Green city

Why Mumbai's 20-year development plan seems far-fetched

The plan, set to be released on Monday, envisions a 'green city'. But its policies ensure the opposite effect.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s signature "smart cities" are being planned across the country, Mumbai’s civic authorities have decided to market the metropolis as a "Green city".

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai is finally set to unveil its 20-year development plan on February 16, which reportedly envisions Mumbai as a city that prioritises its green cover and environment.

The plan is meant to serve as a blueprint for urban planning and development policies and according to the Maharashtra Region and Town Planning Act, such plans must be drafted and implemented once every two decades. Mumbai’s last development plan, drafted in 1981, was officially adopted only in 1994, so the new plan was due in 2014.

The delayed plan had been in the news for more than two years, largely because of several discrepancies between its land-use maps and the actual use of land in Mumbai. Citizens’ bodies and urban planners have also been pointing out the striking deficiency of open spaces in the plan’s land-use maps.

Now, even though the plan asserts the need for a "green" city, urban planners and activists are sceptical of the label.

Shift of focus

“In a development plan, open spaces typically refer to parks, playgrounds, gardens and recreational grounds, spaces that citizens can actively use,” said Pankaj Joshi, executive director of the Urban Design Research Institute, an urban planning think tank based in Mumbai.

The UDRI had analysed the DP’s preparatory studies drafted last year which, says Joshi, included mangrove lands, wetlands and the protected forest Sanjay Gandhi National Park as green open spaces.

“By shifting the focus of the plan to ‘green’ city, they can include such environmental assets which should not be touched anyway," said Joshi. "But the open spaces citizens can use remain limited. In any case, even the amount of wetland areas depicted in the preparatory studies was less than the amount recorded in the official wetlands atlas of Maharashtra.”

Creating a green city, experts say, ideally involves taking a range of steps to ensure the sustainable health of the local ecological system. This would include adopting environment-friendly systems for sewage and waste disposal, transport, energy use and increasing the ratio of open spaces for residents.

“It is easy to use the right words to market the idea of a ‘green’ city, but in Mumbai, authorities have neither the capacity nor the sincerity to translate the idea into actions,” said Rishi Aggarwal, a Mumbai-based environment activist.

In fact, a number of recent plans and decisions by various civic authorities reveals that the possibility of Mumbai being a green city is far-fetched, no matter what the development plan says.

Cutting 2,300 trees
This month, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority submitted a proposal to cut down at least 2,298 trees in northern Mumbai’s forested Aarey colony area to accommodate a car shed depot for a section of the proposed Metro rail. On February 9, the city’s Tree Authority deferred this decision only because of mounting public protests against the deforestation.

The Tree Authority has now asked the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited to provide details of where it intends to transplant more than the 2,000 trees that would be lost. Aarey, as the buffer zone for the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, is perhaps the last green lung of the city and Mumbai has no other space where such a large number of trees could be transplanted.

Hazardous solid waste management
Mumbai generates at least 10,000 metric tonnes of garbage every day, which is currently being disposed of by transporting it to one of the four large dumping grounds at Deonar, Mulund, Kanjurmarg and Gorai. The system has been the target of consistent criticism for years, as the grounds grow more saturated and residents of surrounding areas, particularly slum dwellers, suffer from the health consequences of toxic fumes.

“For the development plan, activists had recommended setting aside one acre of land in each of the city’s 151 planning sectors for decentralised waste management through composting and other green methods,” said Aggarwal. The authorities are yet to take up the suggestion.

Ambitious reclamation
After dropping the idea of building additional sea links, the Maharashtra government has decided to ease Mumbai’s strained transport network by building a 36-km long coastal road along the Western coast from Cuffe Parade to Dahisar. The project will involve reclamation of the sea along a 10-km stretch.

In November 2014, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis sought special approvals from the union environment ministry to amend the 2011 Coastal Regulation Zone norms that disallow reclamation for such purposes. Such reclamation could have an adverse impact on tidal circulation, destroy vital mangroves and also lead to coastal erosion, but government officials have justified it by claiming that the environmental impact of sea links could be worse.

“Instead of making a coastal road to facilitate the movement of thousands of cars, a greener option would be to improve and subsidise public bus transport, which would cost just Rs 150 crore,” said Aggarwal.

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