Upset Malabar Hill residents suggest alternative sites for reservoir to save green cover
The BMC plans to reconstruct the dilapidated 140-year-old Malabar Hill reservoir below Hanging Garden. Before this is done, a 90MLD tank will be constructed at a site behind the garden so that water supply to South Mumbai is not disrupted during reconstruction
Mumbai: Round two of the Malabar Hill citizens meeting with MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha and the BMC on Tuesday saw the presence of veteran activists like Prakash Munshi, Dr Nilesh Baxi and even Bollywood actor Juhi Chawla, who had come to lend support. The residents have proposed that the BMC scrap the current Malabar Hill reservoir reconstruction plan and suggested four alternative sites for the reservoir.
The BMC plans to reconstruct the dilapidated 140-year-old Malabar Hill reservoir below Hanging Garden. Before this is done, a 90MLD tank will be constructed at a site behind the garden so that water supply to South Mumbai is not disrupted during reconstruction. HT was the first to report on March 1 on how 389 trees would be hacked for this and how Hanging Garden would be shut in phases. HT also reported on citizens’ objections to this long-term project on September 11 and September 15.
Emotions ran high during the meeting, with some residents threatening to carry out a ‘Chipko movement’ (hug the trees) and even move court. “Please remove the notices from the trees. Even the trees can feel them. Scrap this proposal,” said a highly charged resident.
Dr Nilesh Baxi, a regular walker at Hanging Garden, said he was very concerned about the destruction of very old trees and a forest on the site. “Instead of reconstructing the reservoir and hacking so many trees, the BMC can construct a new reservoir on alternative plots,” he said. Dr Baxi, on behalf of the residents, suggested four alternative sites: the land reclaimed for the Coastal Road near Priyadarshini Park, Gwalior Tank, Mahalaxmi Racecourse which has approximately 25 acres of land available, and the S M Joshi playground near St Elizabeth Hospital. A working committee comprising Malabar Hill residents, civic officials and experts will be formed to check on alternative sites.
Kavas Petigara, an engineer by profession, suggested that a geological survey be conducted on Malabar Hill. “That will give us an idea of how strong the hill is and if it can take the weight of two reservoirs for water,” he said. P Velrasu, additional municipal commissioner, said this was a valid suggestion.
Velrasu fielded questions from residents about why the BMC was reconstructing a 140-year-old reservoir and also explained why constructing a new reservoir at an alternative site was not feasible. “This system has 19 distribution systems,” he said. “We are not just dealing with a reservoir but the connected distribution system, which works on different levels of gravity. One can construct any number of reservoirs at any number of places. But we will have to establish a new distribution system, for which we will have to dig up plots in south Mumbai. Technically, it is very challenging.”
Velrasu explained that originally the BMC had planned to reconstruct the Malabar Hill reservoir in a sequential manner. “But later when the scuba divers went in, we learnt that the reservoir couldn’t be demolished in parts as it was in a dilapidated condition,” he said. “After seeking technical opinion, we decided to do the project in one go. But this meant we would have to stop the water supply to South Mumbai. So we had to find a solution without disrupting the supply. It was like performing an operation on a patient who is conscious.”
Velrasu said that if the BMC did not work on the old reservoir right away, it would collapse. “A reservoir at any other site constructed downstream will not reverse-flow against gravity,” he said. “So considering all these things, we tried to minimise the damage. This entire project will take five years, seven years in a worst-case scenario.”
Velrasu acknowledged that the administration should have engaged with citizens and taken them into confidence before starting the project. He also refuted allegations about the project being for commercial gain, saying it was meant purely to augment water supply to A ward and D ward residents, whose current requirement is 240 MLD. The current reservoir has a 147 MLD capacity and the BMC’s waterworks department has decided to augment this to 191 MLD.
Juhi Chawla, Bollywood actor
While the residents have made suggestions, I feel the BMC has the funds and can afford the best technical people, who know the landscape more than all the residents put together. It must come up with alternative solutions in order to protect the green cover.
Dr Nilesh Baxi, regular walker at Hanging Garden
I am more concerned about the massive green cover. Instead of reconstructing the reservoir and hacking so many trees on the adjacent site, the BMC can construct a new reservoir on any of the four plots we suggested.