Clamour is growing for the revocation of the Maharashtra Slum Rehabilitation Authority’s controversial plan to include the Maharashtra Nature Park (MNP), a portion of which is notified as a protected forest, within the area earmarked for the redevelopment of Asia’s biggest slum in Mumbai’s Dharavi. The move is being opposed not just by the conservationists but also by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s alliance partner, the Shiv Sena. On Tuesday, the Shiv Sena’s legislative wing wrote to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, seeking an unconditional rollback of the move. The CM also heads the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA).
Shiv Sena’s demand letter bore the signature of all its five cabinet ministers in the Fadnavis government, and that of the legislature party leader, Sunil Prabhu. On March 19, The Indian Express reported that the SRA has proposed to include the nature park, spread over 16.8 hectares, in the development of Sector 5 of Dharavi. The project involves resettlement of nearly 60,000 slum structures in planned habitats grouped into five sectors.
SVR Srinivas, CEO and Officer on Special Duty, Dharavi Redevelopment Project, SRA, has issued a notification in this regard on March 5, inviting suggestions and objections from the public. The SRA is the planning authority for the redevelopment project. The state government has already approved the redevelopment of Sector 5.
While Srinivas claimed that the park would be conserved even after it is included in the area to be redeveloped and that there was no plan to build or alter the character of MNP, conservationists and environmentalists have raised a red flag. The Shiv Sena — which has earlier crossed swords with its alliance partner over the plan to construct a Metro car shed inside the Aarey milk colony — has now joined those in opposition of the move.
On Monday, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray personally reviewed the plan, following which he had directed the party’s legislators to oppose it. ”We won’t allow the inclusion of the nature park in the Dharavi redevelopment project under any circumstances,” said Shiv Sena’s Industries Minister Subhash Desai. Distancing itself from the contentious move, the Shiv Sena’s letter also demands that Fadnavis direct the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, under which the nature park falls, not to transfer the land to the SRA. The CM also heads the MMRDA.
Shiv Sena spokesperson Dr Manisha Kayande, who is one of the three environmentalists nominated by the government on the executive board of the Maharashtra Nature Park Society, said, “We (The Shiv Sena) have stalled the proposal for now. Our demand is also that the nature park be declared as a protected site so that such proposals are not entertained in future as well,” Kayande said.
With the inclusion of the MNP, the total area under the Dharavi project would increase from 155 hectares to 172 hectares. The government has allowed a buildable area of four times the gross plot area to push the much-delayed redevelopment project under the public private partnership model. The land on which MNP stands was used as a dump yard till the late 1970s when environmentalists and activists joined hands with the government to transform it into a small forest.