Activists flay Mula-Mutha restoration plan, minister optimistic

Despite several objections to PMC's Rs 600-crore project, state water supply minister says it can be made possible

After hearing grievances from various environmental groups about the PMC's Rs 600-crore ambitious river restoration and navigation project, state minister for water supply Laxman Dhobale citing examples of river navigation in Dhule (Maharashtra) and Sabarmati (Gujarat), said that the project could be possible in the city too.

Mixed views: Some activists say dredging the riverbed might lead to
flooding in the surrounding areas and digging might also weaken the
pillars of the 17 bridges across these rivers. Pic/Ishan Ghosh

"The Mula and Mutha rivers are narrow and currently only carry sewage from the city. The rivers can be useful especially in the monsoon when the water levels are higher," he said. The minister further added that Ambarish Patil, Congress MLC from Dhule had made Panjara river restoration possible with navigation facility and the river could be restored by any means.

Dhobale, however, agreed in-depth discussions on the issues should be conducted and the objections raised against the project should be taken into consideration. He said that all 70 rivers across Maharashtra are the same and it was time to take the matter seriously.

According to PMC's river restoration project planned under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, (JNNURM) the river would be dredged upto 15 feet after which the proposed malls, markets, play grounds and parking facilities would be constructed on its banks.

The civic body's project to reduce traffic flow in the city by using navigation, met with fierce objections from the NGOs including Sajag Nagrik Manch, INTACH, Gomkh, Jal Biradari, Parisar, Center for Environmental Education and Pune Nagrik Sanghatana. 

Activist Sarang Yadwadkar in a presentation on Sunday said that the project appeared to be for commercialisation and privatisation of Mula and Mutha rivers. "The Rs 600-crore project was approved in the PMC general body meeting in 2009, a day after it was ruled out by the Ministry of Environment and Forest in Delhi," he said.

Yadwadkar also said that dredging the river might cause flood like situation in the surrounding area while digging might weaken the pillars of the 17 bridges across these rivers. Vivek Velankar from Sajag Nagrik Manch said that heavy vehicles have been barred from some of those bridges due to their dilapidated conditions.

Another activist, Brig Sudhir Jatar from Nagrik Chetana Manch and People's Commission of Inquiry (PCI), said they should follow Justice P B Sawant recommendation of forming an expert committee to conduct an inquiry on the areas along all water bodies or natural watercourses, to suggest corrective measures.

Initiative to reduce traffic on roads
Idea of using navigation in Mula-Mutha rivers was first put across by deputy CM Ajit Pawar in 2007, when Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) came to power in PMC.  Reportedly, Pawar initiated the idea of navigating the river when he visited Venice in Italy. Pawar also propagated this idea in his public speeches about how navigation could reduce traffic flow on the roads.

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