Event ReportsPublished on May 20, 2011
An ORF study report on the neglect of the Mumbai river Mithi, and how it can be reclaimed effectively was jointly released by Mr. Suresh Prabhu, former Union Minister of Environment and Forests, and Mr. Rajendra Singh, the Ramon Magsaysay Award winner and a noted water activist.
Making Mithi, A River Again
Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai, has completed a study on the neglect and virtual turning of the river Mithi in Mumbai into a sewer. The river, along with its estuarine reach, provides the much-needed green lungs to the city in the form of mangroves. Neglect of this river was the main cause of the catastrophic floods in Mumbai on 26 July, 2005, which claimed nearly 1,000 lives. In what could be a monumental urban transformation initiative to be undertaken anywhere in India yet, ORF has proposed a grand vision for the reclamation of  Mithi River. The study report and a documentary film ’Making the Sewer… A River Again ~ Why Mumbai must reclaim its Mithi’ on the dreadful conditions of the river, was released on May 17, 2011 by Mr. Suresh Prabhu, former Union Minister of Environment and Forests, and Mr. Rajendra Singh, noted water activist and the Ramon Magsaysay Award winner, at a picturesque location inside the mangroves of the Mahim estuary where the Mithi River meets the Arabian Sea. The study, conceptualised by Gautam Kirtane, an ORF research fellow, has been co-authored by him and his fellow researchers Riddhi J. Chokhawala and Dhaval Desai. "India’s water security is in crisis. Just 40 years ago, most Indian cities had abundant natural and manmade water sources, but reckless urbanisation has reduced all of them to stinking sewers and nalas. This disturbing trend must be arrested and we must strive as a nation to clean up our rivers and revive our traditional water bodies," said Mr. Singh. He blamed the current oppressive state of the Mithi on the collective apathy of the people of Mumbai, absence of political will and administrative lethargy. Mr. Suresh Prabhu said that the efforts of forest and green cover conversation must also include the vast treasure of mangrove forests that is under a real threat of gradual extinction in the country. "The estuaries along the vast coastline of India are being dangerously degraded. The filthy environment of the Mithi River around which the mangrove forests are struggling to survive is a grim reminder of this. The Mithi River must be revived, as otherwise, Mumbai will have to pay a heavy price for its neglect," he warned. This event, which included a river cruise upstream of the Mithi River from its confluence with the Arabian Sea at Mahim, exposed the appalling never-before-seen truth about the Mithi River and its delicate ecosystem, which is indispensible for the city’s existence in the face of impending threats posed by global warming. The cruise also gave journalists and city-based water activists their first ever experience to closely witness the ineffectiveness of the reclamation exercises carried out by the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) under the Rs. 1600 crore Mithi River Redevelopment Project. "The government must take a fresh look at the revival of the Mithi. The long abuse of the river as a result of neglect and haphazard urbanisation is having its grim repercussions. The expensive redevelopment work carried out by both the MMRDA and BMC post the devastating floods in 2005 will eventually give Mumbai only a conceretised nala. Such work, without any consideration for aesthetic beauty and the due provision of the badly required attractive open spaces for free public use, is meaningless. More importantly, Mithi’s scientific redevelopment is necessary from the point of view of disaster risk-reduction in Mumbai. We hope that the political leadership at the local, state and central governments takes note of our recommendations and embarks on a massive urban renewal project for the Mithi River that the people of Mumbai so desperately deserve," said Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni, Chairman, ORF Mumbai. The ORF study traces the full 18-km stretch of the Mithi right from its origin in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali, where it emerges from the tail waters of the Tulsi lake, to its confluence with the sea at the Mahim Bay. It studies how, over the years, the Mithi has been turned into a gutter, how its degradation became a curse for Mumbai during the deluge of 26th July 2005, a calamity that claimed the lives of nearly a thousand people. Importantly, the study is about how the Mithi can be transformed back into a beautiful blessing for the city, in the context of a magnificent urban renewal project in which slumdwellers can be humanely rehabilitated, the river can regain its pure flow, migratory birds can return to its rejuvenated ecology, and the riverfront can become a vibrant place for arts, culture, recreation and sports open to the poor and rich alike. The report draws inspiration from the best practices on river restoration and waterfront development from around the world and in India, notably the Chonggyecheon River in Seoul, South Korea; Besos River in Barcelona, Spain; and the ongoing Sabarmati Riverfront Development in Ahmedabad in neighbouring Gujarat. The study recommends a 21-point programme for reclaiming the Mithi, envisaging a single and unbroken river-park corridor ning across the entire 18-km length of the Mithi with dedicated bicycle tracks, gardens, amphitheatres, sports and recreation facilities for free enjoyment of people from all walks of life. Video: Part I - In the Mithi River and Part II - Around the Mithi River.
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