Mumbai Local

Greens see red over national park tunnel

An 11-km tunnel that will pass underneath the 103 square kilometre Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) connecting Thane in central to Borivali in western suburbs has alarmed environmentalists, but the Devendra Fadnavis government has assured that all care would be taken to ensure minimum damage to what remains the only large verdant green patch in a metropolis choked of its open spaces.

Krishna Tiwari, Project head of city forests with Bombay Natural History Society cautioned the government to tread carefully as SGNP was precious to Mumbai as its only surviving green space.

“There is already a lot of disturbance around the SGNP. It is surrounded by human beings with settlements and constructions. The national park is the only remaining forested area in the city with the highest density of leopards in the world. The park is the pride of Mumbai,” he said.

First mooted by Public Works Minister and Thane Shiv Sena MLA Eknath Shinde in August this year, the proposal was presented before a cabinet committee on basic infrastructure meeting chaired by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Monday. It was one of the eight road projects given an in-principle go ahead by the government.

Mr Fadnavis directed officials to carry out feasibility studies for these projects, and submit Detailed Project Reports (DPR) before final clearances from the government. The project involves an 11-km tube tunnel, which will start at Tikuji-ni-Wadi in Manpada on Ghodbunder Road, and connect Ekta Nagar in Borivali on the Western Express Highway passing underneath the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, and the Yeoor Hills.

At present, there is no direct east-west link between Thane and Borivali, and commuters have to travel around the SGNP boundaries either via Ghodbunder Road or Powai.

As per a preliminary project proposal made by Mr Shinde, two tunnels — 13.1 metres wide, and 5.50 metres in vertical clearances will be bored through SGNP, and will have three lanes in carriageway.

It will also connect the Mumbai-Ahmedabad National Highway 8 and Mumbai Agra National Highway 3 at the Thane end.

The project has proposed the use of Tunnel Boring Machines (TBM) as an alternative to conventional drilling and blasting with the objective of minimum disturbance to flora and fauna of the national park.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr Shinde allayed environmental concerns.

“The project will shorten commuting time between Thane and Borivali from an average of 90 to 120 minutes to just 10 minutes, and it will not only save time, but also reduce pollution, and help decongest the Western Express Highway as well as Ghodunder Road. I can assure you that there will be no damage to the forests, and the environment,” Mr Shinde said.

He said he had a meeting with Union Minister for Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar in August. “He said if people benefit without damage to the environment, then he would support the project,” he said. On feasibility studies he said “After this meeting, the feasibility report will now be prepared followed by the Detailed Project Report. After that, we will take all environmental clearance.”

Despite the assurances, environmental activists remained sceptical of the project for a various of reasons.

“The kind of projects they are coming up are not environment friendly. Though a tunnel road is better than a road going through the forest, people are now wary of the implementation of these plans.

There is a higher rate of making things eco-friendly, but then they are dropped for a cheaper option. The flamingo patch on the trans harbour link, for instance, is a concern, but the new alignments always go through the patch. Eco-friendly solutions need money and they need to keep that aside,” environmentalist Sumaira Abdulali, who spearheads the anti-noise pollution initiative Awaaz.

Conservationist and former Bombay Natural History Society director Dr Asad Rehmani said

“Commuting in Mumbai is a huge problem and definitely needs to be tackled. Building a tunnelled road is better than a surface road through the national park, but the authorities must ensure that the tunnel is deep enough, and does not have any exits coming out in the forests.”

Environmentalist and founder of Sprouts, Anand Pendharkar felt the government was not doing serious environment assessment studies before venturing into projects of this kind.

“Where is the environmental or geological study,” he asked.

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 1:47:47 AM |

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