The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC’s) plan to open up salt pan lands and no-development zones (NDZs) for residential and commercial construction has environmentalists up in arms.
According to Rishi Agarwal, an environmentalist, it was the city’s salt pans that acted as holding ponds on July 26, 2005, and helped reduce the impact of that day’s deluge. “The BMC must understand that climate change is a big factor; it must be considered while preparing any plan for the future,” he said.
This is the second time the BMC is making a push for development on salt pans. Earlier this year, a BMC white paper — an elucidation of an administrative authority’s stand on any issue — on the water situation spoke of exploiting these virgin tracts.
The white paper mentioned that growth in the eastern suburbs, where most of the salt pans are located, is the highest. Hence, these areas need to be explored for development.
Environmentalists said the BMC was aligning its thinking with that of the builders, who have pressing for a relaxation in construction norms and the opening up of salt pans for development.
Central Govrnment permission is required for this. The Centre, though, has been traditionally reluctant to grant it.
The salt pans, spread over 6,000 acres, are eco-sensitive zones. The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), a research body, pointing to the damage caused by the flooding on July 26, 2005, said salt pans “act as natural buffers against ocean flooding”. “They absorb the rush of water from the sea,” said a BNHS scientist requesting anonymity.
“Opening up salt pans and NDZs is a bad idea as they absorb water during heavy rains,” said Chandrashekar Prabhu, an urban planner.
The BMC also talks of “community sky gardens” — elevated gardens to compensate for the lack of open spaces — in the brief to the consultants helping with the city’s Development Plan.
The Development Plan is a blueprint for the city’s growth and lays the template for land use over the next 20 years. The BMC is in the process of finalising the plan for 2014-2034.
The plan is based on the ‘urban economics’ concept. Urban economics analyses spatial organisation of activities within cities and explains land use and location choices of firms and households. . The nature of revenue generation in Mumbai has morphed from industry-based to services-based over the last 20 years.
“We plan to integrate transport systems into the plan,” said Ashok Shintre, chief engineer (Development Plan).
The BMC wants more land for ‘multi-purpose use’ rather than restricting plots for either commercial or residential use.