“For a long time the authorities treated Mumbai’s ecology carelessly and apathetically”


NH 348 – Mangrove cemetery that comes back to life. Image: BN Kumar

The NatConnect Foundation has set itself the goal of protecting and preserving the environment in the metropolitan area of ​​Mumbai. Citizen Matters spoke to NatConnet Director BN Kumar, who is also a media veteran.

What are the major environmental problems facing Mumbai’s coastal areas? How will these affect Mumbai’s biodiversity?

For a long time the authorities were indifferent and apathetic towards Mumbai’s ecology. It has become common, and almost an annual event, for people to suffer floods and city closings. But the 2006 flood somehow made it clear to people that the destruction of the mangroves also contributed to the disaster. The metropolitan area of ​​Mumbai (MMR), the ever-expanding and expanding urban area, was never considered part of the city. Areas such as Navi Mumbai, Uran, Thane and Kalyan have always been considered suburbs and have not been part of the comprehensive environmental or biodiversity plan. The governments and planning authorities only looked at the expansion of the infrastructure without taking the environment into account.

Recently, the National Green Tribunal issued a ruling on the environmental clearance granted to the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust. Do you hope that further destruction of the wetlands in the area will be stopped?

The NGT’s Western Zonal Bench formed a four-person committee to investigate allegations of environmental clearance violations for the JNPT. We hope the truth will come out of this committee. We hope that in this case the complainants will also be involved in the site visits so that they can reveal the reality on site.

There have been reports of mangrove and wetland encroachments in and around Mumbai during the pandemic. Has the government taken steps to stop this?

Bombay High Court ordered all mangroves to be turned over to the Forest Department for protection about three years ago. The state government has also ordered that the mangroves be designated as reserved forest under Section 4 of the Indian Forests Act. This process is very slow, which gives the organized land mafia enough time. Even government-owned organizations such as the urban planner CIDCO are romping about the issue of mangrove transfers. JNPT sits nicely on 900,000 acres of mangroves. As long as the lake forests are not registered as reserved forests, the forest office cannot take any action. We tweet to the government almost every day.

Do you see an increase in citizen participation in environmental issues in the city?

Thanks to the campaign by the environmental associations, the enthusiasm is now huge. The level of awareness is high and the man on the street calls us. I think the fact that nature is healing itself during the current lockdown has helped people think twice about the environment.

Recently, we had some success in a case of NHAI work that resulted in the blockage of tidal water flow to mangroves and the death of over 5,000 marine plants. Thanks to our concerted, joint efforts, the flow of water was restored after two and a half years. The mangroves grow again on their own.

Vanishing Uranium Wetlands.
Vanishing Uranium Wetlands. That bird target is now part of the story. Such burials harbor the dangers of being hit by birds on aircraft at NMIA. Image: BN Kumar

The “Mumbai Biodiversity bachao” campaign is very well supported by environmental action groups. What are the main topics?

The themes are essentially those that affect the Mumbai metropolitan area as a whole – the wetlands, mangroves and hills. The MMR is expanding and our concern is that the officials responsible do not care about the environment. For example, CIDCO refused to accept the existence of wetlands in Navi Mumbai despite thousands of flamingos flocking to these waters.

Lake Powai was neglected and apparently died a slow death. What can we do to save it?

Degumming and maintenance are important. We citizens must also recognize the importance of keeping the waters clean. The lake’s water cannot be used for human consumption. It is not drinkable. But it adds to the beauty of the area. The excess water flows into the ocean via the so-called Mitthi River.

You have launched a campaign about New Navi Mumbai Airport and the environmental impact of the project. Tell us about it.

The airport project itself is polluting as it leads to the diversion of three rivers and the flattening of hills. CIDCO argued that these were mud hills. But actually they blow up massive rock mounds. The wetlands, home to thousands of migratory birds, are buried by Navi Mumbai SEZ, JNPT and CIDCO. This causes the birds to fight for landing spots. The Bombay Natural History Society long ago warned that the birds might find the airport area ideal for nesting and sleeping, and this would create bird strike hazards for the planes flying in and out of Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA).

Director of the NatConnet Foundation, BN Kumar
NatConnet Foundation Director BN Kumar Image: BN Kumar

There have also been reports of the increase in the bird population

Yes. My contacts at the BNHS also say that the bird population in the airport project area is increasing. Even bats can be seen in large numbers. These are matters of serious concern. Tomorrow they will start killing those birds and bats. Is that the solution? Our point is that bird habitats like wetlands and mangroves need to be preserved.

Continue reading: “COVID19 has become a convenient reason not to do substantial field work on mangroves”

What are your suggestions to save Mumbai from further environmental degradation?

Urban planners need to be given basic lessons in the environment. They seem to have forgotten the environmental studies they did in schools. Every three years the responsible officials in government agencies come and go, and it is the people living in MMR who suffer. For example, for the officers’ neglect three years ago, the uranium people will suffer unusual floods. The fishing community has lost its livelihood because the water channels were blocked. Now even the local farmers are suffering because salty water reaches their fields. Hence we look for accountability. If the taxpayer paid authorities don’t take it seriously, nothing will change.

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