Why Mumbai must reclaim its Mithi – A study by Observer Research Foundation

This report deals with the study on the neglect and virtual turning of the river Mithi in Mumbai into a sewer.

The river, along with its estuarine reach, provides the much-needed green lungs to the city in the form of mangroves. Neglect of this river was the main cause of the catastrophic floods in Mumbai on 26 July, 2005, which claimed nearly 1,000 lives. In what could be a monumental urban transformation initiative to be undertaken anywhere in India yet, ORF has proposed a grand vision for the reclamation of Mithi River. The study report and a documentary film ’Making the sewer a river again - Why Mumbai must reclaim its Mithi’ on the dreadful conditions of the river, was released in May, 2011 in Mumbai.

The estuaries along the vast coastline of India are being dangerously degraded. The filthy environment of the Mithi river around which the mangrove forests are struggling to survive is a grim reminder of this. The river must be revived, as otherwise, Mumbai will have to pay a heavy price for its neglect. The video exposes the appalling never-before-seen truth about the Mithi River and its delicate ecosystem, which is indispensible for the city’s existence in the face of impending threats posed by global warming. The ineffectiveness of the reclamation exercises carried out by the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) under the Rs. 1600 crore Mithi River Redevelopment Project is also discussed.

The long abuse of the river as a result of neglect and haphazard urbanisation has grim repercussions. The expensive redevelopment work carried out by both the MMRDA and BMC post the devastating floods in 2005 will eventually give Mumbai only a concretized nala. Such work, without any consideration for aesthetic beauty and the due provision for the badly required attractive open spaces for free public use, is meaningless. More importantly, Mithi’s scientific redevelopment is necessary from the point of view of disaster risk-reduction in Mumbai.

The study traces the full 18-km stretch of the Mithi right from its origin in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali, where it emerges from the tail waters of the Tulsi lake, to its confluence with the sea at the Mahim Bay. It studies how, over the years, the Mithi has been turned into a gutter, how its degradation became a curse for Mumbai during the deluge of 2005, a calamity that claimed the lives of nearly a thousand people. Importantly, the study is about how the Mithi can be transformed back into a beautiful blessing for the city, in the context of a magnificent urban renewal project in which slum dwellers can be humanely rehabilitated, the river can regain its pure flow, migratory birds can return to its rejuvenated ecology, and the riverfront can become a vibrant place for arts, culture, recreation and sports open to the poor and rich alike. 

The report draws inspiration from the best practices on river restoration and waterfront development from around the world and in India, notably the Chonggyecheon River in Seoul, South Korea; Besos River in Barcelona, Spain; and the ongoing Sabarmati Riverfront Development in Ahmedabad in neighbouring Gujarat. The study recommends a 21-point programme for reclaiming the Mithi, envisaging a single and unbroken river-park corridor spanning across the entire 18-km length of the Mithi with dedicated bicycle tracks, gardens, amphitheatres, sports and recreation facilities for free enjoyment of people from all walks of life.

The video can be viewed below -

 

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