Centre halts Mumbai’s biggest sewage plant plan

In its recommendation to the MoEF, the MCZMA argued that the project was “socially vital and would improve hygienic conditions in the influence area.”

Written by Sandeep A Ashar | Mumbai | Published:February 11, 2016 6:19 am

GROUNDING Mumbai’s plans to improve coastal water quality, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has denied permission for a proposed waste water treatment plant — the biggest of its kind in Mumbai — on the ground that a sewage treatment plant is not permissible under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2011.

The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of MoEF refused consent to the proposal at its recent meeting.

Interpreting the prevalent CRZ norms differently, the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) had “strongly recommended” on February 12, 2015 that approvals be granted to the project as “treatment of sewage before releasing it into coastal waters was essential for maintenance of the ecosystem”.

In its recommendation to the MoEF, the MCZMA argued that the project was “socially vital and would improve hygienic conditions in the influence area.”

The proposed plant is an advanced treatment plant capable of recycling and reusing up to 847 million litres of sewage daily, to be built near Malad creek along the city’s western coast. While the Maharashtra government has consented to the project, it requires MoEF nod because the plant is to be located on land in the stringent CRZ-I(A) zone and would involve largescale uprooting of mangroves. An elementary treatment plant already exists at the site, but offers only primary treatment.

The denial of permission from the Centre put Mumbai municipality in a fix, for the push for an upgrade came following severe raps from the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) and also from the Maharashtra Human Rights Commission for pollution of coastal water by discharging untreated sewage into the sea.

Mumbai generates around 2,700 million litres of sewage daily. Its seven treatment plants together collect and treat about 1,384 million litres. The rest is discharged untreated into the sea. The proposed Malad plant is central to the municipality’s plan to enhance the city’s waste water treatment capacity to 2,130 million litres within the next three years. The treatment plant is also a vital component of the World Bank-funded Mumbai Sewerage Disposal Project-II. To be built at a cost of Rs 4500 crore, it would treat wastewater from a 5,483-hectare area across five civic wards, serving 35 lakh people.

Following the MoEF panel’s snub, sources said Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis may pursue the matter with Union Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar. Fadnavis had earlier convinced Javdekar to amend CRZ norms to allow some reclamation for Mumbai’s ambitious coastal road project.

Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta said since the proposed facility was an effort to improve environmental conditions, the BMC hopes to approach the MoEF to reconsider it.

“The land for STP was identified due to technical and geographical suitability, and also keeping in mind that no alternative location was available. The land is also reserved in the city’s Development Plan for a treatment facility. The High Court is also seized of the matter and permitted us to cut mangroves on the condition that we would take all necessary measures to minimise the damage to mangroves… We will also replant twice the number of mangroves uprooted,” said Additional Municipal Commissioner (Projects) Sanjay Mukherjee.

The Bombay High Court had earlier granted BMC permission to cut mangroves on a 35.5-hectare patch for the project.

Incidentally, the Central Pollution Control Board, which also functions under the MoEF, had in October 2015 issued directives tightening norms on quality of water discharged into the sea, also making it mandatory for civic bodies to install waste water reuse facilities at existing sewage treatment plants.

The EAC has also objected to MCZMA’s “strong recommendation” for approval. “The MCZMA has surprisingly recommended the project while noting that the project site falls in CRZ-I (A) area and that the establishment of STP in this area was not in consonance with CRZ notification. In spite of this clear understanding, MCZMA has recommended the project.” The panel tossed the matter into the Union minister’s court. “The Ministry may examine the permissibility of the project,” it has remarked in the meeting’s minutes.