Gargai dam plan likely to submerge 600ha of forests
Even as Mumbai fights to protect 2,646 trees in Aarey Colony marked to make way for a Metro car shed, the civic body is preparing to pitch a revised proposal for an upcoming dam, which involves the submergence of 600 hectares of forests inside the Tansa wildlife sanctuary. This is almost double the area of Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) or 600 football fields.
In July, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had sent a proposal to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) for submergence of 719 hectares of forest for the Gargai Dam Project, which will give the city 440 million litres per day of water once ready by 2024. However, in its latest survey in August, the civic body revised this area to 600 hectares within the Tansa wildlife sanctuary. The BMC will now put forth this proposal to the Centre’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) and the National Wildlife Board by the end of this month. Civic officials said as it is a drinking-water project, it will need a green go-ahead from the state’s expert appraisal committee and not the Centre’s.
The Gargai Dam Project, spread across 849 hectares, will be constructed in the Oghade village, in Palghar , on the Gargai river, a tributary of Vaitarna River. It involves construction of the dam, and connecting it to the Modak Sagar Dam, which already supplies water to Mumbai . Of the 849 hectares needed for the project, about 130 hectares is privately owned land, which will be acquired.
Praveen Darade, additional municipal commissioner, said, “The revised proposal will be sent to MoEF within a month.”
The project has been flagged by environmentalists and activists, who have also questioned the reasoning behind carrying out afforestation hundreds of kilometres away from the site.
A senior civic official, in-charge of the project, said, “We revisited the design several times and realised two islands on the elevated land will pop up in the middle of the upcoming project. This will save 90 hectares of forests. The BMC will also construct a Gabion wall around some trees that can survive in water for some time. This wall will allow us to save another 30 hectares of forest.” A gabion wall is a retaining wall made of stacked stone behind a meshed wire.
The civic body has also identified land for compensatory afforestation in Beed district’s Solegaon, 261km from Tansa sanctuary. The tehsildar of Solegaon on Saturday wrote to the BMC, consenting to hand over 586 hectares for compensatory afforestation. The BMC will acquire the remaining land in Aurangabad district.
Anand Pendharkar, a wildlife biologist based in Mumbai, said, “We are unlimitedly increasing our footprint and taking away resources that belong to someone else, in this case, tribals. Mumbai’s greed is not getting limited in anyway. Constructing a dam by hacking 600 hectares of forests is in no way a sustainable model. The Tansa wildlife sanctuary is one of the important habitat of the Forest Owlet — an endangered species.’’
He added, “It is possible that the bird could go locally extinct if its habitat is destroyed. It is home to about 325 species of birds and 40 to 45 species of animals.”
Indavi Tulpule of Shramik Mukti Sanghatana and an activist who has worked with tribals and for conservation of forests said, “It is a myth that Mumbai needs more water that the city’s indigenous sources cannot provide. The BMC must desilt all dams to increase their carrying capacity, seriously enforce rainwater harvesting, and reuse treated water for the city, instead of displacing tribals.”
Praveen Pardeshi, civic commissioner, however said this project was essential for the city. “While it is an essential project for Mumbai, to preserve wildlife, we are removing all human habitation from the area to make the Tansa sanctuary inviolate in terms of interference. This will remove disturbances to the sanctuary. Whether they are getting affected by the project or not, we will give them jobs, and all required compensation,’’ said Pardeshi.
As the civic chief pointed out, the BMC plans to rehabilitate six villages within the vicinity of the dam.
While 2.5 villages will be directly affected by the dam, the civic body is moving 3.5 villages to preserve the wildlife of the Tansa sanctuary, referring to the National Wildlife action plan 2017-2031.
The plan suggests that humans should be moved out of natural animal habitats at the first opportunity provided to the local government body, to reduce man-animal conflict.