Flamingo site in peril near Mumbai

Meena Menon

Bridge at a spot where 15,000-20,000 of them come annually

The area is designated an Important Bird Area Numbers have been rising since the 1990s

MUMBAI: With the long-pending Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) project making progress, the fate of the flamingo habitat at Sewri Bay is almost sealed. Pre-qualification bidders for the project have been selected.

The Rs. 4,000-crore project involves building a 22-km bridge from Sewri in central Mumbai to Nhava, in Navi Mumbai (New Bombay). It will be built over an expanse of water that attracts thousands of migratory flamingoes every year, including the lesser flamingo, an endangered species.

The six-lane MTHL will be the world's longest sea bridge, after the two bridges at Hanzhou near Shanghai. The Maharashtra Government has appointed the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) as the agency to implement the project on a build-own-transfer (BOT) basis.

Minister for Public Works Anil Deshmukh said several studies had been done in the last 30 to 35 years vis-à-vis the project. It was recommended by a steering group under J.R.D. Tata appointed by the Maharashtra Government in 1980. The MSRDC conducted an environment impact assessment and a techno-feasibility study. He said these "comprehensive" environment studies were submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), which issued environmental clearance on March 11, 2005.

The MSRDC invited bids for pre-qualification of entrepreneurs by advertising for global tenders. While six consortia submitted pre-qualification bids, only three were approved. The bids will be received in three months and work is likely to be awarded in December 2006.

Environmentalists are opposed to the trans-harbour link, as the bridge will be built at a spot where 15,000 to 20,000 flamingoes come every year.

Sunjoy Monga, naturalist, who launched a campaign to save Mumbai's flamingoes last year, said about 95 per cent of the birds that migrated were lesser flamingoes, a threatened species. The lesser flamingo prefer brackish water, are habitat-specific and spend nearly eight and a half months at Sewri each year. The number of flamingo visitors has risen steadily since the 1990s. The Bay is shallow, sheltered and has appropriate food for the flamingoes.

According to the clearance guidelines issued by the MoEF, silence zones must be created about 2 km from Sewri. As the Elephanta Caves are situated about 3 km from the proposed sea link, the Archaeological Survey of India too needed to give a no objection certificate which has come. The concept of "silence zones" was meaningless, Mr. Monga said. "You are building such a huge bridge and you cannot rule out the amount of work and noise that will be generated. The construction will irrevocably alter the nature of the Bay."

The environmentalists are not against the Trans Harbour Link per se. Two years ago, they had suggested that the bridge be realigned to save the birds.

The area is designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) and is a popular spot for viewing birds.

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