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City's ecosystem under threat

mumbai Updated: Sep 14, 2012 01:04 IST
Kunal Purohit

In a city that's desperate for more land, there has always been raging debate concerning permitting development in No Development Zones (NDZs).

Experts and urban planners have raised an alarm after looking at the data in the civic body's recently prepared existing land use (ELU) survey, which has listed 11 NDZs (as per the 1991 development plan) for industrial and commercial purposes.

Plots are demarcated as NDZs as they are in ecologically sensitive areas and act as coastal buffer zones. NDZs are under the state's control.

That is not all. The ELU also shows fewer mangroves and mudflats in the city compared to the 1991 DP.

As reported in HT's September 12 edition, mudflats have reduced to 366 hectares in the ELU, from 1,812 hectares in a 2009 environment ministry study, a loss of about 80%.

The ELU will form the basis for the new DP, which is the blueprint for the city's development for the next 20 years.

Environmentalist D Stalin from Vanashakti, an NGO that has been fighting for the city's wetlands, said: "They help in maintaining the ecological balance. Destruction of wetlands will wreak havoc on the ecology."

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, in an expression of interest (EOI) floated to invite firms in 2009 for the revision of the DP, had asked consultants to explore the possibility of conversion of NDZs to commercial or residential zones.

It also asked consultants to explore the option of opening up saltpan lands and reclaiming land.

Public protests forced the BMC to state it wouldn't pursue these plans.

Environmentalists said such shifts in approach lead to neglect and abuse of NDZs.

"This neglect is not surprising, considering the way governmental agencies have been dealing with this. The state needs to proactively map these areas and ensure there is no misuse," said Navroz Mody, vice-president of Bombay Environmental Action Group.

Officials defend the proposal.

"The city desperately needs more land to create affordable housing. Environmentalists need to understand the practical realities of the city," said an official from BMC's development plan department.

Pankaj Joshi, urban planner and executive director of Urban Design Research institute, which analysed the ELU survey and pointed out discrepancies in land use classification, said: "Those saying we need more land for housing want to distract people's attention from the fact that there is surplus land on the eastern waterfront and the port trust. Not utilising those is a ploy to create artificial shortage of land."