Forest at Matheran foothills opened for recreation

Alok Deshpande, The Hindu May 12 2017

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Urban planners, research institutes question institutional zone in eco-sensitive zone recommended in Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Plan draft

Mumbai: With 0.2 FSI granted for development, around 91.25 of forest at it’s foothills, Matheran — one of the closest hill stations to Mumbai in an eco-sensitive zone of western ghats — is all set to be rebranded as an institutional zone (IZ), permitting residential areas, restaurants, recreation, and film and allied production activities.

This recommendation is part of the draft of the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Plan 2016-2036, which has come under the scrutiny of urban planners, environmentalists, and citizens for its alleged gross negligence on environmental and civic issues.

The MMR has a total of eight municipal corporations (Mumbai, Thane, Ulhasnagar, KDMC, Mira-Bhayander, Bhiwandi-Nizampur, Navi Mumbai and Vasai-Virar), nine municipal councils (Ambernath, Badlapur, Alibag, Karjat, Khopoli, Matheran, Panvel, Pen and Uran), 35 census towns, and 994 villages. Of the 22.8 million population, 87.26% is from the corporations and councils. It encompasses an area of 4,311.75

The Hindu in its Thursday edition revealed how the draft has opened over 1071.81 (1,07,181 hectare) of the green zone for commercial and industrial activities such as quarrying, warehousing, recreation, and entertainment activities.

The draft says, “The Matheran hills are encircled with the proposed multi-modal corridor connecting Virar to Alibaug and the central railway line. In order to maintain a buffer between the hills and the encircling transport network, an IZ is proposed with low-rise and large-scale development which will not require further road networks. The IZ earmarked thus covers 91.25”

The IZ is part of the development zones and was not part of the earlier regional plans of 1970-91 and 1996-2011. Interestingly, the authorities while introducing IZ — under which establishments required to boost tourism are allowed to be constructed — have not allotted any land for recreation and tourism development zone, giving rise to the speculation that they have introduced the new name to avoid opposition.

“I wonder how can any building — low or high — be constructed in an eco-sensitive zone? The Central and the State environmental laws cannot allow any construction in these protected areas. It is a matter of serious concern to promote such activities at the foothills of Matheran,” said Debi Goenka, executive trustee, Conservation Action Trust.

Urban planner and housing expert Chandrashekhar Prabhu slammed the draft. “This is a script for disaster,” he said, adding that the entire report needs to be rewritten. “Allowing residential and other activities mean opening the area for the rich and the richest. The kind of activities allowed under IZ means the forest will disappear in a few years if allowed to proceed.”

A number of other urban research institutes such as Urban Development Research Institute too have submitted their objections.

Even as the date to submit opinions on the regional plan is over, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) will hear thousands of applications. MMRDA’s Metropolitan Commissioner UPS Madan told The Hindu that all the objections will be heard and if found necessary, changes will be made in the plan after scrutinising it.

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