Mumbai is one of the few cities in the world to have a tiny jungle as part of it. The lush national park located between parts of the western and eastern suburbs and the green strip of the Aarey Colony have served as Mumbai’s lungs for decades.
The national park, set up in 1982 and spread a little over 25,000 acres, has been the pride of Mumbaiites. The Aarey Colony is relatively small, with an entire area of 3,160 acres.
For the past two decades, the national park is constantly under attack and its area is slowly shrinking. There have been encroachments, illegal quarries and everything else—right from restaurants to resorts to ashrams—coming up in its buffer zone both in Mumbai and Thane.
Recently, the state government decided to do away with the buffer zone around the national park. Also, the draft development plan for Mumbai, prepared by the BMC, has grand plans to convert Aarey Colony into a transit corridor and a hub with several institutions, economic growth centres and housing for the displaced.
This is in addition to the construction of a depot and other structures for Mumbai metro’s third line between Colaba and Seepz.
This has baffled and irked citizens. Why are the state government and the BMC hellbent on destroying the surviving green patches in Mumbai?
The state’s revenue and forest department, which was quick to send eviction notices to thousands of residents in the erstwhile forest areas in the suburbs and Thane, has been conveniently ignoring the encroachments around the national park for years.
The state government has plans to develop BKC-type economic hubs at Kanjurmarg, Thane and near the Navi Mumbai airport. The erstwhile mill land in Mumbai is slowly transforming into a commercial hub. The union shipping ministry has plans to use part of the idle Mumbai port land for financial activities. Then why on earth does the BMC wants to destroy the green cover at Aarey for another business hub?
But then, neither the state nor the city administration seems bothered about environmental concerns. Environmentalists and citizens’ groups have been protesting, but the authorities seem to be ignoring them. In the past few months, the state has taken many decisions that support this argument.
It decided to scrap the river regulation zone policy brought in by the previous government to protect river basins and catchment areas, which are crucial water sources for drinking and agriculture use. It wants to either scrap or dilute the coastal regulation zone, meant to protect Mumbai’s ecologically fragile coast. Doing away with the coastal rules would mean a windfall for builders and some landowners, but won’t it create problems for millions of Mumbaiites in the future?
Under the ease of doing business initiative, the government wants to allow construction in Mumbai even before getting environmental clearances. It also wants to dilute the role of the civic tree authority, which gives permission to cut trees. Sadly, these decisions are being taken without much debate.
The government is keen to throw into the dustbin reports of the Gadgil and the Kasturirangan committees on protecting the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats. There can be arguments over certain part of these reports, but both the committees made several recommendations to protect nature in Maharashtra. Unfortunately, the previous Congress-NCP as well as the current BJP-Shiv Sena governments have been treating these reports as anti-development.
With this attitude about protecting the environment, aren’t we heading for a disaster?