While civic agencies jostle with each other to restore the 13-km-long Mithi, the city’s infamous river-turned-dump, a closer look revealed an alarmingly different picture.
The mangroves surrounding the river are dying, thanks to illegal bunding.
On Tuesday, members of the Observer Research Foundation, a think-tank that has been conducting a study on Mithi, took journalists on a boat ride from Mahim Causeway up to the confluence of the river and the Vakola nullah.
When the boat ventured into the seemingly dense mangrove patch opposite the Bandra-Kurla Complex, its occupants were in for a surprise. Except for the mangroves on the banks, a large section had been systemically destroyed by building bunds.
Anish Andheria, an environment expert and director of Sanctuary Asia, explained: “At most spots, bunds were built to ensure that water does not enter that patch and a pond is formed. Since there is no water entering that patch, the mangroves start degenerating in the stagnant water, leading to their death.”
Gautam Kirtane, a research fellow at Observer Research Foundation, said it seemed that the intention might not have been to destroy the mangroves.
“A closer observation reveals that there are some people who indulge in pisciculture here, and in their attempt to do so, end up killing the mangroves.”
Pisciculture or fish farming involves breeding, rearing, and transplantation of fish by artificial means.
But IITian and ecologist Janak Daftari of the Mithi Nadi Sansad disagrees. He said the bunds and the ‘ponds’ showed that there was a greater conspiracy at work. “All these are tricks that will ensure that even those parts of land, devoid of mangroves, are then added to the existing land bank. Such a thing cannot happen without the connivance of the local police and forest department officials.”
Suburban collector Nirmalkumar Deshmukh told the Hindustan Times that he would investigate the matter. “There are portions of the mangroves which fall under my jurisdiction along the Mithi stretch. I will order my officials to inspect it immediately, to ensure there is no further damage.”
Green warriors see red over retaining walls
Even as activists were alarmed at the discovery of ‘ponds’ in the middle of mangroves along Mithi river, another element that drew their ire was the retaining wall built by the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA).
Calling it an “unnecessary evil”, most experts lambasted the planning body for building the walls between the river and the mangroves. “The walls do not allow water to enter into the mangroves, leading to their slow death. Rivers can never have artificial banks, which are then expected to cater to mangroves on the other side of the wall,” said activist Jagdish Gandhi, who has filed a PIL against the construction of retaining walls along the river. The case is pending in the Bombay High Court.
“Mithi was a river, which turned into a nullah. After all the widening, creating retaining walls is akin to turning a river into a nullah again,” said Gautam Kirtane, a research fellow at Observer Research Foundation.
Anish Andheria, director of Sanctuary Asia, was more scathing in his comments. “These retaining walls were built so that real estate development in areas like the Bandra-Kurla Complex is not hampered. It’s time the planning bodies and city planners realise that preservation of the eco-system and real estate development cannot go hand in hand.”
The MMRDA, which has spent around Rs 200 crore on widening and desilting the river and building retaining walls, refuted the allegations. “We have not disturbed the mangroves. The walls have been built as suggested by various Central government bodies,” said MMRDA spokesperson Dilip Kawathkar.