Save Mumbai’s solitary river, say activists

The main cause of the unprecedented flooding which killed nearly a 1000 people was the Mithi river.

Namrata Bhingarde

For Mumbaikars, every monsoon brings with it the fear and unforgettable memories of 26th July 2005, one of the darkest days in the city’s history.
The main cause of the unprecedented flooding which killed nearly a 1000 people and caused crores of rupees worth of damage was the Mithi, a river which has turned into a big, stinking sewer.

As yet another monsoon approaches, the Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai, organised a media outing to witness the ineffectiveness of Rs 1600 crore Mithi River Redevelopment Project by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, or BMC.

The journey started from the Mahim causeway in fishing boats. As the boats crossed under the western railway track, all one could see was the waste and dried flowers thrown by passengers from the trains passing overhead. The debris included all kinds of waste one can imagine, and some that we can’t.

The local fisherman who was piloting our boat told us that at times, the debris was so thick that the boats would get stuck in the water, and the fishermen had to climb down into the stinking two-feet deep sewage and manually push the boats towards clearer water.
The ORF also released a report titled “Making sewer, the river again” by Gautam Kirtane, Dhaval Desai and Riddhi Chokhwala. The report tracks the present condition of Mithi right from its origin in Vihar lake in Borivali, covering the 18 kilometers to its confluence with the sea at Mahim Bay.

According to Sudhindra Kulkarni, chairman, ORF, nothing has changed since 2005. Instead of clearing the debris, The MMRDA and BMC instead built a huge wall to protect the mangroves from being strangled by the debris. But this in turn had narrowed the width of the Mithi, making it even more difficult to clear the debris.

Noting that the word ‘Mithi’ in Marathi means Hug, former environment minister Suresh Prabhu said the river hugs Mumbai like a mother, and that we ignore her at out peril. Magasaysay award winner and water activist Rajendra Singh blamed political corruption and apathy for the state of affairs, and made a fervent appeal to save Mumbai’s only river.

The ORF report proposes converting the Mithi into a waterfront development river park, with clean water, inspired by similar projects on the Chonggyecheon River in South Korea, Besos river in Spain and the ongoing Sabarmati Riverfront Development in neighbouring Gujarat.

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