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The River Wild

Will the river of death play havoc with Mumbai again, asks Gigil Varghese.

india Updated: May 30, 2007 05:28 IST
Gigil Varghese
Gigil Varghese
Hindustan Times

Will the river of death play havoc with Mumbai again?

She will, if you consider that only 40,000 truckloads (or four lakh cubic metres) of silt has been removed. If that sounds like a lot, the target was two lakh truckloads.

She will, if you consider that two-third of the silt excavated from the river and its bank has not been transported to the dump yard.

She will, if you consider that not a single unlicensed cottage industry or slum unit along its banks has been demolished in over two years. The target was 5,700.

It’s only 17.8 km long, but with 20,000 shanties along its bank, the constricted Mithi garnered enough force to smash through the boundary walls of India’s busiest airport, submerge housing colonies and kill 450 people in 2005.

The good part: Last year, the Mithi was widened to three times her former size at a cost of Rs 130 crore. More than 1.5 lakh truckloads of silt were also removed, though there’s no record of the bills to confirm transportation, said the Comptroller and Auditor General in a 2006 report.

On Wednesday, as he visited three spots along the Mithi, HT asked Governor S.M. Krishna if he was satisfied with the clean-up thus far. “The whole picture will be clear after 18 months when the project is completed,” he said. “I will visit the Mithi as and when circumstances warrant.”

Dr Hrishikesh Samant, a geologist at St Xavier’s College, said encroachments had blocked two of the Mithi’s three outlets and narrowed the third. He said: “What is the point of deepening the river beyond a point if the outlets are not going to be restored?”

Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Member of Parliament Kirit Somaiya, who has followed the progress of the single most important task for Mumbai to prevent a repeat of 26/7, attributes the progress in 2006 to supervision by the Bombay High Court. “This year the target is far from achieved. Will we only work if the courts monitor progress?” asked Somaiya.

Dr Vikas Tondwalkar, director of the Mithi River Development and Protection Authority, admitted to a slowdown this year. “This year work got delayed but it’s a long-term plan and at the end of it, the river will be able to tackle the highest rainfall in 100 years,” said Tondwalkar, a Phd in environmental science. “Our set target is 2010.”

Independent experts said that until then the Mithi will continue to menace Mumbai. A normal monsoon — with 50 mm of rain per hour — will paralyse life along its banks, they said. Environmental scientists associated with the Mithi project said the Authority is not transparent.

“A few changes were arbitrarily made in a Central Water and Power Research Station report and the calculation regarding the carrying capacity of the river has not been made,” said one expert, requesting anonymity.

“Some changes have been made,” said Tondwalkar but refused further comment.

(With inputs from Naresh Kamath)

First Published: May 30, 2007 05:27 IST