While a host of initiatives are being undertaken to mark World Environment Day in Mumbai, HT takes a look at ten environmental problems that affect the city.
1) Shrinking mangroves
Encroachments, aquaculture ponds and infrastructure development are taking a toll on the stretches of mangroves. Mangroves prevent soil erosion and protect shorelines against cyclones and ecological disasters. Environmentalists said around 80 aquaculture ponds have been set up in a range of less than six-kilometers in Navi Mumbai. Also, cases of mangroves destroyed Airoli, Bhandup, Kasheli, Vashi, Vasai, Borivli and areas close to the Gorai creek are reported frequently. “Mangroves are being perforated and damaged by influential locals for creating these ponds,” said Stalin D from NGO Vanashakti.
Mangroves in Airoli. (HT photo)
2) Toxic air
Though trial runs to calculate Mumbai’s air quality index (AQI) have begun at the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board’s (MPCB) Bandra station, poor air quality standards are a major problem for city’s inhabitants. “Road construction is the main cause of pollutants, especially in the suburbs. Vehicular emissions and smoke from bakeries and crematoriums are other reasons,” said Rakesh Kumar, chief scientist, The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). Carbon monoxide levels and particulate matter emissions have risen owing to traffic congestion, according to studies by the Mumbai Environmental Social Network. Particulate matter, carbon monoxide and oxides of nitrogen and a host of other pollutants make Mumbai’s air a toxic mix.
3) ‘Dying’ Powai Lake
“Around 50% of the surface of Powai Lake is covered with water hyacinths, an invasive weed,” said Elsie Gabriel from NGO Young Environment Programme. The presence of water hyacinths is an indication of low dissolved oxygen levels and high pollution levels. The beautiful lake has been neglected and is dying a slow death, said environmentalists. The lake has also used to dump construction debris and sewage. “About 10 years ago, we arranged a public meeting with residents and government authorities and had come to a conclusion that the lake will be cleaned and beautified. All we got was some landscaping and fountains around the lake,” said Gabriel.
Powai lake has been neglected and is dying a slow death, say environmentalists. (HT photo)
4) Marine creatures dying
Dolphins, whales and porpoises have been frequenting Mumbai’s shores, but sadly, all that Mumbaiites can see are carcasses wedged in the middle of rocks and cement tetrapods. While officials from the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute have said the reasons could include senescence (old age), disease, fishing gear entanglement or vessel (propeller) hit, researchers have said the numbers could be deteriorating due to an endemic viral infection known as morbillivirus. “Frequent deaths of marine animals are raising serious questions about our conservation efforts. One of the reasons could also be poaching,” said Pawan Sharma from Resinq Association of Wildlife Welfare (RAWW).
Carcasses of dolphins found wedged in the middle of rocks and cement tetrapods in Mumbai. (HT photo)
5) ‘Beautification’ plan opposed
Environmentalists, NGOs and project coordinators will hold a meeting on June 6 to save Maharashtra Nature Park in Mahim. They will question MMRDA’s ‘beautification’ plan for the 37-acre park and discuss the proposal. According to members of Observer Research Foundation (ORF), an independent think-tank, the MMRDA has entrusted the responsibility of a makeover plan, which will be forth to the civic authorities. “Everybody is of the opinion that what is being proposed is not feasible. We will assess the pros and cons of the proposal,” said environmentalist Bibhas Amonkar.
Maharashtra Nature Park in Mahim. (HT photo)
6) Dumping ground fires
Residents of eastern suburbs are breathing a concoction of chemicals released in the air due to frequent fires at the Deonar and Mulund dumping grounds. More than five incidents of fires in a span of four months have highlighted the poor solid waste management amenities provided by the civic body. Residents have been forced to leave homes from areas close to the dumping ground due to excessive smoke leading to breathing, skin and eye problems, said doctors. “As per BMC’s agreement, 2,000 tonnes of waste could be dumped at Deonar but nearly 6,000 tonnes is dumped daily,” said environmentalist Raj Kumar Sharma.
Fire at Mulund dumping grounds. (HT photo)
7) E-waste ‘poisoning’
Mumbai is the country’s e-waste capital. We generate around 96,000 tonnes of the 12.5 lakh tonnes of e-waste generated in the country annually. As newer models of electrical and electronic gadgets flood the market, safe handling and disposal is proving to be a challenge. A dismal 5% ends up at authorised recycling centres with environmentally sound technologies. Compact fluorescent lamps, cathode ray tubes, mobile phone chargers and CDs directly go into the landfills, contaminating soil and ground water. “E-waste involves complex material with huge amounts of toxicity that can lead to health and environmental problems if it is not managed well,” said Satish Sinha, associate director, Toxic Links.
Mumbai is the country’s e-waste capital. (HT photo)
8) Saving Aarey Colony
The fate of Aarey Colony remains undecided even as environmentalists and citizens have been relentlessly fighting to stop 2,298 trees from being axed. Over three months, a series of protests saw close to 5,000 residents uniting to save the area’s biodiversity. "Development should not be at the cost of the environment. If open spaces are claimed, where will our children play?" asked poet and actor Piyush Mishra. BMC’s Development Plan 2034, which is currently being revised, planned to develop 1,009 hectares of Aarey land. In addition to the Goregaon-Mulund Link Road and Metro III card shed site, bus rapid transit system (BRTS) and an east-west link too may come up along the stretch, which environmentalists have been fighting against.
Over three months, a series of protests saw close to 5,000 residents uniting to save Aarey’s biodiversity. (HT photo)
9) Chocked with plastic
Plastic takes thousands of years to degrade and Mumbai produces 800 tonnes of plastic waste per day. Yet we do not have separate bins to dump plastic or plastic waste collection policy. Rag pickers collect PET bottles, milk pouches and plastic bags and sell them to recycling units in Dharavi, Bhandup (West), Vasai and Saki Naka. They make pellets, moulded plastic and yarn out of it. “Mumbaiites have adopted a lifestyle of convenience, whereby they tend to grab plastic products without realising the collateral damage caused to the environment,” said Monisha Narke, founder, environment organisation, Reduce Reuse and Recycle (RUR).
Mumbai produces 800 tonnes of plastic waste per day. (HT photo)
10) A river or a nullah?
Stretching across 15kms, the Mithi River meets the Arabian Sea at Mahim creek, starting from Powai and coursing through Kurla, Saki Naka, Kalina and Vakola. The river has been reduced to a nullah, where sewage, garbage and industrial waste is dumped. According to experts, nearly 54% of the original riverbed has been lost to encroachments, roads and development. The Bandra-Worli Sea Link has constricted the mouth of the river with as much as 27 hectares of landfill in Mahim Bay. Social activists have been fighting since 2005 after a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in the Bombay high court on restoring water bodies across the state.
Mithi river has been reduced to a nullah. (HT photo)