Real education is all about making a difference in the real world. Here is what some of us have done in North Mumbai in the last few years.
Gritty residents save 429 acres of mangroves
The sight of thick mangroves stretching for kilometres from Dahisar to Gorai may appear commonplace. However, behind their lushness is a tale of extraordinary grit exhibited by a handful of ordinary residents of the area who, braving threats for years, battled in courts and outside to restore the green lungs from the brink of near ruination.
Figure 1 Ordinary residents faced up to the powerful lobby destroying mangroves and won
The reclaimed mangroves, spread over 429 acres, had fallen victim about five years ago to the avarice of a builder.
Transgressing a Supreme Court order, he began cutting the trees down and pouring debris on them. The rampant damage created six large bald patches on the land. Further destruction was imminent, had a group of residents of New Link Road not stood up and begun a fight. Their collective effort forced the government to act and prompted the Supreme Court to order the restoration of the mangroves. Left untouched for years and nursed by nature, the area is today returning to life.
“I would daily go to the land for morning walks, but I didn’t know many of the others who came there. It was the mangroves that got us talking. Next thing we knew we were together fighting to save them,” remembers Harishchandra Pande, looking out at the foliage from his sixth-floor window. He points to patches of green that seem like grass but are mangroves growing back.
Pande had moved into his house on New Link Road in 2001 and the most beautiful part of it then, he says, was the view. In 2009, when labourers began chopping the mangroves, he was disturbed. On his morning walks, he realized so were many others like David Suse. Pande filed a complaint with the MHB Colony police, but nothing happened. Soon debris was found dumped on the plot and a ring road was created around the mangroves. It was then that residents realised something sinister was underway–the land was being reclaimed.
Alarmed, the residents filed complaints with the BMC and the suburban collector’s office. While local ward officer P R Masurkar surveyed the land and reported illegal debris dumping and mangrove-felling, the collector’s office remained mum. Meanwhile, the residents started receiving threats, nearly daily.
A core team of residents was formed and inquiries made. The mangroves, it was discovered then, was notified as a protected forest in 1998. The 429 acres, the residents realized, was allotted to a family in the 1950s who cultivated salt till the 1980s. The termination of saltpan activities allowed lush mangroves to grow. In 2006, a builder, Jayesh Shah, obtained power of attorney from the family and approached the SC, seeking permission to restart saltpan activities. In 2009, he was granted permission on the ground that mangroves would not be destroyed. But that is precisely what happened. In 2010, the residents intervened in the matter along with BEAG, informing the SC about its order’s violation. They went back to the court later and it directed principal judge M Tahiliyani of sessions court to submit a report.
In 2011, the SC reversed its order that allowed saltpan activities and directed the builder to restore the area. When he refused to do so, the court asked the collector to clear the debris, attach the builder’s properties, freeze his accounts and recover Rs 1.17 crore.
Nearly 85% of the debris was removed by 2012. The remainder could not be taken away because it would have led to mass destruction of the mangroves. Untouched by human hands, the area has been nursed back to health by nature.
This is a heart-warming story that holds out hope for Mumbai.
Concerted efforts by determined individuals, if supported even by a few in the administration, can turn things around. We hope this serves as an example for other neighbourhoods where things may look bad right now.
www.newlinkroad.wordpress.com has more details on this and many other issues we can tackle as citizens of Mumbai, or for that matter anywhere you stay.