In the 22 years since 1990, as much as 72 sq kms of land mass, which is approximately the size of present-day island city from Colaba to Sion and Mahim, was added to Mumbai through reclamation of sea and inter-tidal zones such as inlets, mudflats, salt pans and beaches.
The finding is part of a recently completed report by the geography department of Mumbai University for a study on reclamation commissioned by the state government’s advisory body Mumbai Transformation Support Unit (MTSU) as part of its larger plan to look into the possibility of scientific land reclamation in Mumbai in future.
The department has found that between 1970 and 2012, more than 113 sq km of land mass has been added to the city.
The report says that maximum reclamation in Mumbai’s history has happened in the 22 years since 1990, much of it illegally. In comparison, the reclamation was just 40 sq km in the 20 years leading up to 1990. Incidentally, since 1991, the Supreme Court-enforced Coastal Regulations Zone (CRZ) have been in force in Mumbai to protect against such indiscriminate processes.
The report, citing satellite images of 2012, says that presently 54.73 sq kms is under process of reclamation.
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“This accelerated pace of reclamation is a post-globalization trend where there was little questioning of concretization of inter-tidal areas. While much of it is illegal, government agencies also reclaimed land in ecologically-fragile areas on the eastern side to dump much of the city’s poor and working class living in informal settlements as past of its urban renewal and gentrification process,” says Smita Gandhi, head of the university’s geography department. She says increasing concretisation will mar the ability of tidal waters to freely circulate in buffer zones such as salt pans, mudflats and mangroves, all of which are fast vanishing.
Reclamation in the colonial period, when Mumbai grew as a port city, and later until 1970s was mainly restricted to the island city and southern sections of Salsette i.e. the islands comprising present-day suburbs. It was done, through proper legislations, mainly to develop the city as one contiguous land mass from an archipelago of islands, to connect the suburbs to the mainland, for expanding railways and port and building commercial districts. In contrast, in the post-seventies era, land reclamation has been rampant in the northern and eastern parts of the extended suburban district.
“Since the land scam that emerged in course of the creation of Nariman Point, no official reclamation project was taken up after1970s,” says Sulakshana Mahajan, urban planner with the MTSU.
She points out that the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s development of Bandra Kurla Complex, its low-cost housing projects in Kalanagar and other areas were all primarily reclamation projects, as was the Juhu-Vile Parle Development Scheme for high and middle-income housing that came up on housing board plots post-seventies. “After the Nariman Point controversy, reclamation was perceived as a scam, so none of the agencies declared their projects as one. As a result, the scientific way of carrying out reclamation was never studied officially,” Mahajan says.
Private builders also created massive residential projects in areas from Lokhandwala to Gorai by illegally reclaiming land.
Since 1990, spatial analysis of land use shows that mudflats in Gorai, Bhandup, Mankhurd, Ghatkopar, Vikroli, Versova, Malvani and Mahul have been built upon heavily. Similar is the case with cultivated land in and around Mahim creek and marshy land of Mankhurd. Similarly, large-scale conversion of water bodies into land mass has occurred along creeks such as Malad creek or Manori creek, where swathes of land was reclaimed for the Esselworld complex post-1990.
Along the east coast, sprawling salt pans have shrunken due to reclamation in areas such as Bhandup while the city has lost about 40% of its mangroves cover between 1995 and 2005. The report notes that the total built-up area of Mumbai in 1970s accounted for 37 per cent of the total city area, whereas in 2012, it was 65 per cent. In the same period, mudflats decreased from 107 sq kms to 40 sq kms and salt pans from 15 sq kms to almost negligible today.