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Compromising Mumbai mangroves for land monetisation?

Posted on by Track2Realty
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Bottom Line: Mumbai today stands between the devil of land monetization and deep sea that warns against the erosion of natural barriers in the form of mangroves.

Now that the Maharashtra Government is seriously looking forward to allow construction on the NDZ (No Development Zone) areas, within the built environment of Mumbai urban planning a debate has hence gained ground as where is the balance between the need to accommodate urban population and protect the mangroves.

Some facts indicate warning signal. In the early nineties, over 37 sq. km. of mangroves existed in Mumbai, largely in the Thane creek, Mahim, Versova, Gorai and Ghodbunder, with sporadic patches in places such as Bandra, Malabar Hill and Colaba. Mumbai has lost around 40 per cent of all its mangroves in the past decade or so, largely because of reclamation for housing, slums, sewage treatment and garbage dumps.

Around 20 out of the 35 species of true mangroves found in India have been identified along the Maharashtra coast and 15 species of these are found in Mumbai. Because of the high salinity of the soil, something like 60 per cent of Mumbai mangroves comprise Avicennia marina. Nor surprisingly this species also tolerates pollution including heavy metals such as lead, mercury and chromium, all found in significant concentrations in the Mithi River.

Mangroves & reality 

Urban realities are forcing Mumbai to open up NDZ for development; degradation of mangroves is a real threat 

Mangroves act as natural barriers against erosion at the shoreline 

In ‘90s 37 sq km of mangroves existed in Mumbai, 40% lost now 

Around 20 out of the 35 species of true mangroves found in India have been identified along the Maharashtra coast and 15 species of these are found in Mumbai 

Mangroves are being lost because of reclamation for housing, slums, sewage treatment and garbage dumps 

Reality of degradation 

Degradation of mangroves is a serious threat that no one would deny. There are two important creeks, Vasai Creek towards north and Thane Creek toward south where luxuriant mangrove patches are still left. Otherwise the State Government agencies have failed to protect this important, productive mangrove ecosystem.

The worst affected area in Mumbai is the entire western front except Carter Road where the mangroves have grown and have also registered an increase in height in the last 10 years. This has been possible due to the participation of citizen’s forums fighting individually.

In India, a legal protection is afforded to this ecosystem by way of legislation in the form of Coastal Regulation Zone Notification. Recently Mumbai High Court has ordered freeze on destruction of mangrove forests in Maharashtra and has banned construction within 50 metres of them. The court has also directed to notify mangrove areas as protected forests. Thus, there is already a mechanism provided for management of this ecosystem. The unfortunate reality, however, is that many a times the legal provisions are not being enforced to curb the illegal activities.

Challenge of balancing act

“It is a catch 22 of Mumbai urban reality,” accepts Arvind Nandan, Director – South Asia of Colliers International. A firm believer of optimisation of land due to population explosion he nevertheless recommends some restraint and caution. “You absolutely have no choice but to create more urban dwellings and at the same time not compromise the mangroves and other natural barriers. I am not sure how the policy makes will make this inevitable balance. But we are definitely not listening to the waning bells at this point of time.”

Diipesh Bhagtani, Managing Committee Member of MCHI-CREDAI maintains that the need for more urban living spaces is a relatively new reality that has raised concerns for health. The maintenance of wellbeing through averting diseases and illnesses associated with overcrowding, poor sanitation and exposure to environmental pollution is a real issue. The mangroves act as a natural barrier against floods, protect the shoreline from soil erosion, and absorb almost eight times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than any other ecosystem. Hence, both are needed for a balanced environment but we need to make sure that urbanization does not harm the mangroves.

“Government recently issued a resolution which paves the way for classification of all mangrove forests on government land in the State as “reserved forests”.  A legal protection is afforded to this ecosystem by way of legislation in the form of Coastal Regulation Zone Notification. Mumbai High Court has ordered freeze on destruction of mangrove forests in Maharashtra and has banned construction within 50 meters of them. Thus, there is already a mechanism provided for management of this ecosystem. Therefore, the norms are already in a sync with the urban reality and global standards,” says Bhagtani.

Kaizad Hateria, Brand Custodian & Chief Customer Delight Officer, Rustomjee Group adds that mushrooming residential and commercial spaces have led to space crunch in Mumbai and the city is facing a challenge of fast diminishing open spaces. To meet this rising demand, development is taking place in No Development Zones (NDZs), thereby extending the available land area in the city.

“Mangroves, shrubs and other bio diversities that are a part of these NDZ areas, help to protect the environment and reduce chances of natural disasters like Tsunami and Earthquakes. Providing solution to space crunch in the city, apart from mangrove areas, builders can look at developing other NDZ areas like government or privately owned land, salt pan lands and tourism development areas,” says Hateria.

Any viable solution?

The moot point today is that what is the ideal way to balance between the mangrove safeguards and urban development. Analysts maintain that the ideal way is to spread awareness of mangroves, as they are the great barriers on the coastal regions.

However, urban development is also required to maintain a balanced living. Awareness will create the importance and development will go along towards both segments without harming each other. Hence, both components are essential to benefit humans.

As far as opening up of NDZ land is concerned there is no denying that the move will open up new areas for developers to expand their operations and develop residential, commercial and infrastructure stock. This will further bring positive outlook to the real estate sector and bridge demand-supply gap. However, developers need to embrace sustainable development to ensure balance between urban living spaces and environment.

While real estate market players and its other stakeholders have a positive outlook towards opening up of NDZ for development, there is a need to draft a development plan that will help curb various environmental challenges like imbalance in the environmental ecosystem, endangered species and diminishing open spaces.

A planned development involving the use of best practices for NDZ development will benefit the ecosystem in the long run. Approaching land development with care and caution with minimal impact on the environment will be the key.

By: Ravi Sinha