Development is good for Mumbai but it should not happen at the cost of damaging the environment. Mumbai, which has a large cover of mangroves, is going to lose a vast area due to infrastructure development. The Fadnavis government has ambitious plans of going ahead with the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project but at least 54,000 mangroves spread across 13.36 hectares in Maharashtra will be destroyed for the project. Mangroves are salt-torrent trees that act as a buffer between land and sea and protect the land from erosion.
Justice B.G Kolse Patil, a former judge of Bombay High Court, said, “We along with the Adivasis are protesting against the destruction of mangroves. Mangroves are important for the mankind as it protects soil erosion. Destruction of mangroves will cause environmental disaster. Who wants a bullet train and a very few people will travel in it.”
Thousands of people come to Mumbai in search of their livelihood every month. More than 43 per cent of the city’s population is considered to be migrant. Due to the influx of migrants, there is more demand for housing needs in the city. Since the city faces space crunch developers raze mangroves and build mega housing complexes in the area. Thus, a huge area of mangroves gets destroyed in the name of development. Mangrove trees are indispensable to the ecosystem and without them, there are no wetlands. Besides, providing habitat to terrestrial, arboreal and aquatic creatures, the root system of mangrove forest is thick and complex. Mangrove forest acts as a barricade by preventing erosion and guarding terrestrial spaces.
Often environmentalists have filed complaints with the police pertaining to the destruction of mangroves but no action was taken against offenders. The nexus between builders and politicians is another reason responsible for the destruction of mangroves. Often politicians turn a blind eye towards the complaint filed by resident pertaining to mangrove destruction. Since no action is taken against the errant builders, the city losses massive area which is covered by mangroves.
Sumaira Abdulali, Environmentalist and Founder of NGO Awaaz Foundation said, “The government always says that mangroves cut will be replanted. On the other hand, replantation doesn’t happen due to lack of space. Mangroves already exist in a place where they can grow. According to me, so many mangroves should not be destroyed as they cannot be replanted. Nobody is thinking about the environment.”
Even though transport minister Diwakar Raote had informed the Legislative Council that the government will plant five times of the trees being razed for development but often replantation of trees are not carried out. Thus, the trees which are cut for development of infrastructure projects are lost forever.
Raote said, “The project will run on high pillars, to ensure the damage to mangroves and the environment is minimal. The floodwater will not enter Navi Mumbai, as no mangroves are being cut in the area.”
There has been a 70 per cent increase in mangrove destruction in the first nine months in 2018 which is the highest in three years as per data recorded by the state mangrove cell. There have been 237 cases of hacking of mangroves, debris dumping and blocking of tidal water to mangroves between January and September 2018. Out of these 234 cases were on government land and three cases in private areas. In comparison to this, Mumbai recorded 141 cases with 125 on government land and 16 in private areas in 2016.
Advocate Monica Arora said, “When the bullet train project was announced, as per the contract, it was mentioned that ten times trees will be replanted for the loss. Mangroves are razed only after an assurance is received to replant trees. When the metro project was announced, replantation drive was undertaken. Thus, if one tree is cut then 10 trees are replanted.”
Assistant Conservator of forest, state mangrove cell Makarand Ghodke said, “Around 15 per cent cases are owing to cutting off tidal water ingress. The remaining cases are of mangrove hacking and burning. Major cases are recorded in the suburbs in areas such as Malwani, Dahisar, Borivali, Trombay, Charkop, etc.”
The state government will purchase 39.252 sqm of private land in Vikhroli for the bullet train project. The government will acquire 188 ha of private land in Palghar district which will affect 3,498 families. Out of these, 2.95 hectares of land has been purchased by the government. In Thane district, 6, 589 farmers, who own 84.81 ha, will be affected by the project.