This proposal reminds the writer of another set of potentially damaging social, environmental and agrarian impacts to be inflicted by the proposed construction of a costly high-speed railway in England, similarly designed to benefit only the elite. A full “sustainability statement” drawn up by the Department for Transport in 2013 is reported to disclose that hundreds of acres of green-belt land will be lost and more than a thousand buildings. Over one hundred of Britain’s most important wildlife habitats and dozens of ancient woodlands will be directly affected – but little emphasis has been placed on the loss of fertile land/food security. The document also acknowledges that HS2 could increase the risk of flooding in some areas.
The ‘Mumbai Highway’, which will connect Nariman Point with Kandivali, will have a combination of under-sea tunnels, roads on stilts, viaducts and roads on land reclaimed from the sea.
According to the BMC’s Details Project Report about 3 km of the road will be built over mangroves, making the city more vulnerable to storms and floods. While an amendment to the coastal rules requires the planting of new mangroves, they will take several years to grow and be in a different location, so the re-planting won’t replace the storm protection services of the old mangroves.
Other concerns expressed in the CatchNews article:
- alteration to the city’s coastline,
- changing of sea levels and tidal currents,
- erosion of beaches.
- depletion of vegetation cover
- threatening breeding grounds for fish,
- increasing concretisation, reducing infiltration of rainwater into the earth and
- affecting the flushing capacity of creeks and estuaries such as that of the Mithi river – a prime reason for the 2005 floods in Mumbai.
Critics voiced their concerns at an independent tribunal, held in October 2015, or in response to the draft amendment to the CRZ Notification, but none of these critiques have been included in the final notification. Fishermen, the oldest residents of Mumbai, are worried that building the coastal road will kill the already-dwindling fish populations, block fishermen’s boat-landing areas, and end their livelihoods. But their voices have gone unheard.
Nihar Gokhale of Catch News points out that, at Rs 11,300 crore, the road will be far more expensive than any public transport system, yet will serve only 2% of Mumbai’s population. Findings of a 2008 study by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority are that:
- about 2% of the city’s population use cars,
- 20% trips are made by train,
- about 10% by bus
- and 60% by walking.
Therefore, in a deposition before the independent tribunal, Hussain Indorewala, assistant professor at Mumbai’s KRV Institute for Architecture and Environmental Studies, described the road as a ‘private amenity’ rather than a public good – though public money will be spent to build it.
Ashok Datar and Sonali Kelkar of the Mumbai Environmental Social Network pointed out that the proposed coastal road would be nine times more expensive than adding more local air-conditioned trains.
The state government’s Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee has also pointed out that the coastal road plan proposes to build over beaches, mudflats and 3 km of mangroves, ignoring several heritage structures on its route, including forts and fishing villages.
Meenakshi Kapoor, programme manager at the Centre for Policy Research summarises: “The coastal road has been allowed to be built when adequate environmental safeguards are not in place. There is still no clear monitoring and enforcement mechanism for coastal norms”.
Wise and moderate responses to both HS2 in Britain and the coastal highway in Mumbai advocate the improvement and upgrading of existing transport structures, largely avoiding further destruction of human and wildlife habitat – and vastly reducing costs to the taxpayer.