More than seven years after the second phase of the Mithi River works began, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is yet to complete works worth over Rs 700 crore, almost half of the civic body’s total DPR cost (Rs 1,240 crore) for work on Mithi and its bridges.
Of the 17.84 km of the river length, 11.84 km is under BMC’s jurisdiction and 6 km is under MMRDA’s. The second phase involves deepening and widening work, construction of retaining wall and remodeling of existing bridges.
“The deepening and widening works worth Rs 80 crore remain in the MMRDA portion while works of Rs 760 crore are left in the BMC’s portion,” stated the latest status report of the Mithi River Development and Protection Authority (MRDPA), an agency formulated by the state after the 2005 deluge. This, even as the revised deadline for project completion is May 2015, which civic officials now say would be extended.
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From the first week of April, BMC will undertake the annual pre-monsoon de-silting and cleaning of the entire stretch.
“We have spent almost Rs 531.7 crore for the river works and the bridges department has spent nearly Rs 39.64 crore. Of the remaining amount, although work is yet to begin, the storm water drains (SWD) department has issued tenders worth Rs 350 crore; only tenders worth Rs 50 crore are left,” said L S Vhatkar, chief engineer, SWD department.
Even after eight years, the BMC has completed only 45 per cent of the construction of the retaining wall, with around 11 km of the river yet to be secured by the wall. The retaining wall will enable channelling of the river, prevent encroachments and dumping of debris.
“Of the 11 km, 2 km fall on airport land, where we cannot construct. We have issued tenders for construction in the remaining 9-km stretch,” said Vhatkar. According to the SWD department, of approximately 22 km of retaining wall, 10.3 km-long wall has been constructed. In the past year, the civic body constructed only 1.04 km of the wall.
According to MRDPA, 95 per cent of the widening and deepening work of Mithi River has been completed, which leaves the civic body with work along only 800 metres of the river.
The BMC blames difficulty in removal of encroachments as the main reason for the delay. So far, of the 6,577 encroachments along the BMC stretch of the river, it has removed only 4,922.
“The collector has to take a call on the eligibility of the slum-dwellers for rehabilitation before we can demolish the structures, which takes time. With an extension of the cut-off deadline for rehabilitation to January 1, 2000, more people will be now be eligible,” said SVR Srinivas, additional municipal commissioner (eastern suburbs). “It also takes time to get environment clearances. The deadline will have to be extended, but I cannot comment on the extension.”
The Mithi river project is also stuck in litigation. Severe pollution and alleged extreme measures adopted by agencies to deepen the river had led environmental NGOs Jal Biradari and Vanashakti to file several public interest petitions in the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
In the latest March hearing, the NGT directed the MPCB to issue a show-cause notice to BMC for not yet installing 37 sewage treatment plants along the river.
As a result of NGT orders, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) will undertake an Impact Assessment of the activities carried out by MMRDA and BMC in the past eight years.
“State of the river and its ecology has not been the priority of the agencies. Over the years, unregulated construction and encroachment narrowed the river and now the retaining wall tries to direct its flow. The cement wall hinders natural environmental activity of the river with its surrounding ecosystem, which is essential for the health of the river. But these agencies do not care about that,” said Janak Daftari, trustee of NGO Jal Biradari.
“The agencies did not seek proper environmental clearance for blasting the river bed or rock-cutting in an attempt to deepen it. Over the years, silt will fill up the hole created due to blasting, rendering the exercise futile and end up wasting public money,” said Daftari.
However, the MRDPA report mentions some benefits of the work undertaken so far. “The deepening and widening works have resulted in doubling the carrying capacity of the river and tripling its discharging capacity. The resultant slope in the river bed flushes water during low tide, decreasing pollution and increasing the dissolved oxygen levels in the river,” it stated.
To further improve the water quality, Danish firm Copenhagen Cleantech Cluster is currently collaborating with MRDPA to identify and implement sustainable solutions. “We have not yet taken a call on whether we will adopt the Danish technology or not,” said a senior official from MRDPA.