The revised Development Plan (DP) for MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) i.e. BMC (BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation), DP2034/2017, was presented to the Corporation on 6 March 2017. This revised version came about because the first version, DP2034/2015, was felt to have had many errors. Political exigencies necessitated the State government to initially to get the errors rectified and, subsequently, perhaps under pressure from developer lobbies, have it completely scrapped, and a fresh DP prepared.
The revised DP too is not without flaws. Although there is plenty to say about the FSI issue, Coastal Road issue, the Metro Rail issues and non-consideration of the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) issue, only a viewpoint on the provisions of development plan for the Aarey Area will be presented here. Prima facie all does not seem to be lost, especially in connection with Aarey areas, but a campaign seems to be brewing to oppose the placing of Metro Rail III car shed here.
Mumbai hitherto had areas, where normal development could take place, and the Non-Development Zone (NDZ) areas. The NDZ has now been recategorised as Special Development (SDZ) Zone I and Zone II, paving the way for development of what was NDZ. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) expressed no objections to development of salt pans and marshy lands, thus releasing lands for affordable housing and public amenities. However, to preserve “the only lung space” of the city, the Revised DP2034/2017 has identified the hitherto NDZ of Aarey Area into the now designated Green Area. The breakup of the 930Ha of Aarey area is 30Ha for Metro III Car Shed, 113Ha for zoo-cum-botanical garden and 787Ha as Green. Prima facie this is on the lines of the first draft DP2034/2015.
At this point it may be noted that Mumbai is blessed with plenty of trees of different varieties, all along its roads and streets. In fact, this is its lung and needs to be preserved at all costs. Development Control Rules of the DP2034/2017 hopefully takes this into consideration.
The Metro III Car shed of 30Ha occupies the edge of the Aarey area, adjacent to the Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road (JVLR), just after the SEEPZ flyover. Thankfully, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) has included a railway station too in the Aarey area, allowing access to citizens to reach the zoo-cum-botanical garden and the other green space more easily than currently possible.
There are various views among some Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) and individual activists who concentrate their attention on environment and ecology. While what they do is laudable, they also unfortunately equate short-term loss with long-term loss and create public opinion detrimental to the majority.
First of all, it would not be proper not to include human population as part and parcel, and that too an important one, of the environment and ecology. Secondly, maintaining biodiversity in large parcels of lands is important. Today, techniques have been evolved to create such growth, that too rapidly.
In the early developmental years of Greater Bombay, Aarey was developed mainly as a Milk Colony, where fodder was grown to feed the dairy animals. With no record of water shortage, fodder development was an assured activity and milk supply to Mumbai did not get hindered. It needs to be understood that while large lands cultivated fodder, only access roads or pathways had trees and small areas adjoining it. Thus, the Aarey area was never a forest per say. Mumbai itself has more trees than the entire Aarey area. Of course, that does not mean that trees be chopped in Aarey area indiscriminately, which the plan does not, a point to be kept in mind.
The Aarey area borders the Borivli National Park and is adjacent to it towards south. Traveling on these internal Aarey roads does give one the impression that one is in a forest, but a satellite image of the area tells us the true situation.
IIT Bombay was founded in 1959 on near barren land between Powai and Vihar Lakes and the current JVLR. The formal tree plantation activity started in the early 1970s. By 1995, there was considerable growth of trees and some kind of forest evolved and continues to exist in 2017, despite a three to four-fold increase in human population within the campus. It would be wrong to say that there is no bio-diversity. There is plenty of variety of flora and fauna in the campus of about 450 acres. This happened because of an institution coming there which allowed growth of nature in the campus and ensured that the greenery was well maintained. The variety of birds in the campus can be seen on YouTube.
There is no need for citizens/activists to feel that the 787Ha of land in the Aarey area, designated to remain green, will be grabbed by land sharks and Mumbai will be denied its “only breathing space” that can double up for recreational activities for Mumbai residents. In the present state, while the Aarey area has some trees and plenty of fodder cultivation, it is being used as recreational area in a very limited way. One of the reasons for its limited use as a recreation area is that it is not easily accessible from different parts of Mumbai. With the development of the zoo-cum botanical-garden in the Aarey area, easy access to it by, Metro III and with proper public transport, more people would be able to benefit out of this “new enhanced lung space.”
It is well known that IIT Bombay has very good international standing as an institution of learning and research. But so long as it restricts itself to conventional engineering research, it will begin to slide down in world rankings. Today’s medical sciences are highly dependent on emerging technologies and hence an institution of IIT-B’s standing must get on to having medical research arenas opened up. What better place than a reasonably close vicinity to the present campus at Powai? It is this vision that needs to be nurtured for the benefit of science, on the one hand, and on the other, for the average Mumbai resident who then can have not only access to green areas but also enjoy cooler temperatures.
It would be a wise decision to continue dairying activity here in Mumbai, given the record of zero failure of rainfall over a century. Perhaps some more crop varieties for fodder could be grown. It is understood that the drumstick plant is grown in Cuba mainly as fodder, the knowledge having been imported from India. The drumstick plant grows rapidly and is rich in iron. Considerable research and many experiments have been done in the agricultural and horticultural fields to work out productive schemes.
While a repeat of the 2005 flooding is to be avoided by all means, attributing the flooding to mere indiscriminate urban development is wrong. On 25 July 2005, it rained 840 mm incessantly for ten hours and touched 1000 mm plus mark in 24 hours in the Powai region. This is four times the once-a-season 24-hour heavy downpour. Disaster Mitigation and Management concepts were absent in 2005 but, under the DP, we have an opportunity to work on it.
There are some who think that Mumbai needs to be decongested. It is easier said than done. Intercity high speed trains are one of the things being suggested. Are the numbers that high and, if so, is it even necessary to have this commute made possible at all? The problem that needs to be attended to is how to decongest the current mass rapid transits in Mumbai, which is is the suburban railway system, and reduce fatalities. While Metro Rail may provide additional hourly capacities, what is planned by Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and MMRC is a mere 98,000 persons per hour (PPH), while what is required is 1,80,000 PPH.
Another point to note is why should a city like Pune and Nashik take in migrants from Mumbai in such large numbers? Transportation and urban development itself is a vast subject and, for now, it suffices to know that by declaring Aarey area as Green Area, the DP2034/2017 lays the basis for addressing the issue of creating and maintaining the “breathing space” or the ”lung space” of Mumbai.
( Sudhir Badami
is a civil engineer and transportation analyst. He is on Government of Maharashtra’s Steering Committee on BRTS for Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s Technical Advisory Committee on BRTS for Mumbai. He is also member of Research & MIS Committee of Unified Mumbai Metropolitan Transport Authority. He was member of Bombay High Court appointed erstwhile Road Monitoring Committee (2006-07). While he has been an active campaigner against Noise for more than a decade, he is a strong believer in functioning democracy. He can be contacted on email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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