Linah Baliga, Mumbai Mirror, June 3 2017

Link to news article

Say two nullahs built on Andheri plot are blocking seawater, raise alarm over builder’s possession claim.

A 20-acre mangrove patch in Andheri West is slowly drying up because of the construction of two drains by the BMC, say residents who believe officials are trying to help the builder lobby stake a claim to the plot.

A developer has already installed a signboard at the site, declaring that the land, behind Seven Bungalows bus depot, is in private control. Samartha Development Corporation has cited a court order in the notice to back its possession claim, but activists say mangrove land cannot be touched by private entities.

The civic body’s stormwater department built Avinash nullah and MHADA nullah on the Andheri plot.

“The BMC undertook the piling work for MHADA nullah. The construction has blocked the flow of seawater to the mangroves, which are drying up and dying,” said activist Sachin Dhuri. “I had filed a complaint last year when the work began and informed officials about the existence of mangroves. I submitted photographs, including Google Maps images.”

The BMC apparently ignored warnings that the mangroves would be damaged if seawater was blocked from entering the area. “Trucks dumped debris at the site and the nullahs were cemented,” Dhuri said.

BMC rejects allegations

Purshottam Malvde, an executive engineer with the stormwater department (K West Ward), rejected the claims that the BMC had choked the mangroves. “When Avinash nullah was constructed, an opening was created in the wall to allow seawater reach the mangroves. The nullahs were constructed under the BRIMSTOWAD project and we followed the Chitale Committee’s recommendations.”

BRIMSTOWAD stands for Brihanmumbai Stormwater Disposal System, a massive project to revamp the city’s water drainage network.

Malvde said the state coastal zonal management authority had approved the BMC’s suggestion of having openings in Avinash nullah. “The work on MHADA nullah ended in March. We have laid down lateral pipes so seawater can enter,” he said.

Dhuri has challenged the BMC’s claims before the Lokayukta, which has scheduled a hearing on June 15. “Civic officials say there is an outlet for seawater to enter the mangrove area, but site inspections by residents revealed that barely any water can go through the outlet even during high tide,” he said. “If seawater is reaching the mangroves according to the BMC, why are they wilting and dying?”

Amit Survase, a high court lawyer, said the civic body was supposed to protect all mangrove land as per a 2005 order. The court had said then that no construction should be allowed within 50 metres of mangrove land.

“Yet, we see a builder putting up a board claiming possession of the Andheri plot,” Dhuri said.

The plot was originally reserved for public housing, but in the revised draft Development Plan 2034, it has been declared a “natural area”.

Mirror called Vikas Walawalkar, a partner in Samartha Development Corporation, several times and also left messages seeking a comment, but he did not respond.

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