Shahabuddin Sheikh will turn 11 this October. He was just six years old when the July 26, 2005, deluge swamped his home.
Shahabuddin, a resident of Ganesh Pada in Marol, recalled: “We had to spend two days in a truck owned by an uncle, waiting for the water to recede. When we returned, there was nothing left to call home.”
Almost everyone in the city has a story to tell of that day. Many of those stories would include the Mithi, a river the city ‘discovered’ on 26/7 — as the flood came to be known.
The river, which is more of a sewer, was always there but nobody paid it any attention. After 26/7, the Mithi was firmly in focus.
Over five years, crores of rupees have been spent on desilting, widening and deepening the river. Hindustan Times travelled the 18-km length of the river, from its origin at the outfall of Vihar Lake to Mahim Creek.
Living on the edge
There are still hutments along the river. At Marol, the slums were just inches away from the water. Putul Sanathan, whose hut’s back wall virtually touches the Mithi, said: “We have been served eviction notices by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, but they say there is no alternative accommodation for us. Where do we go?”
At most places, the river has been significantly widened, said locals. However, the lack of buffer space between habitation and the river spells danger. “Even though the river is widened, at most places there is hardly a buffer zone or river bank. The very purpose of widening is defeated,” said Gautam Kirtane, a research fellow at Observer Research Foundation, a Mumbai-based think tank.
The course of the river has been changed over the decades.
“The river makes a U-turn near the airport. How can a river with a natural flow take U-turns and turn at right angles?” said former IIT-ian and ecologist Janak Daftari. “Mithi was a river, which turned into a nullah. After all, the widening, creating a retaining walls is akin to turning the river into a nullah again,” said Kirtane, who has been studying the river since 2004.
He said it was years of abusing the river caused the 2005 deluge. “It’s as if the river revolted,” he said.