Mr Fadnavis, mind the gap between walk and talk on environment
The latest is the uproar over the Mahim Nature Park, the 37-acre oasis of flora and fauna abutting the Mithi river and Dharavi slum.mumbai Updated: Apr 12, 2018 01:16 IST
If we were to take Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis at his well-chosen words on protecting and conserving environment, weneed not worry at all. But the truth lies at a considerable distance from the politician’s words, never mind his intentions.
The latest is the uproar over the Mahim Nature Park, the 37-acre oasis of flora and fauna abutting the Mithi river and Dharavi slum. Created by dedicated conservationists with help from state authorities in the 1990s, the Mahim Nature Park has been coveted by the city’s avaricious builder lobby. In early March, the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, which is the nodal agency for the redevelopment of Dharavi, invited objections to including the Park in its Dharavi Redevelopment Plan.
Environmentalists were up in arms and the Shiv Sena uncharacteristically threw in its weight. Fadnavis was forced to clarify that “The Mahim Nature Park was included in the DRP because of its proximity to the area. But this does not mean any construction will be allowed on it.” Despite this and the objections received, the Park continues to be a part of the Dharavi Redevelopment Plan. The Slum Rehabilitation Authority has stuck to its guns. Who heads it? Fadnavis, of course.
Parallel to this is the continuing storm over Mumbai’s salt pan land spread across nearly 5,300 acres. Fadnavis first mooted three years ago that the salt pans could be rezoned to divert them for affordable housing; then, his government asked the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority to prepare a detailed plan. He has since then worked in step with the central government – the authority for the salt pans – to tweak law so that the land is excluded from wetlands, thus opening it up for construction. He seems to have ignored that the salt pans act as a natural buffer along Mumbai’s coastline and protect the city from flooding. Reclaiming them, constructing on them, may well spell danger.
Then, there are heavy infrastructure projects planned in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the only forest in an urban setting anywhere in the world. Spread over 103.84 sq km, the SGNP is home to a rich tapestry of flora and fauna, it is Mumbai’s source of water, and its natural air purification eco-system.
The staggering list of projects planned or approved there includes an underground tunnel from Borivli to Thane, a nearly 10-km tunnel for Mulund-Goregaon Link Road, a ropeway connecting Borivali and Thane, and a multi-modal corridor. Other projects that will cut across or skirt it include widening of the national highway connecting Mumbai-Ahmedabad and construction of the Mumbai-Delhi corridor. Add to this the land taken from the nearby Aarey forest for the car depot of Metro III.
Do we know the cumulative impact of all these projects on the city’s environment? No, because there is no mechanism that estimates it. If all the projects are implemented, the SGNP will simply die, said Bittu Sahgal, among India’s foremost environmentalists. It may be a good idea for Fadnavis to meet Sahgal, and committed environmentalists like him, to understand the impact of his decisions.
Then there’s the coastal road which too will change the city’s western coastline forever and alter the city’s relationship with the sea. And there’s the eastern waterfront where coastal land is sought to be monetised for business and leisure activities.
So when we place Fadnavis’ statements such as “the government is committed to a green and clean Mumbai” or “environment conservation must become a part of our lifestyle” against the relentless series of anti-green decisions, his exhortation to Mumbaiites to celebrate Diwali “in a pollution-free manner” against his unwillingness to review his decisions which adversely impact the environment, the gap between the talk and walk is very wide, indeed.
The conflict between development and environment is a false one, created by those who push for a certain kinds of big-ticket projects at all costs. These should not be undertaken without respect for natural eco-systems. And Mumbai’s reality is that it is a complex system of estuaries, wetlands, mangroves and rivers abutting the sea. The wise would not indiscriminately play with it.