FED UP of traffic pile-ups across the city’s arterial roads owing to the extensive trenching and barricading for various infrastructure projects, elected representatives of the BMC have demanded that they be allowed to use internal forest roads inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) as an alternative to the clogged Western Express Highway (WEH).
Shiv Sena corporator from Borivali, Riddhi Khursange, had on January 18 written to Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar and group leaders of the BMC, asking them to take up the issue. SGNP is a protected forest and only forest department officials are allowed to use vehicles there. That too, for patrolling purposes.
Some corporators have also met Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF) of SGNP, Anwar Ahmad, requesting him to allow their vehicles on SGNP’s internal roads to reach Bhandup, from where they can use the Eastern Freeway to reach the BMC head office opposite the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus.
Increasing number of vehicles, Metro work choke traffic
Currently, almost all major arterial roads have been trenched or barricaded for Metro or other projects. While WEH, Link Road and LBS Marg are the worst hit, SV Road and Eastern Expressway have some patches barricaded. The Metro construction, especially along the WEH, was the major tipping point for Mumbai’s roads that are already bursting at the seams. According to data from the Regional Transport Office, vehicular traffic in Mumbai has shot up by 50 per cent over five years, from 21.87 lakh vehicles registered in the year ending March 2013 to 33.35 lakh vehicles in March 2018. Over the same period, road length in Mumbai continued to hover around 2,000 km. This means traffic density has risen from 1,050 vehicles per km to 1,650 vehicles per km.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Khursange said, “After the Metro work started, there is huge traffic on WEH… we end up spending three to four hours in travelling. We have to attend several meetings, including the general body and works committee meetings, in the BMC head office, and most of the time, we get stuck in traffic and reach late. This way work also suffers.”
“The police and forest department officials are allowed use SGNP roads, and since we have a genuine problem, we have made this request,” she added.
Khursange said, “We, 18 corporators from Magathane, Dahisar and Borivali, have requested authorities to allow us to use the SGNP road. This way, we can get to Bhandup and take the Freeway to reach CSMT. This will cut down travel time from three hours to one-and-a-half hours. Fifteen days ago, we had met SNGP authorities and conveyed our problem. They told us that they would see what can be done.”
However, the Wildlife Act clearly restricts the use of core forest areas for any private vehicle movement. “There have been demands from the corporators to allow their vehicles, but nobody is allowed to use the internal roads of SGNP since it is a national park,” said the CCF.
A senior SGNP official said, “The demands of the corporators are surprising. If private vehicles are allowed inside the core protected forest, there will always be a risk for wild animals. Honking will also affect them. In the past, there have been instances when deer or monkeys were hit by vehicles. Also, if they are allowed to use SGNP roads, this will set a precedent and more people will come forward with the same demand.”