Successive governments have marred Mumbai’s natural beauty
This has continued unabated and led to Mumbai being what it is today: an unaesthetic concrete jungle which mars its sublime beauty.mumbai Updated: Mar 23, 2018 01:02 IST
Facing heat from environmentalists and other political parties – including `ally’ Shiv Sena – the state government’s clarification on the future of Mahim Nature Park has been swift, though still somewhat fuzzy.
Why was its status in the Development Plan a mystery in the first place?
Housing Minister Prakash Mehta says the Mahim Nature Park will now be a part of the DP, but will not be dereserved, even as the government undertakes a fresh initiative to redevelop the mammoth area often defined as Asia’s biggest slum.
Minister Mehta’s explanation was that the Nature Park was originally excluded by ‘default’, and now that it is part of the DP, it will get ‘statutory protection,’’ implying that it will not be a made a hunting ground for land sharks and realtors.
Fantastic. But surely, that should have been spelt out up front. That this matter should have even been tainted by controversy and the explanations came only after activists and rival parties raised a stink, reflects the casual attitude of the government on environmental issues.
In fact, one would have thought the preservation of the Nature Park would be grandly tom-tommed, as the area around it is redeveloped. If anything, this is one of the more heartening aspects of governance – at the state and municipal levels -- in the city in the past several decades.
A little over 30 years back, the Park was actually a dump: an eyesore, a stench factory, a breeding ground for mosquitoes, a health hazard. Because it sat cheek-by-jowl with Dharavi, the city’s underbelly, this vast tract of land was ignored.
That it has evolved to this stage – a mini forest over 40 acres or so, with an amazing biodiversity of flora and fauna – to become one of the few remaining ‘lungs’ of Mumbai is an achievement that should be proudly propagated.
To a large extent, misgivings about what the state government was aiming to do arose because 49% of the Dharavi redevelopment would go to a private developer. That one fact alone makes activists see red, and not unjustifiably.
While there is merit in Public Private Partnerships in such projects, past experience has created a massive trust deficit in governments, leading to widespread cynicism among not just conservationists, but people at large.
This is because Mumbai’s land has been handled cavalierly and/or insidiously, particularly with regard to the environment, by successive governments, whatever the ideological dispensation.
Land is scarce and priceless in the city leading to all kinds of shenanigans over the years. Governments have opened up parcels of land nefariously, made regulations and rules loose or obscure, or simply looked the other way, as long as it reaped financial rewards.
This has been particularly detrimental environmentally. And no political party is blameless. So, while Aditya Thackeray’s current protests to save Mahim Nature Park is laudable, it must be remembered that not long back, the Shiv Sena wanted to take over the Mahalaxmi Race Course.
From the early 1960s, when Backbay was reclaimed, till the current times, this has continued unabated and led to Mumbai being what it is today: an unaesthetic concrete jungle which mars its sublime, natural beauty.
It can’t be anybody’s case that the city’s development should be at the mercy and whims of activists. But this does not condone the absence of robust, enlightened urban planning with due cognizance given to the environment – as the best cities in the world have done and still do.
This requires trust, sharing of knowledge and working towards a common cause between different authorities involved. There is enough information and expertise available today for growth and environment protection to go hand in hand.
For this, the government has to recast its development agenda. Urban planners can’t peddle immediate benefits at the cost of long-term damage if this is unacceptable to the authorities running the city or state. It is only when the latter is malleable that problems arise.