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The hard look: Reclamation a part of culture and history in Mumbai

There is a pressing need for Mumbai to expand and to vastly improve its quality of life for it to be comparable to not just metropolises abroad, but even other Indian metros. (Reuters)

More than three million residents share the space in the island city of Mumbai at a density of 20,000 people per sq km, as per the 2011 census. Further, 29.15 lakh vehicles ply on the city’s inadequate road length of about 2,000 km, as per 2010-11 statistics by the Motor Vehicles department. Public transport buses and trains are overloaded with people despite several capacity additions.

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There is a pressing need for Mumbai to expand and to vastly improve its quality of life for it to be comparable to not just metropolises abroad, but even other Indian metros. With the city locked from one side by the sea, urban planners and state authorities have time and again resorted to land reclamation to accommodate the needs of a burgeoning population.

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Even now, authorities advocate responsible reclamation not just to create land for infrastructure projects but also to bring value to the city. However, all proposals involving reclamation are stuck, not just due to regulatory hurdles, but also due to widespread opposition by environmentalists and scientists. Mumbai’s fishermen, known to be the earliest inhabitants of the island city, also fiercely oppose reclamation, saying it will cripple their livelihood.

Politically too, it’s a hot potato although the concept itself is not new to Mumbai, originally an archipelago of seven islands — Apollo Bunder, Malabar, Cumbala, Mazgaon, Worli, Mahim, and Parel-Dharavi-Sion — which were brought together by reclaiming land.

But the counter-argument is shriller, more so because of illegal activities that have consumed mangroves and damaged natural resources.

ADVERSE IMPACT OF RECLAMATION

True, reclaiming land alters the coastline and leads to a change in the sea level and tidal currents, resulting in wearing away of beaches or dune sediments. An example is the erosion of the Dadar Chowpatty due to reclamation between the Mahim Bay and Bandra Land’s End for the approach road to the Bandra-Worli sea link. Ten years ago, the Dadar Chowpatty had a spacious 50-metre coastline for people to enjoy splashy waves, horseback rides and fun fairs. It has now shrunk to just a few metres.

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