Mumbai: Now, activists upset at plan to build tunnel below national park

MSRDC is considering a tunnel below the national park, connecting Western Express Highway near Borivli and Ghodbunder Road near Tikujiniwadi; environmentalists feel that the proposed tunnel would have a negative impact on the rich biodiversity of the park

Recently, PWD minister and Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) Chairperson Eknath Shinde had said that in order to solve the traffic problem on Ghodbunder Road, Thane, a 10-15 km tunnel will be constructed below the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, connecting Western Express Highway (WEH) near Borivli and Ghodbunder Road near Tikujiniwadi. The authorities claimed that the work would be done in such a manner that there is no hazard to the environment and forests. However, environmentalists feel that the proposed tunnel would have a negative impact on the rich biodiversity of the park.

An artist’s impression of the proposed tunnel, connecting Thane and Borivli, passing below the SGNP.
An artist’s impression of the proposed tunnel, connecting Thane and Borivli, passing below the SGNP.

Authorities claim that the tunnelling option has been proposed in order to explore the possibility of another shorter and economical alignment of the national highways which will not only save time but will also help in reducing the traffic from the current route. At present, motorists have to travel 23 km in order to reach the Thane-Tikujiniwadi area from Borivli via the WEH and Thane-Ghodbunder road.

On August 20, Shinde had met Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari at New Delhi after which MSRDC was directed to propose the alignment for connectivity of two national highways, NH-3 and NH-8.

High-level meetings
Shinde has also met the ministry of environment and forests and CM Devendra Fadnavis. “We had discussed this plan with the Minister of Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar during our recent meeting and he has liked the proposal and will be helping us in getting all the necessary permissions. The plan has also been discussed with the CM and his response has also been very positive. The project will be implemented in such a manner that it does not have any impact on the environment and wildlife,” said Shinde.

While the authorities claim that the road would not have any negative impact, environmentalists are of the opinion that such a project might have a negative impact on the rich biodiversity of SGNP, which is one of the highest visited national parks within city limits in Asia.

“These kinds of development projects without proper EIA (Economical Impact Assessment), running through prime biodiversity hot spots such as the Western Ghats and through National Parks and Sanctuaries, are going to be disastrous. The SGNP is one of the water catchment areas for Mumbai city. Breaking through the hard rock for tunnelling will affect the underground water table and cause irreversible damage to the ecosystem. Instead of investing in cheap mass public transport, pushing more and more expensive, polluting private transportation is unsustainable and utter misuse of tax-payers money,” said Environmentalist Anand Pendharkar from NGO SPROUTS.

The tunnel alignment is expected to start at Tikujiniwadi (Thane) and end at Ekta Nagar on WEH (Borivli) with a 15 km twin-tube tunnel.

Environmentalist and Editor of Sanctuary Asia Bittu Sahgal said, “We do not have the aquifer maps. The plan could conceivably destroy the water storage capacity of the Tulsi and Vihar lakes. Without sharing the Detailed Project Report and the EIA and inviting public responses nothing should be planned.”

According to the plans, the path will have three lanes on each side and there will be two tunnels that would be constructed and Tunnel Boring Machine technology will be used while doing the tunnelling work.

The authorities claim that this machine causes less vibration and will not have any impact on the environment. The tunnels will be connected by a central 3 m wide baby tunnel; the vertical clearance in each tunnel will be 5.50 m. The two twin tunnels will be 50 m apart in base and each tunnel will consist of three unidirectional lanes.

Environmentalists have also said that they will oppose the project if the discussions are not done with the general public before coming to any decision. Nature and wildlife lovers also feel that the government should invite suggestions and objections before going ahead with the project. In order to save the trees that were going to get affected during the construction of the Goregaon Mulund Link Road (GMLR), environmentalist Rishi Aggarwal had suggested that a 6-km long tunnel should be constructed beneath SGNP that would start at Dindoshi and LBS Marg.

Speaking on MSRDC’s tunnel plan, Aggarwal told mid-day, “In my opinion, tunnels are a safe option but a thorough technical assessment and EIA should be carried out first by the government before making public statements. Modern technologies allow work to be carried out without any disturbance on the surface.”

10-15km
Approximate length of the proposed tunnel upon completion

23km
Distance motorists currently cover to reach from Thane to Borivli

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