Mumbai’s Aarey flooded for the 1st time, walls blamed for choking floodplains
Cow sheds at Mumbai’s Aarey Colony were flooded for the first time this Monsoon due to walls built on both sides of Mithi and Oshiwara rivers, environmentalists claimed. They also filed a complaint with the state government asking for taking down the walls that were allegedly responsible for choking rivers’ floodplains.
Environment group Vanashakti filed a detailed complaint on Friday with the state environment department, urban development department, and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to highlight that water this year entered the cow sheds at Aarey Colony putting animals at grave risk while damaging property. The complaint stated that the interaction of rivers Mithi and Oshiwara with Aarey forests was crucial for the survival of the entire ecosystem.
“The walls are not needed on riversides inside Aarey and its only purpose is to dry up and create land for construction. This will eventually kill and degrade the forests,” said Stalin D, director, Vanashakti. He added that even the 32-storey Metro Bhavan was coming up on one side of the wall.
“The river has already been diverted outside Aarey and land filling has been done on the river to create a bus parking. Human interference has no business in the relation between forests and rivers,” he said.
While both rivers originate from the overflow of the Vihar Lake at Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Oshiwara flows westwards through Aarey towards Malad Creek while Mithi meets the Arabian Sea at Mahim creek, coursing through Kurla, Saki Naka, Kalina and Vakola.
The BMC built the 20-metre wall along Oshiwara at Walbut Nullah in 2018 as part of a ‘beautification work’ that it claimed would not affect the river’s natural flow and was constructed specifically for flood control. The site was selected by the BMC after a bridge collapsed during the Monsoon in September 2017.
Aarey chief executive officer Nathu Rathod refused to comment about the BMC wall along Oshiwara but confirmed that dairy units in close proximity to the river had been flooded this monsoon, for the first time ever.
Stalin added that the forests of Aarey were closely linked with both Mithi and Oshiwara rivers and were interdependent on each other for their survival. “We have thus requested the removal of the walls immediately and also issue orders to revive the river regulation zone (RRZ) policy–to safeguard rivers-- scrapped by the previous government,” he said.
Meanwhile, the issue of the walls along the Mithi river, built by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), is already sub judice before the Supreme Court. Vanshakti’s complaint further highlighted a 2019 report by a committee appointed by the SC that recommended the removal of the Mithir river wall from Aarey.
P Velrasu, additional municipal commissioner, BMC said, “We will go through the details of the SC panel report and the complaint. After discussion with the department, necessary action will be initiated in both cases.”
“All urban rivers are facing a similar crisis where the construction of retaining walls and pressure from human habitations close to them are either choking them or affecting their natural flow and ebb. We will study the issue at Aarey,” said another state government official, requesting anonymity.
The SC panel report had revealed that land filling at the 33-hectare metro car shed site at Aarey Colony (which was recently shifted to Kanjurmarg by the state government) had altered the natural course of the Mithi River. As a result there was a significant rise in the frequency of Mithi overflowing between 2015 and 2019 during major extreme weather events.
“Declaring one third of Aarey as a forest was a welcome decision but the damage left behind by the car-shed construction and associated development activities by the municipal corporation has permanently affected both rivers, increasing the chances of floods every monsoon,” said Professor AD Sawant, member of the SC panel.
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