Coastal roads will harm ecology more: Experts

While the chief minister has announced that the government would go ahead with the coastal freeway project on the west coast of Mumbai and scrap the idea of a sea link from Haji Ali to Nariman Point, environmentalists say constructing the coastal roads won’t be a breeze. The project will require a host of big changes and clearances.

Land will have to be reclaimed. Amendments will have to be made to the Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) regulations. And since a stretch of the road will pass close to the mangrove plantation, care will have to be taken not to damage the forest cover.

A senior government official said requesting anonymity, “It is easy to construct a sea link but constructing a coastal road on the city’s west coast will not be an easy task. It will not only require clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) but also oblige the central government to make amendments in the CRZ rules. The amendments will have to be passed by Parliament, all of which may take time.”

On Tuesday, while answering a question raised by MLAs in the state assembly, CM Prithviraj Chavan had said that the government would consider constructing a coastal road, and the sea link plan would be abandoned. It should be noted here that the Worli-Haji Ali sea link is yet to see the light of day.

The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) had last year appointed consultants for a feasibility study of the Haji Ali-Nariman Point sea link. Questioned about the development, a senior MSRDC official refused to comment on the outcome of the study. “I don’t want to get into the argument whether the project is feasible or not. If the CM has made this statement in the assembly, some thought must have gone into it.”

Speaking to MiD DAY, environmentalist Rishi Agarwal said, “Constructing a coastal road will not be an easy task as the government is yet to finalise its alignment. There are mangroves at various locations between Versova and Gorai. The construction will have an adverse impact on them, and the environment. Migratory birds that visit these places would also be affected. It will also affect the recreational activity of people who visit beaches.”

Nearly 55,000 tonnes of soil would have to be poured into the sea to construct the road. Wildlife expert Krishna Tiwari said, “The sea link will have a lesser impact on environment than the coastal road. Coastal road will require land reclamation and destroy mangrove cover at many places.

The debris would be dumped into the sea, adversely impacting the flora and fauna, and causing the water level in Virar-Vasai belt to rise, creating further problems. It will spoil the beauty of Juhu and Versova beaches which are major tourist destinations.”Incidentally, the MSRDC has received environmental clearance for the Bandra-Versova sea link.

Coastal freeway
The 35-km coastal freeway is a response to the expensive sea links, which according to some officials, take more time to complete. The freeway would be a combination of roads on stilts, widened existing roads and tunnels. Although reclamation would be the cheapest way to go, it would not be used throughout. Three tunnels have been proposed, one each under Marine Drive, Malabar Hill and Juhu aerodrome.  

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