Their Grade I heritage status notwithstanding, four caves — Mahakali, Kanheri, Mandapeshwar and Jogeshwari — in the city have either been marked wrongly or have roads proposed on their periphery in the development plan.
According to the law, no development can take place on the 200-m periphery of caves. While the Kanheri caves, which are located in the dense Sanjay Gandhi National Park, have been marked as a coastal regulatory zone and a natural area, the 200-m area around the Mahakali caves has been slotted for rehabilitation and resettlement buildings, with a 40-ft wide road touching it.
The Jogeshwari caves have two major roads – 44-ft and 60-ft wide – passing through the 200-m restricted space on their periphery. The Mandapeshwar caves have been marked as a social amenity plot, with its adjoining plots marked as commercial residential and proposals to widen roads near it.
Archaeological experts claim the plan, if it goes through, will damage the caves. “We have witnessed how the Magathane caves were destroyed and encroached upon, only because they were not protected. We don’t want similar destruction of other caves,” said Dr Suraj Pandit, archaeological expert and head of department, Ancient Indian Culture and Archaeology in Sathaye College, Vile Parle (East).
Adding that the regulatory zone norm needs to be strictly adhered to, Pandit said, “The 200-m regulatory zone is primarily meant to avoid construction activity around it, as it could affect the foundation of the archaeological site. It is sad to see development being proposed around caves. The development plan is questionable.”
“The BMC’s plans around the caves will mean regular traffic, which will mar the beauty of the caves. The monuments, which date back to 2,000 years, need to be preserved. With development around it, the caves will become a dumping ground for encroachers and locals,” said Godfrey Pimenta, trustee, Watchdog Foundation.