‘Mumbai’s water policy bans construction on river floodplains’
Environment groups opposing the Metro-3 car shed have drawn attention to the state’s recent water policy that bans construction on floodplains of rivers like Mithi that flow through the Aarey Milk Colony.
Floodplains are low-lying areas adjacent to rivers or streams that can hold or absorb excess water in case of floods. The policy, published last Thursday by the Water Resources Department (WRD), states: “Rivers will be protected from any form of construction on their floodplains and excessive sand mining…Rivers, water bodies, aquifers and wetlands must be protected from overexploitation, depletion, pollution or contamination and degradation.”
Groups that have filed a petition in the Bombay High Court (HC) against the car shed in Aarey have said the project is being built in the floodplain of Mithi.
Petitioner Zoru Bhathena, who has prepared an affidavit to draw the court’s attention to the policy, said, “The Aarey depot plot is the sole surviving natural floodplain of Mithi. Reclamation through construction and felling of trees at low-lying (open grasslands) would permanently destroy this buffer meant to soak excess water, and lead to increasing incidents of inundation during the monsoon.”
The petition seeks to stop any further construction on the car depot and restore the floodplain of Mithi to its original status. On Monday, HC chief justice Pradeep Nandrajog while going through the list of petitions related to the car depot construction, to be heard on September 17, allowed Bhathena to submit his findings in the form of a fresh petition, highlighting the latest water policy.
The state said protecting floodplains was always part of the state’s policy, and reiterated through government resolutions. “The municipal authorities and district administration have an increased impetus towards protecting natural ecosystems,” said Sanjay Ghanekar, secretary, WRD. “However, just because Mithi flooded this year, it does not mean the area around Aarey is a floodplain where construction needs to be prohibited.”
In 2015, the Maharashtra government constituted a technical committee of six members (including two environmental experts) to look into the environmental impact of setting up the car depot at Aarey. “The proposed site in Aarey is right next to the Mithi river, forming its catchment area,” a May 2015 report by environmentalists on the committee said.
Rajendra Pawar, state water resources (command area) secretary, said, “This policy has a long-term vision to enhance water security, address flooding and develop support systems over next 10 years. They are not rules or specifications imposed to penalise anyone for specific cases. Unprecedented rainfall this year causing floods is due to climate change impacts, which has been addressed in this policy. However, connecting this specifically to Mithi floodplains will not be accurate.”
Prior to the latest water policy, Maharashtra had scrapped a river regulation zone (RRZ) policy from 2015 that mandated a no-development zone near rivers. Environment group Vanashakti that moved the HC challenging the scrapping of RRZ alleged that it was done to acquire land and allow infrastructure projects such as the car-depot to come up along Mithi.
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