The proposed development plan (DP) has dealt a double blow to the city’s salt pans — they have been categorised as part of the residential-commercial zone as well as open spaces instead of natural areas.
While the change to the open spaces category may seem harmless, its ramifications can be major.
Consider this. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has, in the DP, included private gymkhanas and club houses as open spaces. Along with this, the decision not to include the salt pans in the new category of natural areas, especially created to protect ecologically sensitive areas such as mangroves, has raised suspicions on the civic body’s intent.
Even the BMC’s request for the proposal, which it had floated while hiring consultants, said it was looking at no-development zones such as salt-pan lands to be opened up for development.
According to the existing land use maps prepared as part of the DP, the city had 80% less mudflats and salt pans than what the National Wetlands Atlas recorded in 2010.
Opening up these lands any further will push these areas to a critically low point.
“We suspect the civic body has marked the salt pans as open spaces only to fulfil the city’s poor per capita open space ratio. These are ecologically sensitive zones and hence, must be conserved if we want to make Mumbai an environmentally sustainable city,” said Aravind Unni, architect from YUVA, which is part of an umbrella body of organisations working on DP-related issues called Hamara Shehar Vikas Niyojan.
Unni said the motive behind the civic body’s move to classify these lands as salt pans was unclear.
The DP report, however, justifies the move by claiming it was paying heed to demands made by locals. “S ward [residents] demanded salt pan lands be reserved as recreational grounds”, said the DP.
Till now, the salt pans were to be left untouched because of the no-development zone (NDZ) tag. Experts believe that the new DP could
“If the BMC was keen on conserving open spaces, it shouldn’t have marked these zones as residential-commercial zones. Such categorisation shows that it will just be a matter of time before these lands are opened up for development of various kinds,” said Pankaj Joshi, executive director, Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI).
Environmentalist Stalin D said, “The BMC has only looked at ecologically important environmental features such as salt pans as pieces of real estate that can be parcelled off to builders. This is shameful and the BMC cannot take citizens for granted like this.”