Mumbai: Clouds over Mahim Nature Park
After Sanjay Gandhi National Park and the Aarey forest, city builders are now eying the Mahim Nature Park near the Bandra-Kurla complex
The ‘ED’ (Eknath Shinde-Devendra Fadnavis) government’s plans to revive the Dharavi Redevelopment Project threatens the Mahim Nature Park and is adding to the fear that people in Mumbai will pay more for rising pollution as another green lungs of the city bites the dust.
The Mahim Nature Park is close to Dharavi Sector 5. It is not a natural forest but it was painstakingly built and afforested after the existing dumping ground was shifted to Deonar and Mankhurd in North Mumbai.
Nature lovers planted different types of plant species here. Dr Salim Ali, who is called the Birdman of India, planted the first sapling in 1983. There are several medicinal plants in the park and school and college students regularly visit the park for environmental lessons.
After nature lovers built this park, the Maharashtra government handed it over to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), which is now the custodian of the place. MMRDA placed this under the control of Maharashtra Nisarg Udyan Sanstha, headed by the state’s chief secretary.
People fondly recall the contributions of Avinash Kubal, the then deputy director, who turned it into a veritable forest, which is now home to several types of birds and butterflies. Spread over 37 acres, it boasts of some 14,000 species of flora, 120 varieties of birds, more than 75 types of butterflies and 30 species of spiders and reptiles.
There is also a department of nursery, from where people can buy 550 species of medicinal and other plants.
Under then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, the then forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar had tried to take Mahim Nature Park under the forest department but did not succeed.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mahim Nature Park and Aarey forest in Mumbai are deemed to be the green lungs of the city. Skyscrapers have now come up near the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, affecting the oxygen levels. Hundreds of trees have been felled already for the Metro car shed in the Aarey area. Now if Mahim Nature Park is also tampered with, then Mumbaikars can brace themselves to gasp for breath.
During the monsoon session of the Assembly last month, deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis announced in the House that Dharavi Redevelopment Project was very important and Rs 800 crore had been paid to the Centre to acquire railway land for its completion. Mahim Nature Park, fear environmentalists, stands in danger of being swallowed up by the same project and the permission could come through any time now.
It is not as though this is a new threat to the park. A few years back the Dharavi Redevelopment Authority (DRA) had issued a public notice to include Mahim Nature Park in the Dharavi Redevelopment Project. There was a suggestion that 1.68 lakh square metres of park land be hived off to include in the redevelopment project. This was done to attract builders by transferring the Floor Space Index gained by them here to other projects, but then this decision was withdrawn after fierce opposition by the Shiv Sena and environmentalists.
Now environment activists like D Stalin have threatened to take to the streets and fight a legal battle if any attempt is made to tamper with the park again.
The topographical location of the park has attracted the attention of several builders as it is in close proximity to the Bandra-Kurla complex where land and building prices have skyrocketed in recent years. The Mithi river flows on the other side. The Mahim creek is surrounded by mangroves and has a mini-ecosystem within it, which protect the land from destructive sea waves during monsoons and high tides. Mumbaikars are keeping their fingers crossed.