MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha led the meeting between the BMC and Malabar Hill residents at the civic headquarters on Tuesday. Pic/Atul Kamble
It was house full at the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's (BMC) Committee Room at the headquarters in south Mumbai on Tuesday as Mangal Prabhat Lodha, MLA and minister of skills, employment, entrepreneurship and innovation, led a meeting with the administration and citizens about the "proposal of the municipal corporation for removal and replanting of trees," to increase the capacity of the reservoir in the Hanging Gardens area of Malabar Hill. The overall aim was to give suggestions for alternatives to the location or overall proposal as the current plan entails significant environmental degradation.
Lodha started the meeting by acknowledging that some residents met him earlier too. The MLA said, "I spoke to Chief Minister (CM) Eknath Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday morning about the importance of finding an alternative. That is the crux."
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Resident K Bharucha said it was important that stop-work orders be issued at once, and some cheers were heard at this suggestion. An activist said, "All procedures and details should be in the public domain. Currently, we are against this project because of the loss of green cover. We want transparency in plans."
Lodha had to intervene a couple of times as things got heated with an attendee stating, "These are green lungs. We will not allow the trees to be cut and we will have a Chipko Andolan." Lodha said, "You are tempting me not to call such meetings."
The Additional Municipal Commissioner of Projects P Velarasu said, "The reservoir is 120 years old. Its life is complete - that is a fact. It is not only a reservoir but connected to different distribution systems. The technical opinion is that the new reservoir has to be done in one go. It is a challenge to find a solution without disturbing the water supply in the city. It is like doing an operation on a patient who is conscious. If we do not work on it anytime now, it will collapse."
He did though state, "It is true we did not engage with the citizens the way we would have liked to, and taken everybody into confidence." BMC officials added that the supply of water to Mumbai is at stake and there is no commercial interest in this project as we are seeing on social media buzz.
After a presentation by the BMC officials explaining their stand, Lodha said, "Trees being cut is unacceptable. Let us look at alternatives. My appeal is the same: we are not in favour of cutting trees for a reservoir or a temporary closure of a garden. Yet, we have to find an alternative. If any calamity occurs, then we will have no credibility. So, do find an alternate and drop this plan." Lodha suggested the space next to the upcoming Coastal Road can be explored as an alternative for a reservoir.
Once again though, the citizens were told to maintain a friendly tone and give suggestions. Some spaces suggested for the reservoir were Gowalia Tank, Race Course without disturbing infra or ecology, bypassing the reservoir and routing water from Shantivan garden to outlet pipes, and even a space opposite Malabar Hill post office. Lodha told residents, "Appreciate this initiative to call such a meet," as voices were raised stating, "Scrap the project, then ask for alternatives." There were strong words about notices pasted on trees that should be removed. A small committee will be culled from numerous residents to put forth collated views and for future meetings and decisions.
The big A now is alternatives. Several residents felt that the officials, too, should come up with some as the entire onus is on residents. The big task now is to speak in one voice as an uphill (pun intended) battle goes on. One can only hope, for both sides, the administration and residents: where there is a (Malabar) Hill, there is another way.