Saving Mumbai’s Green
The threat of rapidly vanishing green stretches of land looms large over the fast-developing Mumbai.
Mumbai city, with nearly 15 million human residents plus ca. 25% daily migrant population, is not only a business hub, but it has a unique position in the ecological map of the world, as it is located in the Western ghats, one of the global biodiversity hot spots.
Chestnut-tailed Starling, a migratory bird to Mumbai
The city till date harbors a rich marine and terrestrial biodiversity as it is blessed with a multitude of habitats, viz. a meandering coastline (with rocky, sandy and muddy beaches), series of islands, extensive mangroves, rivers, hills, lakes, man-made gardens, large campuses of academic institutions, industry & business campuses, residential colonies and finally restricted or special zones – this is not even an exhaustive list and does not include the 104 sq. km. forests of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park! Given this ecological position, urban planners have to realize that besides being a habitat to wildlife, the city’s natural landscapes provide us with ecological services such as climate control, drinking water, clean air, fragrances, natural sounds, fruits, peace of mind and aesthetics, to name just a few. Thus, changes in the geomorphology, the physical landscape, and land-use pattern, are sure to have implications on the rich biodiversity and the health and survival benefits it provides to its citizens.
Geckoella collegalensis, a ground gecko commonly found in the forested parts of Aarey.
Over the last few years, Mumbai has experienced an unprecedented spurt of activism by concerned citizens and environmental NGOs over the plans to build infrastructural projects and set up business districts in biodiversity-rich areas such as Aarey Milk Colony and several other nondevelopment zones (NDZs). The building of metro lines, stations, or yards and elevated and coastal roads are touted as essential infrastructural developments to make Mumbai an international city and to cope with the mass-transit needs of the ever-growing city. However, decimating existing tree cover, aging over 60-80 years to build roads cutting through the gardens, dense forests, grasslands, inter-tidal zones or mangroves, would destroy the homes of resident and migratory wildlife and make the air un-breathable for citizens – the concrete slabs pushing temperatures higher than the UAE deserts!
Lychas arreyensis, a scorpion endemic to the Aarey patch.
The Aarey Milk Colony is one such green haven, buffering the Sanjay Gandhi National Park sprawled over 3,000 acres and home to many rare, endemic, endangered and legally protected species, such as leopards, Indian rock python, Indian peafowl, Indian grey hornbills and recently discovered or rediscovered species of spiders (Heterophrictus aareyensis, Haploclastus validus, Idiops sps) and scorpions (Lychas aareyensis), known from nowhere else in the world! To start by building a 70-acre Metro III yard, which can be easily built elsewhere and damage over 2,300 fully grown trees and an entire woodland-grassland habitat; followed by constructing an elevated road, killing another 1,000-odd tree; then a business hub and more hotels and leaving a meager 14-20% of manicured theme parks, cannot provide Mumbai with its necessary quantity of oxygen, open spaces for relaxation, cycling, meditation, painting, playing, studying flora and fauna or breeding of chickens, growing fruits and milk production.
Citizens of Mumbai have organized several agitations in the form of ‘Chipko andolans’ (tree-hugging), walking and cycling rallies, human chains, and silent protests, online petitions, signature campaigns, art installations, talks in schools and colleges and street plays. Even the media has been supportive of the struggle to garner support to save aarey, to shift the metro yard and request that alternatives are considered for the elevated Goregaon-Mulund Link road, and to maintain Aarey as a free and open, green lung of Mumbai city. However, the development plan (DP) 2014-34 and Metro III intend to open up Aarey and several other non-development zones (NDZs) and construct onto it.
It’s time for concerned citizens to engage with the DP and urge the tree-authority, CM, and MoEF to take an ecological point-of-view while pushing forth any development. One has to remember that any development at the cost of the environment will eventually be disastrous to human civilization!
This article was first published in the 2015 April edition of Saevus Magazine