Few cities boast of natural diversity as rich as Mumbai's: we have the jungles of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), hills, rivers, creeks, mangrove forests, and the sea. It is also the world's only city with a leopard habitat in its centre, not to mention 162 species of birds and butterfly species.
Part of this rich heritage: the city's four major rivers, Dahisar, Mithi, Oshiwara, and Poisar. The Dahisar and the Poisar originate from the Tulsi lake, the Oshiwara begins its journey in Goregaon, and the Mithi in the Vihar and Powai lakes.
None of them reach the sea unsullied; slums, industrial areas, cow sheds all dump untreated, often toxic, waste into them. Instead of channels for excess rainwater, they are now stinking, garbage-lined, slime filled sewers. Aside from the assault on the senses, they are also reservoirs of disease: residents along their banks are no strangers to malaria, dengue and various skin and respiratory ailments. Generations of Mumbaikars don't even know them as rivers; all they see is smelly 'nullahs' that flood in the monsoon. In fact, says Gopal Jhaveri, Borivali resident and co-founder of a movement called River March, the Chitale Commission — set up to recommend remedies following the 2005 floods — and said the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, in its development plans purposely refers to river systems as nullahs so river laws don't affect them. But, he says, "The Commission clearly says a 'nullah' is a river tributary, derived from an Urdu word, and does not mean a sewer line."
"In any village or town in India, people use the river water for drinking, or enter the river for spiritual purposes," says Avinash Kubal, Director, Mahim Nature Park. "But there is no such reason in Mumbai, so we are actually disconnected from our rivers."
On World Environment Day, The Hindu's photographers trace the journey of the four rivers — and a fifth in the metropolitan region, the Waldhuni in Ulhasnagar — to see just where the rot is.
Mumbai’s four major rivers, Dahisar, Mithi, Oshiwara and Poisar, are part of its rich natural heritage. However, none of them reach the sea unsullied; slums, industrial areas and cow sheds all dump untreated, often toxic, waste into them. Instead of channels for excess rainwater, they are now stinking, garbage-lined, slime-filled sewers. Aside from the assault on the senses, they are also reservoirs of disease: residents along their banks are no strangers to malaria, dengue and various skin and respiratory ailments.
The Poisar river gushes down the rocks at Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali, in this file photograph.
A boy crosses the stream at Kranti Nagar, Kandivali (East). The river is still in its relatively pristine state here, where it is closest to the origin.
By the time the Poisar reaches Appa Pada at Kandivali, the river carries with it plastic and other forms of solid waste.
At Thakur Complex, Kandivali, the river turns brackish. A bridge built on it is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Lack of planning and encroachments are the main reason for Mumbai’s rivers to turn into sewers.
Municipal workers desilt the river at Bihari Tekdi, Kandivali. A small effort, but the dumping will continue.
The river flows towards the Marve creek at Dahanu Nagar, Kandivali, amid concretisation and a thick cluster of slums.
Almost endstream, the river makes its way to the Marve creek.
The Dahisar river, captured in its pristine glory at source. Many Fine Arts students make the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali, where the river originates, their studio.
A washerman at Krishna Nagar, Borivali (East), washes the day’s laundry in the river. From hospital gowns to hotel linen, a variety of garments get a scrub in the already-polluted river. During summer, the river dries up and pollution levels rise further.
All the untreated sewage from the shanties go into the river near Daulat Nagar, Borivali (East).
The brackish river, as seen from the arterial SV Road in Dahisar (West).
The river passes through thick mangroves on New Link Road in Dahisar (West), finally merging with the Manori creek.
The spill from the Powai Lake eventually joins the Mithi River. The river originates in the hills, east of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, gathers water from the streams and the discharges of the Tulsi, Vihar and Powai lakes, and travels 17.84 km to the Mahim Creek. It is Mumbai's longest river.
By the time the river reaches Goregaon, it carries with it household waste from slums, as it does from the Jai Bhim Nagar in Goregaon (East).
Untreated industrial waste flows into the Mithi below the Saki Naka bridge in Andheri (East).
At Kurla, the Mithi picks up automobile waste too.
Plush office complexes glisten in the background, as a stagnant Mithi river holds the city's filth, at Bandra Kurla Complex.
Slums line up against a tributary of the Mithi river in Dharavi, Asia's largest slum.
Bharat Nagar at Bandra Kurla Complex, which falls under the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority and Dyaneshwar Nagar (right), controlled by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, present a stark image of the agencies' negligence. Both of them have been tasked with desilting and cleaning the river. The Mithi merges into Mahim Creek after this point.
A dry landscape provides the backdrop to the origin of the Oshiwara river, as seen from the Nagri Nivara complex in Goregaon. The 7-km river originates in the Aarey Milk Colony hills. Known initially as Welbert river, it later got the name Oshiwara river. The river finally merges with the Malad Creek.
Untreated chemical waste and sewage make a toxic mix near Noga company at Aarey Colony in Goregaon.
The filth dumped into the Oshiwara river, as seen from the Kama Estate on the arterial Western Express Highway at Goregaon.
Children from a slum near Oshiwara Depot sit on the bank of the rive-turned-sewer.
Scrap floats in the Oshiwara river near Siddhivinayak temple, Goregaon - a source of livelihood for many.
The river carries garbage at Bangur Nagar, Goregaon. It empties into the Malad Creek after this point.
A pair of bullocks stop for water at the GIP Railway Dam in Ambernath, where the Waldhuni river starts its journey. The 31.8 km river eventually joins the Ulhas river in Shahad, where it drains the pollutants it has picked up at Shahad-Kalyan. In 2015, The National Green Tribunal directed four civic bodies, along with the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board and operators of the Dombivali and Ambernath common effluent treatment plant to pay over Rs. 100 crore for the restitution and restoration of the polluted Ulhas and Waldhuni rivers.
Untreated chemical effluents from the Ambernath MIDC mix with river water barely a few kilometres away from its source.
A sample of polluted Waldhuni water collected from areas between Ambernath and Ulhasnagar.
Residents of Barku Pada, Ambernath fill drinking water near Waldhuni river.
Textile units and other small-scale plants on the river bank discharge untreated effluents at Ulhasnagar.
A suburban railway commuter tries to shield his son from the stench emanating from the river at Ulhasnagar station. This is the point near which the river merges into the Ulhas river.