Clarifications on Lokhandwala mangroves and article in ToI on 15th November

17th November 2013

Informing and clarifying on the mangroves around Lokhandwala Complex and the Lokhandwala mangroves.

The report carried in TOI on 15th November is completely wrong in representing the facts. In this note I am pointing out what is so wrong and putting straight some milestones and the timeline of events over the past fifteen years.

Oil and effluents spell slow death for Mumbai’s creeks

Public memory is short and over such long period even journalists do not have recourse to the facts and anecdotes but that cannot be an excuse for misinformation to float around

This clarification is not about some desire for me to have excessive adulation or a quote. All the content in that expanded caption is completely wrong. Get a quote by all means but don’t give misinformation. Whether Sumesh gave the wrong information or ToI made a mess has to be clarified by them. It will be quite shocking of ToI on their own got all this so wrong.

When I look at the issue after two days I understand what has happened. Fundamentally Sumesh is commenting on a far larger issue from the perspectives of his experience dealing with MCZMA over the plot behind his building. This is where a builder is carrying out dumping and hence “Builders eyeing construction projects create bunds around mangroves to keep water out. “This causes mangroves to dry up and eventually destroys them,”

Overall the Lokhandwala mangroves covering around 300-400 acres are at in the safest phase of time they have been since 1991. And this has angered me many a time in the past many years about civic minded citizens. Just to solve a problem, which particularly effects their backyard, they will resort to sweeping general doomsday remarks to somehow be able to make an impact on their backyard.

 This plot behind Karan is where MCZMA is not responding after repeated representations (two years not ten as stated) and hence Lekhi and others wrote to the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority about 10 years ago, but all pleas to save the creek and mangroves fell on deaf ears.” Did the paper write this on their own? Sumesh did not say this? More comment on this below.

The whole of the large byline on Versova creek is very little on the core of the issue which is about pollution in the creeks and the bad water quality. This is clearly a fault of the editorial desk at ToI as well. Sensationalism can be a universal fault, with citizens as well as media.

Versova Creek does not have 1800 acres of mangroves. The issue really is not about Versova creek anyways, it is about the Malad Creek. Versova creek is a very small section, whose pollution is a result of the huge discharge of untreated domestic sewage and chemical effluents in the Malad creek. This effluent makes its way from Andheri, Jogeshwari, Goregaon and Malad, including the east of these suburbs. Versova itself does not generate so much pollution to make the Versova creek as polluted as it has become.

And why is there so much pollution in the creeks, Because engineering brains in the corrupt contractor-officials-politician mafia is siphoning of money which can be used to provide effective solutions to treat sewage and effluent. They are peddling useless solutions because the main interest is to give contracts and not solutions.

I am more than happy to see ne people enter the fray, but clearly if new people enter the same area of work where you have given enormous contribution in the past you see the quote very closely for factual errors if any. In this case the facts are completely wrong and an activity which was completely overseen by me (10 years ago) is ascribed to somebody else.

It can be the case that the journalist in question does not know the geography, the details of area covered etc. and a timeline of past developments and hence it becomes the responsibility of the person speaking to provide this information in a succinct manner. In this case either the article was made by the journalist and some editors on their own sitting in the office without being in touch with Sumesh and others in the area or else all the information was provided by Sumesh himself, since he is the one quoted in the article.

The Lokhandwala mangroves and my work in saving them will always be special in my life for a lot of reasons – happy and very sad. I saved Lokhandwala Lake from certain destruction in 1999. I named it Lokhandwala Lake, spoke about its natural beauty at forums and in media and gave it a position of eminence when there was absolutely no interest in it from the local residents. I received support from Mr. P K Patel, Mr. S P Gupta and Mr. Parikshat Sahni in doing so

Subsequently I saved large chunks of the mangroves in the same area in 2001.

During 2001-2002 I worked with Pravin Choudhary in completely stopping the dumping on the Millat Nagar mangroves, 500 acres of which were completely destroyed by when, but at least the plans were foiled.

————————————————————————————————————–

I will give a point by point rebuttal to what was stated in the report, copied below for reference

 About 1,800 acres of mangroves and some 20,000 birds are still found here, despite heavy pollutants and dumping on the periphery of the creek. Industrial and human waste is discharged into the creek and its waters are murky. No fishing is done because of heavy concentration of chemicals and effluents. Builders eyeing construction projects create bunds around mangroves to keep water out. “This causes mangroves to dry up and eventually destroys them,” said Sumesh Lekhi of the Oshiwara Lokhandwala Citizens Association. Lekhi and others wrote to the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority about 10 years ago, but all pleas to save the creek and mangroves fell on deaf ears.

The part in inverted quotes and bold is taken from the article verbatim and below that is my comment and explanation.

  1. “About 1,800 acres of mangroves …..”

The existing mangroves around Lokhandwala Complex do not cover more than 500 acres and will be between 300-400 acres more accurately. The Millat Nagar mangroves which got destroyed completely were around 500 acres. So let us get the numbers right in the first place. 1800 acres might be the total mangroves in Malad creek.

  1. 2.       “Builders eying construction projects create bunds around mangroves to keep water out…”

Let us not speak in generalities. Large scale destruction of mangroves around Lokhandwala Complex is history now due to the very strong efforts put in primarily by me between 2001 (when I was able to solo stop the first big dumping) to 2005.

Madhav Limaye played active role coordinating with the local police and BMC subsequently. Mr. Patel was an absolute strong moral support besides looking into administrative matters. Mr. Parikshat Sahni was another strong supporter but his film schedules kept him busy and away from operational involvement. Mr. Rajesh Sharma is the one other person I will strongly credit for having been very supportive behind the scenes.

Mr. Patel and Mr. Sahni have known me since my earliest activism days when as a 24 year old I stopped the dumping of garbage in Lokhandwala Lake and became a headache for those within BMC who were facilitating the garbage dumping.

It can be generally fashionable in the few citizens who will be civic minded and also some activists to talk dooms day language, use alarmist language and create sensation. I have never relied on the same. I absolutely love to have all my facts straight, learn and re-learn if I make mistake on those. And I do not like to resort to alarmism to resolve an issue which is more of a personal interest; not piggy back ride one issue on another.

In this case the issue of the plot of land behind Karan building is piggy back riding on the overall Lokhandwala Mangroves. There are no mangroves behind Karan building. The resident builder wants to make a building there (completely illegal) and to fight, which OLCA has made the situation as if all of the 300 acres of mangroves in Mumbai are in danger!

Are builders making any bunds now? None. The last big organised dumping in the area happened in the end of 2009 in the site opposite Millat Nagar. I again intervened over there bringing the dumping to a complete stop. OLCA was nowhere then. The 20,000 birds that Sumesh now speaks about would not have found a habitat, because the 2009 dumping was to plug the breach in Malad creek which was allowing waters to flow into the plot. The details of that dumping (and videos) are here.

http://mumbaimangroves.wordpress.com/2009/12/10/dumping-resumes-at-mumbais-biggest-coastal-regulation-zone-violation-site/

I with the help from a friend filmed the dumping operations sitting up in early winter mornings. And ended up facing an uproar at home when they realised later from news what I had been upto.

  1. 3.       “This causes mangroves to dry up and eventually destroys them,” said Sumesh Lekhi

 Yes you would have to make these kind of statements had you been around 1999-2003 when this was the norm rather than the exception. No mangroves are drying up in Lokhandwala area now. All that had dried up have been revived.

The biggest threat to the mangroves may be the two acre transit dumping ground near the Versova Sewage Lagoon which does not even find a mention.

 Some dumping happens in the creek near the bridge but it is not fresh dumping, this is dumping on top of what was already dumped more than ten years ago.

Almost all of OLCA efforts in the past two years has been to stop a building from coming up behind Karan building where Sumesh resides.

4.  “Lekhi and others wrote to the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority about 10 years ago,”

Excuse me? OLCA has been formed less than two years ago, I never saw Sumesh around even in 2011, which was last when I was active in the complex mobilising back road residents for collective action to stop the transit dumping ground. (more on that below)

MCZMA gave its first verdict in response to my correspondence in February 2002. It was an outright success because it ordered Oshiwara Land Development Trust to restore the mangroves destroyed by them. Since then the mangroves have grown back healthy. Large breaches were made by the builders into the L shaped bund they had made and were personally supervised by me and Madhu Swant then.

What Sumesh is referring to the lack of response by MCZMA to the plot behind his building; again distorting the picture by riding that plot on the back of Lokhandwala mangroves.

In 2011 I covered almost all buildings along the backroad then, held extensive meetings in Meghdoot 1 where Rajesh Mishra is the only one who seems to be affected by the issue. I was also trying to make the residents agree upon a funding plan for a full time project officer for Mangrove Society of India – Mumbai Chapter – my third failed attempt in the past decade.

And this is what annoys me and makes me feel obnoxious about the nonsense people of Lokhandwala Complex of whom I feel OLCA is very representative of

5.  “but all pleas to save the creek and mangroves fell on deaf ears.

 Lokhandwala mangroves are actually a success story of conservation. All pleas to save the creek and the mangroves have been most effectively responded by the government. The very first verdict by the MCZMA was in February 2002, in response to my representations in the preceding six months.

And that is why I hate these sweeping alarmist statements, creeks are dying, mangroves are on the verge of disappearing, the government is tone deaf and the likes.  Almost all authorities I worked with on the Lokhandwala mangroves responded positively and there was outcome on the ground.

Similar is the case for Versova mangroves, which are again a case study for success. While the situation on the ground has chained in past decade, the discourse on mangroves remains alarmist.

Where there is real danger we have nobody responding. During 2003-2009, even the few members who were active started becoming inactive due to professional and family reasons and I was carrying the mantle of MSI all alone, receiving calls from affected areas, visiting, calling authorities, organising World Wetlands Day functions and the like.

I have hardly been active with the issues of saving mangroves or anywhere in the city for that matter since around 2010 for a number of personal reasons.  But it is not that I have not lent my weight where required to the issue. Three years is not a long enough time for such important fact and milestones to be so comprehensively forgotten.

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