The Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) may finally gather some steam. Ending the stalemate, the state government has finally accepted a key condition put forth by the Union environment ministry — to get the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) to conduct a study to look into the impact of the project on the more than 40,000 flamingoes that flock to the area and how the damage could be minimised.
The state’s nod to the study comes at a critical time — chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is headed to Japan next week, where he will try to woo the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and get confirmed assured funding for the project. Sources close to Fadnavis confirmed the state was keen on finalising the funding from JICA on his visit. JICA is conducting studies that will detail the project’s social as well as environmental impact.
It is this urgency in bagging the funding for the project that has now led to the state agreeing for a BNHS study. For months now, the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) has been consistently opposed to a study, despite instructions from the Ministry of Environment and Forests’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC). The FAC has been raising concerns about the damage the project will cause to the mudflats at the southern end of the link at Sewri.
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It has, in fact, also wanted to know in detail from the state its plans on ensuring that flamingo birds don’t get affected by the project. According to chief secretary Swadheen Kshatriya, the state plans to expedite matters. “We have asked the BNHS to submit the report to us within the next three weeks and within a month, it will be submitted to the FAC,” he said. This comes after the PM’s office held a review of the project’s status and asked the state to expedite it, last month.
But it’s the content of the report, that may not be music to the government’s ears. The BNHS has been consistently opposed to the current alignment of the MTHL and has publicly reiterated its belief that the alignment will disturb the eco-system of the 150 species of birds that have been found to exist in the area, according to its own study.
Dr Deepak Apte, BNHS director, confirmed they had been commissioned for the study. “We will take about three weeks to finish the report where we will seek to detail out a mitigation plan through which the environmental impact of the project could be lessened,” he said. While Apte refused to elaborate on it, sources in the BNHS said it was unlikely to go back on its key demand for a change in the alignment. “That will be the bedrock of all mitigation measures that we can suggest,” the source said.