Mumbai may pay the price of an environment-unfriendly government

The pace and scale at which Mumbai’s natural environment has sought to be sacrificed in the last four years are shocking, to say the least

mumbai Updated: Dec 05, 2018 23:56 IST
Smruti Koppikar
Smruti Koppikar
Hindustan Times
Aarey fire,Mumbai environment,Sanjay Gandhi National Park
We may not ever know the extent to which the fire affected the Aarey colony, the forest taken from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park but not designated as a forest, for there is little clarity from the Maharashtra government.(Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)

As the flames blazed across three-four kilometres on the edge of the Aarey colony on Monday night, they triggered off theories that stretches of the verdant area were being cleared for construction and development. It took 14 hours for the fire to be completely extinguished. It became clear that the fire raged in a private plot near the Aarey colony, not in it. Some part of Aarey has been affected, state forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said the following day.

We may not ever know the extent to which the fire affected the Aarey colony, the forest taken from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park but not designated as a forest, for there is little clarity from the Maharashtra government. Mungantiwar’s department should conduct an inquiry into the fire, said environment minister Ramdas Kadam.

Mungantiwar said that the area was under the jurisdiction of the dairy development department which should undertake the probe. The dairy development department, according to reports, said the area was not clearly its own. Let’s just say children mark their territories better than this.

This points to the scant regard for the city’s environment and ecology at the highest echelons of the government. Mumbai’s eco-system is a complex one comprising hills, rivers, estuaries, coastline, mangroves and wetlands, salt pans and forests. Flattening this out and reclaiming land from the sea have been the cornerstones of the city’s development. The cumulative and long-term impact of altering the environment – for transport infrastructure or residential or commercial use – is informed guesswork.

A comprehensive report should have been in the public domain; instead, there are only project-specific environment impact assessment reports.

The Aarey forest has been the target of the hyper-development brigade for a few years. Locating the car shed of the Metro 3 line, linking Colaba with SEEPZ, in the Aarey was the latest assault; a golf course, a high-end apartment and entertainment complex, and the like were allowed in the verdant stretches there.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which should have protected the city’s environment, had planned to use more than a third of Aarey’s area for various projects in the Development Plan introduced in 2015.

The Sanjay Gandhi National Park too is on the radar of the development brigade. A number of transport projects have been planned in and around the Park, crisscrossing sections of it and some even splitting it.

The Virar-Alibaug multimodal corridor, two underground tunnels linking various suburbs, widening of roads abutting the Park, a ropeway, an elevated road, the Delhi-Mumbai corridor are all to be accommodated within its precinct which houses 1,300 species of plants, nearly 50 species of mammals and reptiles, 250 species of birds, 40-odd leopards and other carnivores – the only park with such a rich natural offering in the midst of a bustling metropolis.

The latest project slated to chip away into the Park is the bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad; nearly 110 hectares of the Park would be required for it. Not far away, nearly four hectares of mangroves are scheduled to be cut to accommodate sections of the Navi Mumbai International airport.

The coastal road in Mumbai with its tunnels reclaimed land, and elevations along the western coastline are likely to change sea levels, tidal currents and flushing capacity of creeks.

In the aggressive execution of projects and unlocking land for construction, those who express concern about their impact on the environment are ridiculed as the environment-wallahs; project planners and administrators see them as obstacles in the path, coming in the way of some promised paradise. Valid concerns are dismissed or steamrolled.

The pace and scale at which Mumbai’s natural environment has sought to be sacrificed in the last four years are shocking, to say the least.

The Devendra Fadnavis government must rank as the most environment-unfriendly in recent years; ministers passing the buck is but one example.

The war room which Fadnavis oversees is explicitly pro-development, never mind the environmental costs. The development brigade is winning – at the cost of environment. There will be a huge price to pay in the future.

First Published: Dec 05, 2018 23:56 IST