After mangroves, salt pan lands and no-development zones (NDZs), a 3rd century BC monument is now at risk from the city’s controversial development plan (DP). The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has revived a plan to construct a new road through the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) passing just metres away from the Kanheri Caves, a Buddhist settlement from more than 2,000 years ago.
In addition, it also wants to widen the existing road inside the park, starting from the main entrance, to thrice its current size. Environmentalists are horrified at the plan and fear it might lead to the loss of many trees along the road.
In its DP, the BMC has marked a new road which begins near SGNP’s entrance at the Borivali-end and cuts through the Kanheri Caves’ 100-metre protected area. It not just threatens the ecology of the city’s largest green lung, it also casts a shadow over the preservation of one of the city’s oldest monuments.
The BMC wants this road to connect to the proposed Goregaon-Mulund link road (GMLR). BMC officials confirmed the proposal but said that they had simply revived the plan mooted originally in the 1991 development plan.
According to ASI rules, each national monument has a 100-metre protected area around it where no construction is permissible. This would make the BMC’s proposal illegal. These rules mandate two buffers, one is the protected area and the other is a 200-metre zone from the protected area, called the regulated area. The proposed road breaches both these zones.
“These areas are the core areas, the heart of the park. They are ecologically very rich. Such a road is unnecessary and unmindful,” said Krishna Tiwari, a wildlife researcher and conservationist who has worked on SGNP issues for years.
Conservationists like Suraj Pandit, who was part of a team which discovered seven more caves within the Kanheri complex, are aghast at the plan.
“Such a plan is illegal and might take a toll on the monument. Entering into the caves’ buffer zone like this will be very dangerous. The recent discovery of caves shows that the archaeological study of the land is yet to be completed.”
This road is the latest in a series of proposals by the BMC to throw open the city’s ecologically sensitive natural areas by constructing roads through them. HT has reported the BMC’s proposal of allowing roads through mangroves across the city as well as marking 37 plots on mangroves in Versova.
Civic officials said that they were unaware of the caves’ buffer zones. “We simply went ahead with the alignment that the 1991 DP had finalised. We didn’t have the resources to verify whether the alignment was as per current rules,” they said.