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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