Twenty-seven years before the Mithi River breached its banks and drowned the city on July 26, 2005, a Central government body recommended that the Mithi be widened to turn it from a sewer into a river again.
The report, prepared in 1978, was ignored and the city paid a heavy price.
Now, a new report published on the Mithi River has slammed the government and other agencies for ignoring governmental reports about reclaiming the Mithi. Titled ‘Making the Sewer a river again…Why Mumbai must reclaim its Mithi’ and prepared by the Observer Research Foundation’s Gautam Kirtane, the report has lambasted authorities for what it calls tackling the 18-km river in ‘the most unimaginative, and myopic manner’.
The report said, from 1975, when the Natu commission report spoke about reclaiming the river, to as recently as May 2006, when the Chitale committee made observations about the Mithi, the most important of these recommendations have been ignored by various agencies. (See box)
Most reports have recommended that only treated sewage be allowed to enter the river, a recommendation that remains ignored. For instance, the Centre for Environmental Science and engineering, IIT Bombay, in its final interim report suggested that a buffer zone be created 20m to 50m on either side, free of any construction. “Neither of these recommendations, that are among the most important, have been paid heed to,” Kirtane said.
The report has also made a 20-point recommendation on how the Mithi could be reclaimed as a river by involving citizens and making riverbanks more accessible to them. These recommendations involve creating a ‘no-compromise zone’ of 50 metres on both sides of the river, which will have to be kept open. Kirtane said, “There are examples across the world, where rivers-turned-sewers have been reclaimed by developing their banks.”
The report recommends that riverbanks be developed along Mithi’s entire 18-km stretch.
Releasing the book, former Union minister of environment and forests Suresh Prabhu said the river’s connection with Mumbaiites must be revived. “The Mithi can be revived only when we enable citizens to be part of the river’s development.”
MMRDA spokesperson Dilip Kawathkar rejected the report’s allegations. “Due to our efforts, the carrying capacity of Mithi has nearly doubled. Also, we have followed the master plan that gave recommendations for Mithi’s development and hence, no one can accuse us of neglect.”