The Maharashtra government has now proposed to strip Mumbai’s salt pan lands of its environmentally-sensitive tag. In its new housing policy, the state has proposed to take more than 2,200 acres of the city’s salt pan lands out of the coastal regulation zone (CRZ) protection and instead, recommended they be used to rehabilitate slum dwellers.
According to the 2010 Maharashtra Wetland Atlas, Mumbai has 2,280.78 acres of saltpan lands. Spread across the city, these lands are environmentally sensitive because a majority of them continue to be inter-tidal, which means water reaches these lands during high tide, but during low tide, the lands remain dry. They also act as natural buffer zone during flooding.
The state’s draft has now proposed these lands be employed to rehabilitate slum dwellers in the city, especially those living on central government lands.
The housing policy has also identified a land parcel, spreading over nearly 400 acres off the eastern express highway in Mulund. The policy proposes purchasing this parcel, along with other such parcels, to house slum dwellers.
Even the controversial development plan prepared by the civic body, had proposed opening up these areas for residential-commercial development.
This is not the first time such a move has been proposed. In 2007, the state had made such representations before the Centre for permission to use these lands.
This time, the state intends to make the city ‘slum-free’ by 2022, a move that will have multiple stakeholders, who will want their say.
One such stakeholder is the environmental activist lobby, which has been consistently opposing the move. “Around 80% of these salt pan lands are active inter-tidal areas. This is a natural phenomenon. The government can’t possibly take them out of CRZ protection,” said Stalin D, director of Vanashakti, a non-governmental organisation, which has been fighting for preservation of wetlands across the city.
Even housing activists are suspicious of the move. “The state needs to create affordable homes, but not at the cost of the environment. The poor have often been conveniently used to push through such controversial ideas in their name. This seems like a ploy to open up these lands for commercial exploitation,” said Simpreet Singh, an activist, who has extensively worked on the issue of housing among slum communities.