Mumbai activists call for greater involvement to save city's green cover

Jun 06, 2018, 08:11 IST | Hemal Ashar

Activists strike combative note as they call for greater involvement in the battle to save Mumbai's green cover, at meet on World Environment Day

Shardul Bajikal talked about the rich flora and fauna of SGNP. Pic/Atul Kamble
Shardul Bajikal talked about the rich flora and fauna of SGNP. Pic/Atul Kamble

Amidst the despondency about the flailing battle to save the environment, there was something to smile about at the seminar: Mumbai's Ecology at Tipping Point, on the different aspects of the city's green spaces.

The meet at the Mumbai Press Club at Azad Maidan, on June 5, began with B N Kumar, chairman Public Relations Council of India (PRCI). Kumar illustrated his points with a slide show, and said, "Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) is our only forest and Aarey has already become a target of destruction, thanks to the Metro."

Activist Gopal Jhaveri
Activist Gopal Jhaveri

Deceptive terms
Kumar called out what he stated was the "deception" by developers across the city, defending mangrove destruction either by outright denial or stating that they would replant the mangroves elsewhere. "They cannot be replanted, as mangroves need seawater to grow," Kumar said. Slides showing the destruction of Parsik Hill by greedy quarry operators and similar hill destruction for the proposed Navi Mumbai airport, gave the audience something to think about.

From Kumar's dark start, it was Mumbai activist Shardul Bajikal's address that lifted the mood. "I am a naturalist not an environmentalist, I tend to see the brighter side of things. Nature has no place for sad faces and mourning," he said to some laughs. Bajikal's focus was the stunning SGNP, and pride was evident when he said, "It is truly wonderful and stands second perhaps only to Yellow Stone National Park (USA) when it comes to footfalls. It is unique because of its density of carnivores."
He added, "While we are gung-ho about its living heritage like the animals, there is a lot of non-living [archaeological] heritage within the park like Kanheri Caves, and other lesser known yet magnificent facets."

Nature connect
While the naturalist did rue the way we are going about, "trying to make Mumbai into Shanghai," he added that, "nature is surprisingly resilient. I see some of the most wonderful creatures, moths, butterflies, caterpillars in my backyard at home." Interestingly, he claimed that United Nations (UN) had identified a syndrome, 'Nature Deficit Disorder', associated with problems in children who are deprived of open spaces.

People's movement
Activist Gopal Jhaveri, founder of the River March movement, where activists seek to rejuvenate our rivers by striving to free them from encroachments, said, "I hear alarm bells ringing about rivers flooding in the monsoon. Do not fear that phenomenon because rivers need to flood, a river in full spate is life-giving," he said.

Jhaveri added, "There was the Quit India movement, there have been Satyagrahas, which happened at different points in history. Today, it is the time to have a mammoth people's movement to save our environment." Nandakumar Pawar, founder director of Shri Ekavira Aai Pratishtan (SEAP), an environmental non-profit, who called the government's claims that Aarey is not a forest "absurd." He also stated that, "The Metro will not reduce the number of cars on the road. The Metro bigwigs also claim that it will reduce pollution. We have a well-developed Metro in New Delhi, but the Capital has very high pollution levels. Devendra Fadnavis and Co, please listen to the people who are for development but not at the cost of our environment."

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