In the 14 years since the deluge of 2005, several reports have listed an array of flood mitigation measures the Mithi river requires. Ahead of the monsoon, as the authorities once again talk about desilting the Mithi, it emerges that the BMC and Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) have not implemented many of the recommendations in those reports.
The Mithi River Development and Protection Authority (MRDPA) was formed in 2006 to coordinate between the MMRDA and BMC for the restoration of Mithi and to mitigate flooding. However, the committee has not met even once since 2013. The MRPDA is headed by the state’s chief minister.
“The MPRDA was tasked to coordinate meetings between BMC and MMRDA. But nothing happened over the past four years. Both MMRDA and BMC had spent over Rs 1,200 crore on various projects for Mithi river restoration and cleaning. But all of this was only for beautification and development. The planning was flawed as even after spending so much money, the river is still in pathetic condition. Nothing has been done to stop the discharge of untreated sewage, industrial waste, and garbage dumped by local residents living on the bank of river. All projects were planned in such a way that there has to be always scope for spending more public money,” RTI activist Anil Galgali, who brought to light the government’s failure in organising even a single meeting of the MRPDA, told The Indian Express.
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The 17.6-km Mithi river originates from the overflow of Vihar Lake in Sanjay Gandhi National Park. A few metres ahead, the overflow of Powai Lake adds to it. Mithi enters the Arabian Sea through the Mahim creek.
Immediately after the deluge of July 26, 2005, a fact-finding committee was formed under the chairmanship of Dr Madhavrao Chitale, which submitted its report in 2006. The report had mainly blamed the encroachment and unauthorised construction along the Mithi for the flooding.
In 2017, the BMC had also appointed a consultant for preparing Detailed Project Report on Mithi River Rejuvenation Project. Other reports were also prepared over the years by country’s premier institutes, like NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute) and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay.
In September 2018, a Mumbai-based NGO Vanshakti and others filed a Public Interest Litigation in Supreme Court on the high-level pollution and encroachment in the river. Following this, the court had ordered that a panel, with experts from IIT-B and NEERI, be set up to look into the issues raised in the plea.
According to the report submitted by the panel to the Supreme Court in December 2018, reclamation near Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC), infrastructure development, unauthorised construction in the flow path of the river and the discharge of raw sewage into it are the main causes of flooding and pollution in the river.
In 2011, a NEERI report had warned against constructing a retaining wall along the river stretch since it could cause flooding. The Supreme Court-appointed panel slammed the authorities for constructing the wall, stating that walls block water flow and obstruct the river’s hydrology.
The BMC spends crores on annual pre-monsoon desilting of the Mithi, which is easier than all the other measures that require fundamental corrections. It is also good optics as it gives the impression that the BMC is doing something to prevent floods.
There are 13 major nullahs discharging raw sewerage into the Mithi from the slums on the bank of the river. Also, unauthorised industrial units present along the vicinity of the river release untreated effluents into it.
“The Committee had also said that desilting done in Mithi is not sufficient and there should be dredging every month. No flood-risk zone maps around Mithi have been prepared even after 14 years. It was one of the key suggestions,” an official from BMC said.
Recently, the civic body appointed a management consultant for Rs 19 crore for the whole project. Apart from this, the civic body has also developed a warning system during the monsoon. “When there is heavy rainfall and high tide, and the level of the Mithi rises, we evacuate the nearby slums. We have set up a danger mark in the river and if it crosses that then people are shifted to municipal schools,” said a BMC official.
The BMC also has a plan to divert sewage to Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) in Ghatkopar. The civic body has made an allocation of Rs 672 crore in the 2019-20 budget for the Mithi River Rejuvenation and Beautification project.
“Since the encroachments on the bank of the Mithi have yet not been removed, we have planned to lay sewerage lines along the river and it will be diverted to STP in Ghatkopar for treatment. There are four phases in the project. In last phase, beautification of river is planned,” said an official from the Storm Water Drain department.