Time has come to look at Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park too

Shailesh Gaikwad, Hindustan Times, May 29 2017

Link to news article

Citizens protesting against the proposed Metro 3 depot at Aarey Colony has been in the news. It is good that citizens are concerned about the damage that the construction of the metro depot will cause to the Aarey Colony, which is one of the last (not the last) surviving green spaces in Mumbai. Last week, some trees in some other parts of the Colaba-SEEPZ route were cut and the city witnessed similar protests.

While Metro 3 is facing strong opposition over its proposed depot in Aarey Colony, for some reason, the state’s and local government’s plans to build projects through another bigger green space in the city — the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) — have not come under public scrutiny yet.

The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) wants to build an underground tunnel through the national park to connect Borivli with Thane. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has planned to build Mulund-Goregaon Link Road and one of the two options for the road alignment is a 9-km long underground tunnel through the national park. There is also a suggestion to build a ropeway so that people can travel between Borivli and Thane.

A part of the national park in Thane could be sacrificed for widening the Mumbai Ahmedabad national highway and the construction of the Mumbai-Delhi freight corridor. These plans are in their initial stages and it is not clear how many of them will materialise. However, they show the intention of the authorities: Damage to the environment is permissible if it is meant to help construction of infrastructure projects.

Still, shouldn’t we take a look at the damage caused to the national park?

Spread over 103 square kilometers, the SGNP is Mumbai’s biggest green cover, which has been under attack for quite some time.

Mumbai is one of the very few cities in the world to have such a forest within the city limits. In fact, the SGNP is the largest national park in the world located within city limits.

Part of the Western Ghats biodiversity, it is home to more than 274 species of birds, 35 species of mammals, 78 species of reptiles and amphibians, 170 species of butterflies and over a staggering 1,300 species of plants, says the SGNP’s official website. It also has two lakes — Vihar and Tulsi — built more than a century ago.

According to records,the SGNP occupies roughly 20% of Mumbai’s geographical area. However, this green cover could be shrinking now. Last year, its buffer zone was reduced to a range to 4 km from previous 10kms.

Over the past few decades, slums have mushroomed on a large part of the SGNP buffer zone.

Several buildings have been built in this zone as well. Not just that, from road contractors’ plants to ashrams of godmen to fancy villas, everything has been coming up in close vicinity of the park. Activists have been pointing out that the national park is being encroached from all sides, putting it under serious threat.

No wonder, every now and then we have been reading stories of leopards attacking human beings in the area on the periphery of the national park.

Unfortunately, not many voices are being raised to ensure that this precious green cover remains intact. The sooner we realise this, the better are the chances to save this beautiful jungle which is part of our city.

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