R A Rajeev,principal secretary,environment department,talks about environmental concerns,proper planning of infrastructure development and the need to look out for larger public good in mega projects.
SHUBHANGI KHAPRE: The chief minister has repeatedly said that over the past two years,several infrastructure projects are stuck,waiting for clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). Do you agree?
In 2006,the MoEF came up with a notification for environment clearance. Earlier,all projects were going to Central ministry. But clearances have been faster after the creation of the state expert appraisal committees and the state environment impact assessment authority. Recently,some members resigned from these committees and thus there is a stalemate. Project proponents,however,should not consider this clearance as a hindrance if there are multiple clearance issues.
SHARVARI PATWA: Recently the state government had sent notices to developers who had violated Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules. How serious is the state government about taking action against such builders?
We had sent nearly 300 such notices. Most states are of the opinion that in the case of CRZ rules,it is difficult to throw people out and demolish those buildings in case of violations. In the case of Mumbai,they are saying that the municipal corporations have been giving approvals,but these approvals were after Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) was formed. MCZMA should have been taken into confidence before such approvals. We have asked for the details of each and every building and will take action accordingly.
MIHIKA BASU: How serious is the government about handling the issue of mangrove destruction and what are the bottlenecks that it faces?
A court order of 2005 had declared more than 1,000 square metres of mangroves on government land as protected forest area. There is a separate department that looks into these matters. There are certain pockets that have not been declared as forests. The responsibility of those areas is with the district collectors. Over the past few months,MCZMA has called for district collectors to submit a review of action taken on violations. In some cases,FIRs have also been lodged.
ZEESHAN SHAIKH: You have made a transition from handling a planning agency to a regulatory body. In that context,do you think that often infrastructure projects are stuck owing to lack of planning?
We should spend more time on planning of infrastructure projects. The decision,for example,to construct skywalks,should not happen overnight. I am personally against constructing so many flyovers. We should just create speed bumps. Flyovers are for making traffic faster,but when we design them,we do not take traffic engineers on board for
ZEESHAN SHAIKH: What is your view on reclamation?
If reclamation is being done for the benefit of individuals,then it is a strict no. For public good,it is not a bad idea.
MANASI PHADKE: What is your opinion on the coastal road project? Between sea links and a coastal road based on reclamation,which is a more viable option?
Coastal road should not be planned only for cars. It should be planned integrated with public transport. For example,why cant a Metro run on a coastal road? I had a discussion with the chief minister on that. If I have to give my input,I will suggest incorporating public transport because then it will be worthwhile. Between sea links and coastal road,a coastal road is preferable,mostly because of lower cost and more public good. Even if you make sea links,no pedestrian can go on that. You cannot enjoy waterfronts nor create public spaces.
SMITA NAIR: How will a coastal road help in security because there is also an opinion that it increases the jurisdiction of policing?
The entire coastal line of Mumbai can be guarded by having watch towers at regular intervals on the coastal road. Wherever there are coastal roads,the encroachment towards the seaside is minimised or almost nil. No one constructs slums on Marine Drive. With the road properly defined,you can also capture all the liquid releases in the sea and treat them at different intervals.
PRIYAL DAVE: Having a rail link along the coastal road as you suggested seems like a good idea,but wont it increase the cost?
We dont need to implement it now,but we should provide for that option in the planning. I am a believer in future planning for the next 30-40 years. That is where the issue of inter-generational equity comes in. The future population of Mumbai will need better transportation. At that time you need not create space,it will already be there if you need it.
SHARVARI PATWA: What is your view on congestion tax?
Congestion tax will be a reality one day. Otherwise,what is the solution to so many cars coming to south Mumbai? The nine or 10 lakh population of south Mumbai balloons to 75-80 lakh in the daytime.
ALISON SALDANHA: The opening of Kanjurmarg dumping ground has been delayed owing to a litigation between BMC and MCZMA. Its partial opening last year considerably helped as the other two landfills at Deonar and Mulund have overreached capacity. The BMC says its hands are tied. Your comments?
Their hands are not tied because BMC has taken MCZMAs permission to work on 65 hectares. Of the 114 hectares as per the original plan,65 were cleared by MoEF. If they are working on only 65 hectares,there will not be a problem. The real complaint is that they are going beyond that. Thats why the court has said MCZMA should make regular inspections. I had sent a team for inspection. The group is yet to submit their report.
ZEESHAN SHAIKH: You had a face-off with a politician. What triggered it?
If you have the mandate to implement the rule of law and are not able to do so for a particular section of the society,then the majority section will also not listen to you. The authority of the post will be diluted. My responsibility is to ensure that I dont do anything that dilutes the authority of the post. I took that recourse and in turn was harassed.
SHUBHANGI KHAPRE: Do you think you became a victim of the tussle between Shiv Sena and NCP?
I would not like to name political parties for that,but I can say that sometimes ones honesty,ethics and straightforwardness benefits one group and goes against the other. So if that action of mine has benefited a certain group against another group,I have not played politics. In fact,the only corporator who was arrested during my three year-tenure there,was from the group that was supposedly benefitting from this controversy.
P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: What is the way forward for places such as Mumbra and Kisan Nagar where there are many illegal buildings?
Only 10 per cent of the buildings there are legal. You bring everything to ground zero and after proper planning,construct everything. Give transit camp rehabilitation to people living there. I joined in June,2010,and three buildings collapsed during the monsoon that year. I submitted a detailed plan of cluster development with four FSI. Its still languishing there. A committee was set up to look into it,but nothing
(TRANSCRIBED BY SHARVARI PATWA,TABASSUM BARNAGARWALA &