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Greens see red over Mithi widening plan

Environmentalists in the city are blasting the latest attempt by civic authorities to dump debris at the mouth of the Mithi River at Mahim Causeway where it meets the Arabian Sea to build a temporary road. The idea is to haul in heavy machinery at the spot to blow up rocks to widen the river, restore its natural slope towards the sea and ensure better tidal movement to contain floods during monsoons.

Mithi river
Trucks seen unloading debris for laying out a provisional road at the Mithi river, close to the mangroves. Pic/Shailesh Bhatia

Activists however are critical of the steps involved in the Rs 1,600-crore Mithi river redevelopment project of the MMRDA and the BMC. They are saying there is no need to employ such a severe process detrimental to ecological health, when simpler solutions exist. On Tuesday afternoon, MiD DAY witnessed truckloads of debris being offloaded at the site, a few feet away from the mangrove cover.

Janak Daftary, convener of Maharashta Jal Biradri and Mithi Nadi Sansad, who has been associated with the save Mithi Project for years, said, “A leaky tap just requires a valve change, not a bigger bucket. What is happening now is a total waste of public money. It is endangering the flora and fauna of the river, which has evolved over hundreds of years.”

Needless and costly
Daftary said blasting rocks was unnecessary and would have a long-lasting impact on the microbiology of the river. “The people of Mumbai are being taken for a ride. We have suggested some simple cost-effective solutions to the government, which involve finding solutions at the source,” he said.

Criticising administrative planning, he said, “On the one hand, you spend crores to widen the river and on the other you allow builders to raze the mountains in Powai, through which the river runs. That does not allow for the natural process of water seeping into the subsoil, thus increasing the chances of flooding,” said Daftary

What about waste?
Magsaysay Award-winning water conservation activist Rajendra Singh questioned what the use of widening the river was when authorities are unable to put an end to unauthorised industries like scrap dealers, scrap recyclers and waste oil recyclers, that add large volumes of hazardous industrial waste and sludge to the river.

“The Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) under the Rs 1600-crore Mithi river redevelopment project have taken quite a few initiatives, but few seem to have worked and the river has transformed into a gutter,” he said. Describing the rock blasting as a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation, Gautam Kirtane, an ORF (Observer Research Foundation) research fellow, has conceptualised a white pare to revive the Mithi. It was presented to the state government recently.

“One does not have to be an ecologist to know that rock blasting is going to affect the delicate ecosystem of the Mithi. We have failed to implement simple solutions. An alternative plan to dredge the river is also harmful, as it disturbs the rich sediments essential to support all life. But one must take into account that the Mithi carries tonnes of human refuse and its mouth has to be widened if floods have to be averted,” he said.

Authorities mum
Dilip Kawathkar, MMRDA’s jont project director (public relations), directed MiD DAY to approach DU Gajbhiye, the superintending engineer for Mithi project. Gajbhiye said that he was not authorised to speak on the “sensitive subject, without prior permission from the MMRDA commissioner”. MMRDA commissioner Rahul Asthana was unavailable for comment. 

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