Tuesday, December 07, 2021

BMC polls 2017: Mumbai’s rivers of neglect

Another election, same issues — residents of localities along Dahisar, Poisar, Oshiwara and Mithi rivers have little or no hope of a clean-up despite tall promises by various leaders and political parties

Written by Rohit Alok | Mumbai |
February 13, 2017 2:56:55 am
In December 2016, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board had warned the BMC of legal action if it did not instal sewage treatment plants along the Mithi river. However, officials claim the work has not even started as the civic body has not been able to contain the illegal settlements along the river. Kevin DSouza In December 2016, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board had warned the BMC of legal action if it did not instal sewage treatment plants along the Mithi river. However, officials claim the work has not even started as the civic body has not been able to contain the illegal settlements along the river. Kevin DSouza

IN JANUARY 2015, barely a couple of months after the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena government took charge, senior Shiv Sena leader and Maharashtra Environment Minister Ramdas Kadam visited various localities along the Mithi river. Announcing an exhaustive clean-up, Kadam made a grand promise — that people would soon be able to enjoy a leisurely boat ride down the river, the 17-km mother-drain of sorts for Mumbai’s rainwater. Two years later, the river remains a nullah — inky black sludge rendering it sluggish at multiple locations where industrial effluents are discharged into it and reeking of waste and negligence. No river-front activities have begun in Mithi or along the three other rivers that flow through the suburbs.

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The Dahisar and Poisar rivers originate from the spillway of the Tulsi Lake in Sanjay Gandhi National Park, while Oshiwara river starts in Goregaon. The rivers are all in an identical state — slimy green, stagnant and choked with plastic and other garbage. “Ab aadat ho gayi hai… we no longer cover our faces,” says Ram Tanwar, who has been residing with his family of four in Dharavi’s Azad Nagar for over 40 years now, not far from where the Mithi river flows on its way to the Mahim creek.

“Every time they (politicians) announce a clean-up, but it remains dirty. I can’t host anyone at home because of the stench. My concern is that I don’t know what the side-effects of this smell are,” Tanwar adds.

According to officials, at least 40 spots have been identified where sewage is released into the Mithi through its course from Vihar lake through the slums and industries of Andheri East, Saki Naka, Kurla and Dharavi before discharging into the Mahim creek. And in each of these localities, residents have raised the issue of polluted river with local leaders and officials, but to little avail.

Marol resident Aroonima Chowdary, for example, doesn’t open her windows that face the Mithi, living in fear that disease-bearing insects will enter the house. In Bandra East, independent corporator Iliyas Shaikh says the state government and the civic body have “No willpower” to address the issue.

“Rs 700 crore is allocated each year to clean up the rivers. Where are these funds being utilised? If urban rivers are a reality elsewhere on the globe, why not in Mumbai,” he asks.

Across the western suburbs, residents of localities affected indirectly or directly by the pollution in these rivers have begun asking municipal election candidates if they have any solutions.

The Dahisar river, for example, flows through R-North and R-Central wards. Ravish Munot (26) needs to cross a small bridge across Dahisar river to reach his workplace, a tea stall in Abhinav Nagar behind the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. He can’t make the daily commute without a hand towel to cover his nose.

“The river inside the forest is clean but as soon as it enters municipal area, the effluents from slums mix with the water over a space of 500 metres and make the stench unbearable,” says Munot. On the same bridge that Munot uses, a police constable attached with the Kasturba Marg police station is posted, seated alone inside a small chowkie, handkerchief on his nose and an eye out for miscreants.

Abhishek Ghosalkar, municipal councillor from Ward 1 in Borivli’s Kandarpada area (R-North), says a plan to clean the river using bacteria is awaited. “This bacteria is used in major cities overseas. The bacteria eats up the harmful elements in the water and cleans it up,” he says. Ghosalkar’s wife Tejaswini is contesting this time after the ward came under reservation. Ghosalkar concedes that the river’s continuing poor condition is an embarrassment, but says funds from the state government were insufficient. “The issues related to Dahisar river are very big issues. Of the Rs 1,800 crore announced five years ago by the state to clean up the river, only Rs 400 crore has come, the rest was paid for by the BMC,” he claims.

The Poisar river flows through R-North and R-South wards. “The people are to blame for the unclean river. How much can the BMC do,” says a senior civic official from the R-South ward. “The lack of effort from the people’s side is seen before every monsoon when these rivers are cleaned,” he adds.

In Kandivli, security guard Amit Pawar and his wife Rekha say they were advised to look for accommodation in proximity to a rail station and a ‘nadi’ when they moved to Mumbai from rural Pune in the 1980s, then a newly wed couple. “Kandivli railway station is a 10-minute walk from here, but living close to the Poisar nadi means we can dump our daily garbage in the flowing river. But now the river rarely flows. No one cleans it,” says Pawar.

Environmentalist Reji Abraham says the pollution in Poisar river impacts aquatic life as well as the mangroves on the coastlines. “A stringent River Regulation Zone (RRZ) could improve the scenario, especially in areas like Charkop where establishments need to regulated,” he adds.

The Oshiwara river flows through P-South and K-West wards, starting from Aarey Milk Colony, cutting through the Goregaon hills before emptying into the Malad Creek. Along the way, it picks up industrial effluents and sewage while crossing the Oshiwara Industrial Estates and the slums of Andheri. In fact, several commercial buildings in Malad stand on ground reclaimed from the mouth of the river.

Raju Pednekar, a three-time Sena corporator from the area, blames the numerous industries and lack of awareness among the public for the pollution. “To fix the sewage lines is one thing, but to make sure this is not repeated is another thing. We clean up every year before monsoons and things are found in the river are not only industries’ effluents but tonnes of domestic waste too. An awareness programme should be arranged to explain the problem to the common man,” says Pednekar, who was elected nearly 15 years ago and is contesting this election from Ward 62.

Pednekar says there are several small nullahs that eventually get connected to the (Oshiwara) river. “Research needs to be done to find solutions and there ought to be more awareness campaigns to teach the public about sanitation. For the Oshiwara river, there is more industrial effluents than domestic waste. If the water flows, there will be no smell, but the water in the river hardly flows,” he adds.

The Mithi flows though K-East, L and H-East wards, with the most complex issues of encroachments and ill-advised exercises in river training that led to severe inundation of areas around the river amid the 2005 deluge.

Sena corporator Anil Trimbakkar from Bandra East says though crores of rupees were spent in trying to fix the Mithi, only half the work could be done because of litigation. “There are cases related to environment being fought in Delhi, these are stalling the cleaning drive of the Mithi,” he says. Trimbakkar is not contesting this election after his ward came under reservation, but claims 50 per cent of the work to alter the sewer systems discharging into the river is now done. “Eighty per cent of the retaining walls have been built and some project affected people in the slums have been rehabilitated,” says Trimabakkar.

In December 2016, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) warned the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation of legal action if it did not adhere to the National Green Tribunal’s directions to instal sewage treatment plants (STP) along the Mithi. However, senior BMC officials claim the work on an STP system has not even begun as the civic body has not been able to contain the illegal settlements along the river.

Meanwhile, a ‘river march’ of activists and residents will take place near each of the rivers on March 3 and 4, with hundreds expected to attend. The new corporation will be elected by then.

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