The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation may claim it has finished 95% of the work on deepening and widening the Mithi river at a cost of Rs659.83 crore, but, point out environmentalists, nothing has been done to improve the health of the river.
“The Mithi continues to be a sewer with illegal commercial units and slums on its banks releasing toxic chemical waste and domestic effluents. There has been no effort to stop pollution and restore the river,” said Janak Daftari of Jalbiradri, a non-government organisation (NGO).
A water quality index (WQI) reading by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board between March and August 2016, at the Bandra end of the Mithi River, showed high pollution levels as a result of a surge in domestic waste being deposited in these areas. WQI values at the site fell under the ‘bad’ category, indicating ‘toxic’ water quality.
The need to reclaim the Mithi from being a sewer came to fore after the deluge on July 26, 2005, when flooding grounded flights at the airport, marooned many neighbourhoods such as Krantinagar and Kurla and left thousands stranded on Mumbai’s roads. According to some experts, nearly 54% of the original river flow has been lost to encroachments, roads and development.
In 2013, Jalbiradri, along with NGO Vanashakti, had filed an application before the western bench of the National Green Tribunals against the state machinery for construction work that was hampering the mangroves.
The affidavit filed in the Bombay high court earlier this month by Bharat Marathe, deputy municipal commissioner, Zone-V, stated that of the 21.588km of retaining walls to be constructed on both banks of the river, the civic body had completed 14.043km. While 1,937m stretch falls under the Airports Authority of India, work on constructing the retaining wall in remaining 3,364m has been held up owing to encroachments on both banks.
Stalin D of Vanashakti said all the money has been spend on concretising the river banks. “Aarey is a catchment for the Mithi river, and a retaining wall has been needlessly built, which has stopped interaction between the river and the forest. Without, the concrete the river would have got run-off from Aarey and Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) till December,” said Stalin.
“Now, fresh water stops flowing into the Mithi after August or September, with only sewage getting released from hutments and illegal units. Government agencies have turned the river into a sewer by spending that kind of money.”
Last year, the NGT had slapped a fine of Rs25 lakh on the Mumbai Metropolitan and Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) as environmental compensation for constructing retaining walls along the river in 2009, impeding water flow to the mangroves. Following this MMRDA moved the Supreme Court, and the matter is pending,” Stalin said.
“In 2005, Mumbai got flooded with 94cm of rain, and therefore government agencies came up with the idea of building walls to provide protection against floods. And in 2015 with 20cm rain, we had the same flooding at Kurla and Bail Bazar (Saki Naka). So the basic objective of flood protection is missed,” said Daftari.
Environmentalists also criticise the MMRDA for laying pathways along the river and on planting non-native plants behind its office for ‘beautification’.
The affidavit by the civic body also stated that in the first two phases, the width of the 17.84km river, which carries overflows of the Vihar and Powai lakes on the outskirts of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park has been widened from six metres to 60m.
“The interaction with the ground water is completely lost, and catchment area is disconnected from the river. As a result quality and quantity of water is affected. It is now predominantly carrying sewage,” Stalin said.