Dr Manisha Kayande, one of the three environmentalists nominated by the government on the executive board of the Maharashtra Nature Park (MNP) Society, has written to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray raising objection to the Slum Rehabilitation Authority’s (SRA) proposal to include the park within the area earmarked for the Dharavi Redevelopment Project and has sought for it to be reserved as a forest.
On Monday, The Indian Express reported that according to the SRA’s proposal, (MNP), spread over 16.86 hectares, is to be included in the project to increase land available for redevelopment. The proposal is part of a notification issued this month by SVR Srinivas, CEO and Officer on Special Duty, Dharavi Redevelopment Project, SRA, inviting suggestions and objections from the public.
“I discussed the issue with Thackeray and our member Anil Parab will be raising the matter in the House on Tuesday. Also, currently there is no clarity whether it is a forest land or not. We want the government to clearly declare it and safeguard the land,” said Dr Kayande.
“We will strongly oppose the government move to include the Nature Park in Dharavi. The park will become a hub of SRA schemes and it can’t be allowed,” said Anil Parab, Shiv Sena legislator and party group leader in the Maharashtra Legislative Council adding that he would raise the issue in the Council.
In her letter, she has written, “It is known, through reliable sources and media that an MoU has been signed between the MMRDA and the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) to destroy this entire forest and create recreational facilities with a huge car park, promenade, public use area, etc, which is not required at all in this particular land. The MMRDA has kept you in the dark, as well as the Government of Maharashtra and Mahim Nature Park Society and all other stakeholders.”
Environmentalists and people associated closely with the park too have raised red flags. With the park coming under the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), activists fear that inclusion of the land in the redevelopment project will be detrimental to the area and the park will not remain as it is today.
Stalin Dayanand, Director of NGO Vanashakti, who had earlier written to the Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis seeking the transfer of the land from the MMRDA to the Forest department, said, “A government notification identifies it as a protected forest land. There is no way it can be handed over for non-forestry activities without proper procedure. It is done in extreme situations where no land is available. A SRA is certainly not one of them in an area with enough space. MMRDA is a squatter in forest land who must be evicted immediately. Three lakh flats in the city remain unsold and that is a crime against humanity when so many people live on the streets and slums in the city. The Nature Park is the last fragment of biodiversity in the city and an oxygen cylinder. It should remain untouched.”
Naturalist writer and photographer Sunjoy Monga, who was present as a WWF volunteer when the first sapling was planted on the land in 1983, said, “It seems ridiculous to impinge on a land created as a Nature Park. It was created as a green pocket as part of the BKC development project and I have seen it grow from a dumping yard to a forest patch. It should not be interfered with and should be left to itself. Many projects have already taken up public spaces in other parts of the city.”
Environmentalists also fear that this will only deplete the already starved open spaces in the city.
“The proposal has to be opposed strongly. Mumbai ranks the lowest in the open space index in the country. With this we will be further reducing our open spaces. The redevelopment project should ideally open up space but instead it is going to eat into the existing public space. If they take in forest areas it will be used for other purposes and the land will eventually go into private hands,” said Anand Pendharkar from the NGO SPROUTS.