Apart from chalking up plans for new infrastructure projects, the initial draft prepared by the Land Development Committee (LDC) for 1790 acres of port trust-owned land stresses on special heritage and environment conservation projects along Mumbai’s 28-km long eastern coastline in order to transform such sites into tourist attractions and recreation spots.
The three-member panel appointed by Union Minister for Shipping Nitin Gadkari has taken note of the fact that the stretch of land has several sites and structures that are of great heritage significance starting with the southern-most tip, that is the 140-year-old Sasoon Docks, home to a bustling fish market.
Other heritage sites on panel’s list for conservation include Apollo Bunder that is flanked by the listed Grade 1 heritage structure of Gateway of India, the old business district of Ballard Estate which houses shipping companies in much of its Edwardian neoclassical styled-office buildings and the remnants of St George Fort which lends its name to the commercial Fort area.
Special emphasis has been laid on the Sewri region that is important both in terms of its heritage and ecological value. The over three-century-old Sewri fort overlooks the mangrove-lined mudflats which is an ornithologist’s delight as it serves as a natural habitat for flamingos and several other migratory birds. The committee has recommended that all such sites along the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) land, that spans from Colaba to Wadala, must be protected and restored so that they thrive as sites for recreation and tourism.
Admiral IC Rao from the citizens’ initiative Mumbai Docklands Regeneration Forum said that besides the eco-sensitive zone around Sewri fort, also of consequence are the Merewether dry dock, the Victoria and Prince’s dock with its clock tower, all dating back to the late 19th century. “The MbPT has to stop filling up Prince’s and Victoria docks with sand,” he said.
MbPT chairman Ravi Parmar said, “Since the port trust land falls entirely under Coastal Regulation Zone II, all statutory obligations will be followed in course of the conservation efforts. We are working with the MTDC on having a viewing gallery at Sewri fort for bird-watchers.”
The committee, headed by former MbPT chairperson Rani Jadhav, is in the process of chalking up detailed plans that will be submitted to the union shipping ministry soon. Ruling out reclamation as an option, the panel is looking at reviving the existing land area through creation of new mass transit corridors, 400 acres of green open spaces and 300 acres of Entertainment zone among several others. The MbPT’s plans for a floating hotel and restaurants, marina, cruise terminal, helipad, food courts and special trade zone will also be included in the LDC’s vision plan in addition to the panel’s own recommendations.
Arvind Sawant, Sena MP from Mumbai South under whose constituency a majority of the land falls, said no residential projects would be allowed on the land to prevent it from degenerating into real estate venture.