Ten years after the great deluge of 2005, cleaning up the Mithi River still seems to be the bane of the authorities; MMRDA has missed two deadlines to desilt and revamp the 6-km stretch near Bandra-Kurla Complex and is set to overshoot the estimated project cost by over Rs 200 crore, an RTI reply has revealed
Having burst into the public consciousness during the 2005 floods, the Mithi River is continuing to give the city nightmares even 10 years later, thanks to the lax attitude of the authorities.
Tasked with desilting and revamping a mere 6 kilometres of the 17.8-km long river, not only has the MMRDA already taken nine years, it has missed two deadlines along the way and is set to overshoot the project cost by nearly Rs 209 crore almost 70% of the initial estimate an RTI has revealed.
MMRDA claims its estimated cost was Rs 501 crore, not the Rs 300 crore it had stated in 2008. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi
What’s worse, the part of the river being handled by the MMRDA is probably the most crucial one, because that is where it drains into the sea.
During the 26/7 floods of 2005, the narrow Mithi River, filled with silt and garbage, couldn’t carry the water out into the sea, exacerbating an already bad situation.
In 2006, the government decided to desilt, widen and revamp the river to prevent such a situation from arising in the future, and MMRDA took up the cause of cleaning the 6-km stretch from Vakola Nullah (which is also part of the Mithi river) to Mahim Causeway as it passes through the Bandra-Kurla Complex, which the development authority has jurisdiction over.
The river is 17.8-km long, and the rest of it is being handled by the BMC. In 2008, in a press release, the MMRDA said that the total project cost for revamp of the 6-km stretch would be R300 crore, including the amount it had spent till then and the amount it expected to spend for the remaining work.
The deadline was 2010, which was later extended to December 2014. However, an RTI application filed by activist Mansoor Darvesh revealed that the MMRDA has spent Rs 477 crore on the project already and, in its budget for this fiscal, has made a provision of an additional Rs 32 crore for it.
This means that the total project cost would be nearly Rs 509 crore exceeding the initial estimate by more than two-thirds. To top it all, only 91 per cent of the work has been completed since 2006 and the deadline has been revised, again, to the end of this year.
Speaking to mid-day, Darvesh said he filed the RTI because he wanted to know exactly how much of tax payers’ money has gone down this particular drain. “MMRDA has been cleaning the river every year since the deluge and, hence, I wanted to know how much the authority has spent on it till date. The figures are huge,” he said.
S B Tamsekar, chief engineer, MMRDA (Mithi Project), claimed that, the money allocated for the project was R34 crore for phase I (until 2007) and R467 crore for phase II (from 2008 till now), which adds up to Rs 501 crore.
“The latest deadline was December 2014. We have completed 91 per cent of the total work. This includes everything from desilting and other aspects like deepening and widening the river and constructing retaining walls,” said Tamsekar.
An officer from MMRDA said, “The reason for the increase in the project cost is that we had to arrange for the resettlement and rehabilitation of the people staying along the banks of the river. Desilting also took longer than we had expected.”
Division of labour
The remaining 9 per cent of the work involves desilting, widening and constructing retaining walls on portions of the stretch. The remaining desilting work will now be done by the BMC.
This was decided in a meeting between MMRDA and BMC officials last year. MMRDA officials had said that since the taxes for Bandra-Kurla Complex go to the BMC, the cleaning should also be done by the civic body, and, hence, the desilting work would be carried out by the BMC henceforth.
S B Tamsekar said, “We expect to complete the work in our jurisdiction by this year-end. BMC is responsible for doing desilting work in MMRDA’s jurisdiction, whereas the remaining work of constructing the retaining wall and landscaping will be done by us.”
Stalin Dayanand, environmentalist
There were cases in which the MMRDA was carrying out work on the Mithi River without even having the proper permissions. For example, they had endangered mangroves while constructing a retaining wall without permission from the environment ministry. The delay is largely because they wanted to carry out work without taking the proper permissions
Kirit Somaiya, MP (Mumbai North East), who has been one of the people spearheading the cause of the Mithi River
I discussed the issue with the chief minister. The CM is going to take stock of the status of the Mithi project and the BJP government feels that more attention needs to be given to it. A time-bound roadmap will be prepared and efforts will be taken to complete the project within the time that is decided