After a nearly 25-year-ban, Mumbai, which has a long history of claiming land from the ocean, is set to turn to the Arabian Sea again — as a solution to its growing population and vehicular congestion.
The Centre last week allowed the amendment of norms to facilitate reclamation of land for the city’s ambitious coastal road project. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis called it “a dream come true” and “best gift to Mumbai by Modiji’s government”, which would “decongest the traffic of Mumbai”, “create 91 hectares of green spaces” and take “Mumbai infra to next standard”.
How exactly will the coastal road impact Mumbai? What are the concerns?
The coastal road is proposed to be a freeway along Mumbai’s coastline, from south Mumbai’s Nariman Point to the far western suburb of Kandivali. The 35.6-km link is expected to provide relief to lakhs of commuters who currently take up to three hours to travel the distance in peak-hour traffic. The project is expected to free up the city’s highly-congested roads connecting its western suburbs. The freeway will complement the 17-km Eastern Freeway, which connects south Mumbai to the eastern suburbs. The coastal road also seeks to create large patches of open green space, rare in Mumbai. The government has promised to create marinas and promenades, and provide pedestrians access to the green patches to walk or cycle.
The road, with 22 entry and exit points, is proposed to be built as a combination of under-sea tunnels, roads on stilts and viaducts, and roads on land reclaimed from the sea and mangroves. The project is expected to cost Rs 12,000 crore, and will require reclamation of about 160 hectares from the sea and mangroves. Roughly 18 km of the 35-km freeway will be on reclaimed land, about 9 km as two tunnels — near Girgaum chowpatty and Juhu chowpatty — and the rest as bridges and roads on stilts. Two of the eight lanes will be reserved for a Bus Rapid Transit System. The Maharashtra government has recently signed an MoU with the government of Netherlands for reclamation know-how, and expert advice on linking the freeway with planned Metro rail corridors.
Several environmentalists and urban planning experts remain opposed to the project, given the adverse effects of past reclamation, which altered the city’s coastline, changed sea levels and tidal currents, and caused erosion of beaches such as Dadar chowpatty (due to reclamation in the Mahim Bay). Land reclamation leads to depletion of vegetation cover and increases concretisation, reducing infiltration of rainwater into the earth. Reclamation has been seen to affect the flushing capacity of creeks and estuaries such as that of the Mithi river, which was a prime reason for the 2005 inundation in Mumbai. The fishing community, some of Mumbai’s oldest residents, are against the coastal road, fearing it will threaten breeding grounds for fish, and impact aquatic life.
There is also a fear that the reclaimed land could be used for commercial and real estate development, which was a major concern for the union Environment Ministry. The state government has agreed to give an affidavit promising there would be no real estate or commercial exploitation of reclaimed land. Also, although reclamation will push the coastline back by about 100 m, the government has promised that the high-tide line would be maintained as it is marked today.
The state government had initially planned a chain of sea links to connect south Mumbai to the western suburbs. While the Bandra-Worli sea link was completed in 2009, other sea links from Nariman Point to Haji Ali, Haji Ali to Worli, and Bandra to Versova, remained on the drawing board for over a decade. While the NCP-led Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation in the erstwhile Congress-NCP coalition was working on planning the other sea links, Congress Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan in 2011 started pushing for a coastal road based on reclamation instead. In the same year, a government-appointed technical committee said the average cost of sea links would be Rs 600 crore per km, while that of reclamation would be only Rs 100 crore per km. Besides, the committee concluded, reclamation would be more feasible keeping in mind disaster mitigation measures. However, with Coastal Regulation Zone norms prohibiting reclamation, the coastal road project was stalled for nearly four years, till the MoEF’s recent consent to amend rules. The MSRDC has so far spent about Rs 26 crore on planning for the other sea links, which the state government now plans to scrap.
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