Landfilling at the 33-hectare Metro car-shed site in Aarey Colony, Goregaon, altered the natural course of the Mithi river, revealed a report submitted by the state government to the Supreme Court (SC) last year.
Petitioner and Khar resident Zoru Bhathena will be submitting the findings of this report in the form of a fresh petition at the Bombay high court (HC) on Monday, challenging the construction of the car shed at Aarey for the Metro-3 project, where the civic body’s tree authority recently approved the felling of 2,646 trees. An already admitted petition by Bathena will be heard by the HC on September 17. The SC panel report, submitted by then additional chief secretary (environment) Satish Gavai, was based on a petition filed by environment group Vanashakti to improve the condition of Mithi and referred to Aarey Colony as a ‘forest’.
Gavai had called it a ‘damning report about the current condition of the river’.
The Aarey Colony site was identified as a hotspot for the protection and rejuvenation of Mithi. “The state government has land-filled a large area in the Aarey eco-sensitive zone for the development of a Metro yard. As a result of this, the natural course of the river has been altered, leading to an acute 90-degree turn at the edge of the yard,” read the report.
On December 3, 2018, the Hindustan Times was the first to highlight the findings of this panel report to the apex court. While Bathena will approach the HC, the SC will be hearing the matter again on September 16.
To compensate for the obstruction of the yard, the panel suggested that the state alters the course of the river and create a smooth diversion. However, this was never done. “Certain natural rainwater gradients in the Aarey are obstructed owing to landfilling for this yard. Such natural channels must be reopened or re-routed to ensure that surface water reaches the river without obstruction,” the report further said.
The 243-page report, prepared by a panel appointed by the SC, including experts from India Institute of Technology – Bombay (IIT-B), National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and two citizens – architect PK Das and Professor Dr AD Sawant — had highlighted how encroachments, reclamation, improper retaining walls (along areas including Aarey), indiscriminate dumping of industrial effluents and solid waste had made the 17.84-km river ‘an open drain’, and consequently, left the city vulnerable to a deluge, similar to the one on July 26, 2005.
“The report, regarding landfilling at Aarey, leading to an environmental disaster, is absolutely correct, and it was our duty as citizens to point this out to the SC,” said Dr Sawant. “The construction of this car shed will be a catastrophe not just for trees, but the floodplains of Mithi and the entire biodiversity of Aarey. Nothing has been done to alter the course of the river and if this last buffer zone is lost, Mithi will flood five to six times every monsoon.”
Bathena said the frequency of Mithi overflowing had increased significantly between 2015 and 2019. This monsoon, Mithi was flooded on July 2, with 375mm rain, on August 4, with 204mm rain, and on September 4, when 242mm rain lashed the city. “Every year, the situation becomes worse. The Aarey area is the last floodplains left of the Mithi river. While some portion has already been filled up , we want to highlight to the HC that if the entire area is permanently concretised, there will be floods every time it rains,” said Bathena.
Stalin D, petitioner at the SC, said, “Floodplains are meant to soak excess water, not to sprout Metro car sheds. It is unbelievable that any country with a scientific temperament would set up a red-category hazardous industry (car-shed), which is going to rely on 50,000 litres of groundwater per day, on the banks of Mithi.”
The report had called for an immediate need to widen bridges and identified the major problem of Mithi being flooded every year was because of the reclamation of 620 hectares for the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC), 54% of the original riverbed lost to encroachments, and declaring 50m on either side of Mithi as no-development zone.