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Mumbai: Gargai dam back in the crosshairs

Updated on: 21 July,2022 07:58 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Ranjeet Jadhav , Prajakta Kasale |

Over 4 lakh trees in the Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary could soon be under threat, going by recent government moves

Mumbai: Gargai dam back in the crosshairs

Gargai dam is proposed to be set up at Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary and green activists say the project could wipe it out entirely. File pic

With the new government in power in state and its decisions on infra projects, environmentalists fear that the plan for a desalination plant in Mumbai may be under the scanner while Gargai dam project is likely to make a comeback. The dam project involves uprooting around 4 lakh trees in the Tansa wildlife sanctuary. 

Both the projects have been under the consideration of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation over the past two decades to increase water supply to the city. The erstwhile state government headed by BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis had put the desalination project on the back burner citing high cost and impractical solution. After the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA came to power, the project was given a nod while the Gargai dam project was set aside in view of its impact on the environment.

Desalination plant project

During MVA’s tenure in the state, the BMC focussed on the desalination plant at Manori for a whopping Rs 3,500 crore, which includes set-up cost of Rs 1,600 crore and maintenance of the plant for a period of 20 years at Rs 1,900 crore. The plant is estimated to supply 200 million litres of water daily (MLD) at the initial stage, which can be increased to 400 MLD later. 

The BMC made a provision of Rs 200 crore for the desalination project for the 2022-23 financial year. 

With the political shift in the state and its effect on the BMC, the project has come under scanner with allegations of severe cost escalation. “It costs nearly R18,000 crore to treat 200 million litres of seawater,” said a former BJP corporator. 

“We are against the desalination project as it is an unwanted expenditure. We can save water, and there are many other sources to increase water supply. Mumbai does not need a project which fetches water from seawater. The high cost is also one of the reasons,” said Bhalchandra Shirsat, spokesperson of BJP Mumbai unit.  

The detailed survey report for the desalination plant was supposed to be ready before the end of 2021 and the plan was to float tenders for construction by June 2022. “The detailed project report of the desalination project is expected to be submitted by next month. The BMC will take further steps accordingly,” said an official from the BMC. 

However, if this project is stopped, the civic body will have to turn to Gargai project again. In fact, the civic body had plans to build three dams—Gargai (440 MLD), Pinjal (865 MLD) and Damanganga-Pinjal River link project (1,586 MLD) to increase the supply by 2,891 MLD by 2050.

Gargai dam project

As per the proposal, Gargai dam will be spread over 1,100 hectare and will affect another 700 hectare and over 4 lakh trees at Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary. In addition, residents of 1,000 homes will have to be relocated in Palghar. 

Work on the project was in full swing before the MVA assumed power and the COVID-19 lockdown started. The plan was to build it by 2025. However, only Rs 3.5 crore provision was announced for the Rs 4,000-crore project in the budget for FY 2021-22 and there was no provision in 2022-23. 
When asked about the status of the project and whether it was completely halted, BMC commissioner I S Chahal said, “Let the new elected body of BMC decide on this.”

However, a senior BMC official said, “It is a long process. The joint survey for the compensation of land [for Gargai dam] is under process. The project is at the level of Central Design Organisation of Nashik for vetting designs and the hydrology report. We will need environmental clearance and forest department permission too as it involves Tansa sanctuary.”

Greens air concerns 

Wildlife conservationist Kedar Gore from The Corbett Foundation said the Gargai dam will be an ecological disaster as the proposed land is one of the finest forests around Mumbai which will be lost forever. It may be noted that there are viable alternatives to set up the dam that the The Corbett Foundation highlighted in its report submitted to the government. 

Gore added, “In a rapid assessment, we have recorded over 400 species of flora, fauna and fungi at the proposed Gargai Dam submergence area that is a part of the Parali Range of Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary. It would be unfortunate if this area was to submerge and the biodiversity therein destroyed, including the estimated around six lakh trees that would be cut/submerged. This dam, if constructed, will also affect the free movement of wildlife between the forest areas in Nashik, Pune and Thane districts.”

Environmentalist Debi Goenka, executive trustee, Conservation Action Trust, said, “Gargai dam, if constructed, would lead to the destruction of more than 700 hectares of forest, a significant amount of biodiversity, and almost wipe out the Tansa sanctuary itself. Several tribal villages would also be impacted. There is absolutely no logical reason for reviving this project. Mumbaikars would do better if they recycled and reused the water rather than destroying forests.”

Endangered species at Tansa

Researchers, wildlife lovers and photographers have also pointed that the critically endangered forest owlet has been spotted at Tansa. After Sunil Laad and his friends spotted a forest owlet in October 2014, researchers had demanded that the crucial avian habitat in and around Tansa be conserved. Their demand came as the forest owlet is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list as a species facing a high risk of extinction. 

So far, forest owlet was known as endemic to Satpura mountain ranges in central India but its presence in the Western Ghats kindled hopes of its survival. 

Rs 4,000cr
Estimated cost of the Gargai dam project 

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