Real Heroes of Mumbai

I have seen a few heroes and heroines in reel and real life. Often the reel heroes seem larger than life and get a lot of adulation because of what they are seen to be doing. But here I want to present to you one man, Nandakumar Pawar, who in my opinion is a real hero of Mumbai.

He hails from the indigenous Koli fishermen community from Bhandup in the north-eastern suburb of Mumbai. They are traditional fishermen. He, along with a few likeminded friends, has done remarkable work in conserving the wetland systems of Mumbai that are so vital for its survival. Stalin D. of Vanashakti is his mentor and hero. I hope to cover Stalin in another blog.

The November 2015 flooding of Chennai is still fresh in the public mind as I write this, and the importance of preserving the natural wetlands is now becoming more evident to the common man, but public memory is short and the greed of developers is endless. That is why I thought of putting up this post, so that more people are aware of this hero of Mumbai. The floods and devastation caused in Chennai was mainly due to wetland destruction and rampant construction on natural drainage areas.

 

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Figure 1 Nandakumar Pawar and the wetlands of Mumbai

Nandakumar Pawar and his NGO the Ekveera Pratisthan has crusaded for the preservation of wetlands and fought not only greedy developers and politicians but even at times people from his own community who tried to erect illegal structures in the mangroves! The indigenous knowledge he has is based on real experience and he showed me the foolhardiness of trying to do mangrove replantation.

Mangrove replantation is being sponsored by several well-meaning Corporates. But what they are actually doing is damaging the existing wetlands.

Nandakumar showed me an area of intertidal grasslands in between the mangroves. These are important areas for birds as they provide resting and roosting places, where these birds lay their eggs and hatch their young. Some NGOs with funding from Corporates have converted part of this grassland into a mangrove replantation zone, but very few of the mangroves have survived! That happened also because the nursery supplied them with Ceriops Tagel species which cannot grow on hard ground.

Stalin from Vanashakti explained “We are replacing each and every saplings with avecenia marina and all will survive..and these grass lands are getting inundated due to seal level rise and mangroves are growing even in places where we or anyone else has not planted”

By the inundation of intertidal grasslands by rising sea water, with the subsequent destruction of their nesting sites, now birds have no place to go, and are deserting this patch as well.

I gained a new appreciation for the wisdom of God in creating all these different areas within the wetlands, including sparse and dense mangroves, intertidal mud flats and grass lands, and creeks where the tide flushes the entire system twice a day. Each is essential for the other and add to the beauty of the whole wetlands. Wetlands do not mean only mangroves, as Nandakumar repeated.

He also showed me the water being pumped out of the Sewage Treatment Plant [STP] at Bhandup Mulund Pumping station.  He was not at all happy with the quality of the water, and from the colour of the water I could make out that all is not well indeed.

Yet by God’s grace there are quite a few birds in other areas of Bhandup creek. I marvel at the resilience of these wonderful creatures. Nandakumar took us out on a boating expedition into the Thane creek where we took these pictures.

 

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Dr. Mathew with Nandakumar and friend

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Black headed Ibis

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Flamingoes looking worried

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Shocking sight: water covered with all sorts of garbage

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Flamingoes taking off

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Koli Fishermen in action

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What a mess we have made of our beautiful coast

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An elegant bird high up on the mangroves

 

 

We came back from the short boating trip with a determination to do our best to bring back Mumbai’s real heroes to the limelight and make more people aware of the wetlands and how we can preserve them and indeed the city of Mumbai for our future generations. Thank you Nandakumar, you have been a real inspiration to me.

Please let me know how you would like to contribute to this effort. I am part of the New Link Road Residents Forum, which is a group of likeminded individuals in Borivali Dahisar in North West Mumbai who are interested in preserving the environment and wetlands our area is blessed with. www.newlinkroad.wordpress.com is our blog.

 

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Rewarding robbers

Imagine that you are assigned a spacious official bungalow as part of your job. Someone comes and occupies a part of your living room. He builds a tent, and you ignore him or probably even ask him to pay you some money for it. After many years, he has now built many more rooms in your living room.

Now imagine your boss walking into your home. What do you think he will do? Of course those people living in your living room who would be rightly called encroachers would be asked to leave your room by your employer. That is natural justice. It is perfectly understandable even by a child. Not only that, imagine what would happen to you? You would be immediately dismissed from your job, no doubt about it! You would be called crazy to even think that your boss would reward these encroachers with a bungalow!

Now when you compare this with what is happening to encroachers who have been caught occupying land belonging to others including the Government, you wonder who is crazy!

12 Dec 2015 Hindustan Times (Mumbai) Shailesh Gaikwad shailesh.gaikwad@hindustantimes.com writes:

Slum dwellers may get homes on Centre’s land

State government is in talks with the railway and defence ministries for rehabilitation of slum dwellers on land owned by them in Mumbai

The state government is in talks with Centre for insitu rehabilitation of slums on land owned by Centre’s departments and agencies such as the Railways, Defence, Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) and Mumbai airport.

“We are in talks with the railway and defence ministries for rehabilitation of slum dwellers on l and owned by them in Mumbai. The response from both the ministries is positive,” said Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in reply to a debate on the pending issue of resettlement of slums on airport land initiated by Mumbai legislator Parag Alavani in the state Assembly on Friday.

The government is also seeking a legal clarification on the cut-off date—on whether it is January 2000 or December 2000 — to check for the eligibility under the slum rehabilitation scheme.

“The high court decided it should be 2000, but we want a clarification on whether it should be January 1, 2000 or December 31, 2000,” said Fadnavis. If the deadline is fixed at December 2000, a few lakh more slum dwellers will become eligible for free rehabilitation under state’s slum rehabilitation programme. The ruling BJP wants the decision to be taken ahead of the civic polls in Mumbai in early 2017.

The defence ministry has given its in-principle approval for rehabilitation of slums on their land in Mumbai, said Fadnavis, adding that railway minister Suresh Prabhu has asked the state government to submit a fresh proposal after which a model is likely to be worked out soon.

Officials from the state housing department said the state is planning to prepare a model which will ensure rehabilitation of all slums on lands owned by the Centre in Mumbai. Besides defence, lands belonging to the railways, Mb PT, airport and Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) have also been encroached upon.

The state wants the Centre to allow in-situ development of the slums, as often slum dwellers oppose resettlement away from their current dwellings.

It is also seeking the Centre’s permission to resettle some of slum dwellers to salt pans, which fall under the no-development zone.

“We are discussing how we can compensate the Centre for the land. It could be in the form of land elsewhere or in the form of floor space index (FSI), which it can use elsewhere,” said the official.

The expansion of the Mumbai airport is stuck owing to the failure of the authorities to clear the land which has been encroached upon by slums and issues pertaining to the rehabilitation of slum dwellers.

Following a legal dispute between MIAL and HDIL, the two companies have gone into arbitration.

Union civil aviation minister Ashok Gajpathy Raju had in July 2014 directed that a fresh rehabilitation plan be prepared. Raju has given a nod for in-situ rehabilitation of slum dwellers.

The state government will soon take a decision on the same, Fadnavis said.

Now you decide who is crazy. Is it not us the honest tax paying citizens of India, who have to bear this craziness, of our land and precious public lands which were supposed to be taken care of by these Government organisations, being gifted to these robbers and encroachers?

Hats off to the citizens of Mumbai for our tolerance of this nonsense.

 

Slums burn while Politicians pave the way for even more disasters

Yesterday there was a huge fire in an illegal slum colony in a northern suburb of Mumbai called Kandivali. Over 2000 shanties were burnt, fortunately there were only two casualties. The strange fact was that these were all illegal settlements, many of them owned by local politicians, who have even gone to the extent of further dividing a small 10 X 10 feet hutment into two just to get two names on the list so that when there is a slum rehabilitation project they will be eligible for two concrete and cement flats or apartments in a tower meant to rehabilitate the slum dwellers.

This is an extract from the TOI: “How do we go on now? “was the question on most lips at Kandivli’s Damu Nagar where around 2,000 hutments were destroyed in a blaze on Monday afternoon. Two people died and 11 were injured after a massive fire in the slum, which officials said spread after cylinders in the shanties exploded. Its cause is yet to be determined.

“The fire started around noon, probably due to a cylinder blast in one home, and then spread quickly. There were several explosions as many residents had LPG cylinders” said additional commissioner, north region, Fatehsinh Patil. Local corporator Ajanta Yadav said the fire could have started after a woman tried to set herself ablaze during a fight with her husband.

As the slum is on the slope of a hill, fire-fighters broke a brick wall at the bottom of the slope to lay down large pipes that could carry water uphill. It was impossible for engines to drive up to the narrow clusters of hutments. Many people initially ran up the hill to save themselves, but once the fire was doused began the search for missing relatives, especially children due to return from school at the time. Rinku Gupta, who was in Damu Nagar for a meeting on Monday, said he counted 27 explosions while trying to run for his life.

Sutte, like many of Damu Nagar’s older residents, had paid Rs 7,000 to the forest department which owns the land. “The department conducted a survey of Damu Nagar two decades ago and offered to relocate us to Chandivli for a one-time payment. We paid but only a few have been relocated so far” said Subhash Wavhal, a resident.

N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forests, said families could not be shifted out of Damu Nagar as the rehab homes are yet to be made available to the forest department. Over 33,000 families had paid to be shifted out of the area, but many were yet to pay. Till date, 12,000 families from Sanjay Gandhi National Park have been rehabilitated at Chandivli. Vasudevan said they would make an estimate of the families who were eligible and affected by the blast.

 


Unfortunately, despite all these tragedies, it seems that greed has blinded the Corporators of Mumbai so much that they are all set to pass this absolutely absurd order: The BMC is all set to increase the permissible height of slums from 14 feet to 18 feet. The civic house will discuss “the desirability of giving permission to slums prior to 1995 to increase height” when it meets on December 14. The new permissible ceiling will almost double the number of shanties in each slum pocket. This means that there will be even more crowding and congestion in these slums, putting to risk even more lives. When will our greedy politicians ever learn? http://www.mid-day.com/articles/bmc-to-increase-legal-height-of-slums-to-18-feet-before-civic-polls/16750178. The BMC elections are just over 12 months away. Interestingly, the current height of 14 feet was set after corporators pushed a similar proposal through under the same circumstances in 2011 — one year before the previous BMC election.

Another concern is that the decision will only end up aiding developers. Activists said increasing the height will enable builders to appropriate FSI to build more high-rises. Amit Maru, a slum rehabilitation activist, said builders will use the density of these slums to get more FSI for sale component flats when redeveloping the shanties. “Right now under redevelopment, only the person who stays on the ground floor of a shanty gets a home,” said Maru. “But if the upper floors are legalised, then the builder will show density, will get higher FSI and other incentives to construct taller buildings for sale. Also, the BMC should clarify how many people will benefit when a slum is redeveloped. Is it going to be only the people on the ground floor, as it is currently, or will those in the higher floors also get a redeveloped flat?”