The city’s green spaces are growing, at least on paper.
According to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), 46% of the city’s land mass is now an ‘environmental’ area, which is a 20% rise from 2012. The under-revision development plan (DP) seeks to tag nearly 22,000 hectares as ‘natural or environmental areas’, from the 11,303 hectares ecologically-sensitive areas marked as natural areas in the existing land use survey (ELU) in 2012.
So how did the civic body manage to add so many natural areas to a land-starved city like Mumbai? This is how — while the ELU only classified eco-sensitive areas as natural, the under-revision DP has tweaked the definition. The revised definition of ‘environmental’ areas includes public open spaces to areas under coastal regulation zone (CRZ)-I & III, beaches, areas under nullahs, creeks and rivers, along with nearly 1,500 hectares formed because of sedimentation in the city’s creek areas.
Areas which fall under these categories but are owned by other government bodies such as the MbPT and the MMRDA, which so far the BMC hasn’t accounted for, too, have been included. Consequently, ‘environmental’ areas include regions that have seen construction as well as areas which the city can’t access just yet, like treating beaches, areas around pipelines and nullahs.
The move has left many wondering why the definition was tweaked. “We wanted to, with these numbers, show how the city has very little developable area and has much more environmental, green area than one perceives. Not all of these 21,000-odd hectares are eco-sensitive,” said Ramanath Jha, officer on special duty, who is in-charge of revising the development plan.
According to Jha, eco-sensitivity alone was not the criterion for this category. “We are now including all areas in the city which will see no development or will have very restricted development, like some CRZ-III areas. So we have mudflats, mangroves, along with gardens and playgrounds in it,” he said.
Green activists, however, aren’t impressed. “This is just sorcery and number jugglery. One doesn’t need to be an urban planner to tell the city has a glaring deficit of environmental areas. Instead of simply looking at beefing up the numbers, the civic body should have looked at the accessibility of these spaces,” said Rishi Aggarwal, an activist.
Another Bandra-based citizen group said it was studying the data. “The BMC shouldn’t boost numbers of green areas using dubious ways. It must come out and include only eco-sensitive areas, not those that have seen construction,” a representative of the group.