Mumbai gets that ‘sinking’ feeling!

BN KUMAR
Sunday, 3 November 2019

A recent study by the US-based Climate Central states that the rising sea levels will wipe out most of Mumbai by 2050, which is a serious warning for the citizens.

A recent study by the US-based Climate Central states that the rising sea levels will wipe out most of Mumbai by 2050, which is a serious warning for the citizens.

Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) has been mutely witnessing all round destruction of lifesaving mangroves and wetlands, leading to frequent floods. The Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) stands on the graveyard of thousands of mangroves. We should not forget the floods caused by the Mithi river. In fact, I would say, forget at your own peril!

Various researches show that the mangroves not only act as shock absorbers for tidal attacks and effective rain forests but also help check pollution. Mangroves are 100 times cheaper than the concrete bunds to save the coastal line from erosion. Yet, we fail to learn a lesson. Instead of protecting the mangroves, we seem to be hell bent on eliminating the life-saving plants. At least 32,000 plants were cut in Mumbai for the bullet train and thousands more for SEZ projects in Uran.

Wetlands too act as sponges that absorb tidal and flood waters. However, to make matters worse, the government has scrapped the river regulatory zone to pave way for concrete jungles. It is common sense that rivers in spate need buffer zone called floodplain. And if you play with the floodplains, water will find its own course. That is what has happened at Badlapur and Kalyan-Sheel area where the ‘river view’ housing colonies, small industries and even railway tracks were flooded barely three months ago.

Elsewhere in MMR, thousands of mangroves are being massacred and wetlands buried in the name of development. Navi Mumbai SEZ promoted by Mukesh Ambani and his friends, with 26% State participation through CIDCO (which claims to be building cities of the 21st century) has obtained a change of user permission from the government to develop an industrial township. The company, in turn, entered into an MoU with Reliance Industries Limited to develop real estate less than a year ago.

To cut the long story short, the process of indiscriminate debris dumping and landfill with soil has been launched and the destruction of mangroves and wetlands intensified (as with vengeance) during the Lok Sabha election period when the environment officials were away on poll duty. The Bombay High Court-appointed Mangrove Monitoring and Conservation Committee inspected the sites following repeated complaints from environmental groups such as The Nature Connect and Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishthan (SEAP) and local fishermen’s forum Paaramparik Machhimaar Bachao Kruti Samiti. The illegal debris dumping has been halted but mangrove destruction has been on at other places like Belpada in Uran for JNPT project and along the Sion-Panvel Highway for the road expansion.

The green groups have also alerted JICA, which is financing the Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet Train project, to save mangroves from being destroyed. JICA, whose environment compliances are quite stringent, has responded saying that it will continuously monitor the environmental impact of the Bullet Train project. We have to be alert and wait and see.

A study by Goa-based Mangrove Society of India clearly states that the high-speed train project will have a major adverse impact on not only the mangroves but the entire ecosystem. Eleven types of mangrove species, the habitat of 177 species of resident and migratory birds, otters, turtles, fish, crabs, oysters, wild boar, monkeys, flying fox, fishing cats, civets, mongoose, wild cats etc. frequently entering the mangroves for feeding and shelter, will be directly affected.

Mangroves take at least 10 years to grow and there is no point in trying to do compensatory planting after destroying the existing mangroves, that too in thousands. Much time (and the city) would be lost before the doomsday deadline of 2050.

Mangroves can rise up to 15 to 20 feet under favourable conditions. This clearly shows the importance of mangroves as natural buffer zones.

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