Thoughts from the Raj Thackeray meeting today

I was very upset with the way Mr. Raj Thackeray’s function to discuss the Development Plan 2034 and Aarey was organised. At the end of the function I expressed my displeasure with other members of the Save Aarey group and some members of MNS and left without exchanging in any of the superfluous pleasantries at the end of such functions. For those who wouldn’t know, today Mr. Raj Thackeray in his personal capacity decided to keep a function to discuss the draft Development Plan of Mumbai and the Aarey issue, which has got strong highlight as a result of the efforts of the Save Aarey movement.

As a prelude the Save Aarey movement members had met him when he visited the car shed site of Aarey, I had personally showed him around and explained the many issues. Even before, his wife and son had visited and Save Aarey members had accompanied them as well. Subsequently he had invited us to his office where he explained his plan for the program on 28th March.

The whole proceeding today did not see a SINGLE mention of the efforts of the Save Aarey movement and the enormous effort through much difficulty that a few citizens have made in the past eight months towards giving the character and scale to the public discourse over saving this important green lung of Mumbai. Not a single mention. It was as if Save Aarey movement did not exist. As if he knew none of us.

This clearly cannot be without design. Anybody who would discuss an issue which has been much in public discussion would by default mention the names of the key stakeholder(s). It is natural to have it on your tongue, as a means of either general comment or appreciation. You do not discuss the World Cup cricket without discussing specific teams and players. You do not discuss advertisements and spectators. And yet the entertainers (advertisements) and the naturalists (the spectators) were the focus of the function.

This can only happen by taking a conscious decision to not even mention, forget appreciate the efforts. Who took this decision I don’t know but somebody did. Possibly Raj Thackeray wanted his function to be all about himself and nobody else – facts be dammed or it was P K Das’s decision who really seemed to be the ‘architect’ of the program structure. My feeling is it is more of PK. Raj Thackeray showed up for less than 15 mins during the function.

I was not expecting to be welcomed on the stage or felicitated or anything but not to have even a mention of the efforts was downright insult. I had not come to fill the auditorium and clap at regular intervals or ogle at film stars whom I care a damn about. I found this in keeping with with this syndrome which is in India’s DNA to not give credit where it is due, steal from patents, reverse engineer and all that usual bullshit with which the national character is almost synonymous. People will not do original work but have the energy to build on others work with fervour and displacement.

Mr. Raj Thackeray’s video showcasing his blueprint on a vision for Maharashtra released in September 2014, among other things strongly emphasizes that it is not the role of elected representatives and government officials alone to change the despicable situation. It exhorts citizens to have a sense of belonging to their state and city and even go beyond the call of duty in changing the country. It commented upon how the youth leave the country for greener pastures in the west because of the better facilities there. I could argue that those countries and cultures have a stronger (relatively not absolutely)  sense of ethics with regards to recognizing individual effort and standing up against injustice, which creates the attraction for talent to migrate.

I could argue that some of the points or the theme of the film may have been borrowed from my book The Futility of Aam Admi Party versus the Promise of Active Citizenship published earlier in April 2014 but that would be conjecture and I am certainly not holding a grudge on that account.

Efforts like those by citizens who are members of Save Aarey is what is in such grave shortage in the city and country today. As a shameless society and culture we do not provide any material support to such efforts but to not even have some gratitude at such a function needs some commentary.

P K Das hogged the stage for more than one hour with his hyper inflated architect ego (The whole Robert Moses and Hafeez Contractor combine kind of phenomenon to ruthlessly dominate the form and shape of a city) while trying to show empathy and a desire to serve the city. I am by now irritated enough with PK to put it publicly. I can never get to have a clear sense of who he really is, what values and ideology he really stands for, almost always left with this smoke and mirrors feeling and games within games. His unabashed ambition and aggression and moving and wanting to dominate every facet and discussion at the displacement of others is really ridiculous and irritating. Maybe I am also envious of his boundless energy and resources.

In this case he was no where in the efforts to save Aarey in the preceding months but realising that the oven was hot decided to bake his cake and then eat it too. First come in as a supporter and attend the meetings and organise meetings with Raj Thackeray etc. and then just usurp the issue and take over the planning of the area with the raw might arising out his financial strength and having half a dozen employees at beck in call in his architecture firm to generate high quality drawings and presentations.

PK clearly overdid his stay on the stage and was outdoing the entertainers in theatrics and repeating some information far too many times over but would not leave the stage or expend some energy in appreciating the efforts of Save Aarey.

With regards to Aarey there was a slot given to the work of Zeeshan Mirza, Rajesh Sanap and Nayan Khanolkar in the extensive documenting of the biodiversity of Aarey over the years. One slide showed them even standing behind the CM and Dy. CM of the previous government after having received an award and a joke that the same government then went ahead and gave permission for a car shed at Aarey. Nayan represented the trio and went about showing footage of the leopard territory being encroached upon by Royal Palms and about how the leopard is an integral part of the landscape. Besides showing species of spiders and scorpions and butterflies, some of which have been discovered by the duo and trio. There were videos and photos.

My argument is that this footage or documentation of Aarey is not what has contributed to the overwhelming public discourse in favour of saving Aarey. This follows from my disdain of the naturalist community of Mumbai, which displays Himalayan proportions of indifference and lack of courage in intervening in the preservation of the very ecological assets that they explore inside out, have earned their masters and doctorates from, made careers either from academic work or from photos, videos and writing prose and poetry about.

This category loves to exaggerate that high quality photos taken by them contribute to conservation. An earlier generation developed a great career on it and now another generation takes the tradition forward. Conservation happens by taking strong positions, by giving time and sweat and blood to campaign and make a noise about protection. All this photography is nature porn at the end of the day borrowing from the term food porn.

In the case of Aarey I have not seen any of the naturalists making the noises over the years. I have never seen a Zeeshan, Rajesh or Nayan themselves make any strong position or effort over the years, though they were in a far better and stronger position than me or others who have joined in the past six months. to save Aarey. And I know Zeehan and Rajesh well and enjoy a good relationship. But that is just the way – the norm – with naturalists in Mumbai. After their work in Aarey things took the usual trajectory, which has served well many before. There is recognition, invites from Western nations and then opportunities to be reputed research scholars and good funding for their works. Few ever save the habitat they worked in. Recently I pulled in (here) from past email records and my posts in Dec 2003 highlighting the urgent need to look into the many violations on the Goregaon side and the need to define the buffer accurately. The whole decade was an orgy of enjoying nature by the naturalists community.

Had some of us not taken such a strong non negotiable position first on the Aarey Road expansion and the zoo and then on the car shed the destructive activities would have just gone ahead with possibly little or no noise or usual chest beating about the degradation of the city from the naturalist community. There is enough evidence on that from past from Aarey itself not to mention many other locations.

And then finally came the entertainers. Six of them on the stage with some usual stuff, too boring to even right about. There were some women members from the party behind demanding that a particular star be called upon the stage, not knowing that he had left a lot earlier. People (including many in the Save Aarey movement) have this mistaken notion that by giving star power to campaigns there is a turbo boost and influences outcome. I am tired by now in arguing people out of it. These are the torments of having been in too many effforts over the years, having good memory and documenting history and trends over years. Better to have a short (public) memory, enjoy the stars and snacks and sleep peacefully.

Advertisements

More options emerge for the Line 3 metro car shed

In continuation of finding means to mitigate the effects or shift the Line 3 Metro car shed being planned in Aarey Milk Colony some of us in Save Aarey and senior members of BJP had a good meeting at MMRDA on 9th December with the officials in-charge of the Metro project.

Besides the usual discussion about lessening the number of trees to be cut by doing changes in alignment or shifting the plot to some nearby options the more interesting new information was that other land parcels were considered for situating the car shed had been considered in the early stages of the project but when they could not be obtained then Aarey was finalised. By the end of the meeting there was enthusiasm and hope that possibly one of the other options could still be revived.

The two options were

1) Within the Kalina Campus of the University of Mumbai, which has a total area of about 120ha and most of which is unutilised. The University management completely refused to entertain any possibility since they have a Masterplan for utilising the land but were held back for want of funds. MMRDA can possibly invest considerably in the development of UoM in lieu of land for the Metro car shed and even provide a station there for its students.

2) Reclaiming land at the Colaba end of the Line 3.

From what I saw on Google Earth the Kalina land seems a bit difficult and so I will below comment on the Colaba option.

Between the plot considered at Aarey and the Colaba coast the ecological value of the Aarey plot is far higher than the sea to be reclaimed at Aarey. Aarey’s air pollution mitigation, flood mitigation and general scenic relief to thousands of people is huge compared to the sea at Colaba. I say this as someone who was played one of the strongest roles in conservation along the coast. I have also been most vocal in the past decade on the enormous flaws in the way the CRZ notification is framed and implemented. As is quite symptomatic with us we tend to miss the big picture completely with most of our policies and legislation. Where violations to CRZ are in a nature of private profit nothing stops from it being violated as can be seen in many instances (can be discussed separately).

While CRZ and opposition of environmentalists to reclamation will be cited as a reason for not considering Colaba for a car shed, we see that CRZ seems to be no hurdle for the coast road project, which in terms of damage to the environment is far more significant and is facing enormous opposition not just on environmental grounds but more fundamentally as not being a sound solution to solve traffic congestion in Mumbai.  And at a massive cost of Rs. 8000 crores at that and agreed upon in a most undemocratic manner.

So in short it makes perfect sense to reclaim some land at Colaba for the car shed. The images below need to be referred.

The Yellow Plot is 10 acres (4ha)

This plot already exists and can be used for the ramps to emerge from underground.

The Green Plot is 54 acres (21ha)

This plot is currently covered with bustling slums, the Backbay Bus depot and mangroves on the edges. The slums are in a pretty bad condition and could do with a proper scheme to provide better housing on the same locations. Some images from the slums there at the end of the post.

The Maroon Plot is 84 acres (34 acres)

This plot is the best option for the car shed because in the green option there will be issues with rehabilitating the slums. On the sea ward edge is the remnant of the last attempt at reclamation. Most of the land in this area including the World Trade Center, Cuffe Parade and Navy Nagar are all built on reclaimed land. The sea in the maroon plot is not harbouring some greater ecological value compared to the Aarey plot. The area is already protected by the sea wall on one side. If global warming or sea level rise or tsunami will be a threat it will be to the whole city and not the metro alone.

Now keeping the above in mind we quickly need to have widespread discussions in the city to discuss between Aarey and Colaba Reclamation (with some room for Kalina as well) and close the matter.

State of the slums in the Green Plot show above

Essential information on the Save Aarey campaign

Just dumping stuff here till a website is in place. Too busy to structure this but not very difficult. As much of the news coverage and letters.

Mid-Day tunnel article

3173_003 3173_004 3173_002

 

Letter suggesting that a tunnel option be considered for Goregaon Mulund Link Road rather than widening Aarey Road involving cutting of a large number of trees.

Letter suggesting that a tunnel option be considered for Goregaon Mulund Link Road rather than widening Aarey Road involving cutting of a large number of trees.

GMLR tunnel option2 11Nov

11th Nov – Mr. Srinivas

Metro3 yard from Aarey to BPT

Draft of letter which can be sent by housing societies, individuals and all other entities to the Hon. CM

Letter to CM

Alternate locations for the Line 3 Metro Yard away from Aarey

The location of the yard for Line 3 Metro Yard is becoming one of the more contentious issues facing the preservation of the Aarey Milk Colony. Very little information is publicly available about the Metro Yard on the MMRDA website section for Line 3 here.

I started this post around a week before publishing date and by now have put in this letter – Metro3 yard from Aarey to BPT. There have been a whole lot more developments.

Using Port Trust Lands for Metro Line 3 yard

In the first map below the area marked in blue is roughly the area which is being earmarked and currently fenced of for development of the yard. Some representative pictures of the area are also shown.

Map 3 shows the alignment of the Line 3 Metro. A shed has to be made at either of the terminals to service the metro coaches. As per the current communications with the authorities the car shed can only be constructed at either of the terminal points. Since there is no land at the Cuffe Parade end, Aarey has been chosen. But a car shed can also be situated at land anywhere along the route as well. In the case of the Mumbai Suburban Railway car sheds are situated at Mahalaxmi and Parel. Similarly car sheds for the Line3 can be situated around the middle of the route. An extended underground arm can bring the coaches to the port trust and where land can be created in one of the plots marked in Map4.

How Mumbai should be using the port trust lands has been a topic of discussion for very long. Approximately 1000 acres of and will be available for the city and parcels of it are already available for use as of 2014. More information on the port trusts lands and a citizens plan is available here.

Just as Aarey is land owned by the government (Govt. of Maharashtra) similarly the Bombay Port Trust lands are owned by the government (Govt. of India). It stands to good reason that in larger public interest two important infrastructure needs of Mumbai’s citizens is met simultaneously.  One preserving and oxygen giving factory and second a car shed for an important public transport project.

Will this proposal cost more? Yes it might, because additional underground sections will have to be developed running 1-3 kms in length. But at this stage of the project it is absolutely doable because construction has not started. Any later and then it could cause some inconvenience.

Are activists and community being party spoilers? Most certainly not. If anything this will become a very strong lesson for MMRDA and other agencies executing public projects that it really does not help to be high handed and  nontransparent during the planning process thinking that if they were able to get their way till the close of project the same will be true when they start executing. When bits and pieces and soon enough the whole project plan becomes public domain knowledge peoples pressure hits back sometimes and in the case of Line 3 Metro it has hit with force to contend with. I wrote this post earlier – Sincere City, Not Smart City. When there is an all around (not just administration) lack of sincere affection and regard for how Mumbai develops then this is what happens.

Could Line 1 Metro Car shed have been used for Line 3 as well?

One of the points I have been making regarding the location of the Metro Yard for Line 3 is that possibly the same yard which has been developed for Metro Line 1 could have been used to service the coaches of the Line 3 as well. Below is the GE image of the yard for servicing Line 1 Metro coaches. The Line 1 and Line 3 intersect each other at Marol. It shouldn’t be very difficult to construct a ramp around Marol which would connect Line 3 with Line 1 and the coaches could have been served at the same yard? I think it was doable. It is all history now and cannot be done but we should not resist from doing an in study to qualify or disqualify this possibility.

The below image shows the Metro 1 Yard plot and the purple + yellow area together is 30 acres. The yellow area alone is approx. 8 acres and has been carved out from the plot for creating a big residential complex with high rises. Now instead of these high rises the same plot could have been used to create additional capacity for car shed space. There could possibly been a double deck yard as well. The ramp can be seen on the left side of the image. It goes down from the Metro corridor. One arm could have taken the coaches to a first floor deck. There is absolutely no pressing need for additional residential capacity in this area. Yes it was private land in a legal dispute (and we as a city should know full details of what transpired) and a settlement had to be reached but the State could have used a combination of good compensation and eminent domain to ensure that the complete plot was kept for a car shed, that too in the context where Line 2 and 3 were already on drawing board and not conceptualised subsequently.

This is also a good example of the shoddy urban planning of Mumbai.

The purple bigger portion is 30 acres and the carved out light yellow portion is 8 acres.

The purple bigger portion is 30 acres and the carved out light yellow portion is 8 acres.

The tall skyscrapers correspond to the yellow potion in the GE map

The tall skyscrapers correspond to the yellow potion in the GE map. The roof top next to it is the Metro Yard.

Change of alignment required for Goregaon Mulund Link Road

The proposed alignment of the Goregaon Mulund Link Road is undesirable and harmful on many accounts and many citizens of Mumbai desire that it must be changed. A far better alignment exists in the form of a tunnel below the Sanjay Gandhi National Park,which would begin somewhere at the end of the General A K Vaidya Marg and emerge ~ 6kms later through a tunnel on the Mulund side. Following are the points against the existing alignment.

1. MCGM proposed alignment is far longer than the tunnel option. The proposed alignment is around 16kms long whereas the tunnel would be approx. 5-6 kms. In the image below the green alignment is the tunnel which is less that 6kms. The red option is the one currently proposed by MCGM (alignment is not accurate, only based on news reports)

Proposed and alternate alignments for GMLR

Proposed and alternate alignments for GMLR

2. MCGM Proposed alignment involves far too much much disruption as compared to tunnel option. There is just no need to cause so much disruption to the Aarey Colony with 1000 trees to be cut and leopard and other animals habitat disturbed, besides disrupting a place of some solitude in Mumbai which is also visited and loved by thousands of Mumbai citizens.

3. Aarey Milk Colony is seeing an onslaught from too many proposals, proposed zoo, Metro 3 Yard and now this proposal. We need to save the Aarey Milk Colony as the largest and most pleasant urban green in the city today. This is also an important biodiversity area besides a buffer to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and the time to show some better sense an appreciation for nature is now.

4. Tunnel option can be constructed in a year round mode with absolutely no disruption from trees, utilities, man-animal conflict, loss of a large urban green.

5. The costs thought not available to me, will I am sure be more in the case of the BMC proposed option. Anyways accounting for the intangible and tangible costs of the disruption the proposed option is costlier.