes, ponds and tanks stabilise the coastline, control erosion and provide a habitat conducive for plant and animal species. They also prevent floods and purify and increase the groundwater level during the monsoon
- The regulate climate change by storing carbon and also contribute to the country’s economy by providing fishery resources, timber, wildlife resources, medicines and agricultural products
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
- A 2001 Supreme Court order states that natural resources such as forests, tanks, ponds, hillocks and mountains are important to maintain the ecological balance and need to be protected
- It also stated that if fallen to disuse, these sites cannot be used for building houses and authorities are “duty bound” to clean and develop them to prevent an ecological disaster
WHAT CAN YOU DO
- If you live close to a water body, make sure you take a picture of it. It can stand as evidence in court if there’s ever an attempt to reclaim it.
- If you see truckloads of debris being dumped into it, inform your ward officer and nearest police station. You can also file a written complaint to them as well as the city or suburban collector.
- Those involved in dumping debris — from the developer to the contract workers — can be booked under various criminal charges and under sections of the Environment Protection Act.