Saving Lokhandwala Lake

2019-20 brings me to to the 20th anniversary of my first big environmental intervention when I got active to challenge and then successfully prevent the illegal reclamation of the 8 acre Lokhandwala Lake between 1999-2000. I saved the lake then and also named it so.

Set among the mangroves behind Lokhandwala Complex in Andheri (W), Mumbai the lake is an artificial lake formed due to the reclamation’s carried out in the 1970s or earlier to create the Versova Sewage Treatment Lagoon and the large electricity substation. A large area between the two divergent approach roads for these infrastructure projects saw access to the adjacent estuary being cut of and as a result of which the mangroves died and the depression became filled with monsoon water and became a lake.

On 7th August, 1999 I was about a month away from the 24th birthday and preparing reluctantly and with some drag for management entrance exams due in December 1999. I was then staying in the first lane of Lokhandwala Complex since five years and would intermittently visit the back road, which is now unrecognizable from what it was then. It was the before everything era. Before mobile phones, before internet as we see it now, before an explosion of cars, before a lot of the real estate, which now define its new identity. Before a time when I could take any photos of the situation and efforts then.

Unrecognizable today, the back road was very popular with morning and evening walkers even then. If anything the walking experience was better. The two roads leading to the electrical substation and the Versova Sewage Lagoon broke out in divergent Y forks from the back road and provided continuous long walking lengths completely free from any motorised transport, having the mangroves on one side and the lake – sandwiched in between – on the other. It was quiet like cannot be imagined now and with copious amounts of clean air, with greenery and a large selection of birds at hand to hear and enjoy for the bird brained.

The road leading towards the (then not operational) sewage lagoon was the hands down favourite. At times during the ‘peak hours’ it could look very much like the present highways during peak hour. In the preceding decade and a half Lokhandwala Complex had exploded in population and had somewhat become a poster boy for the unplanned urbanization in post independence Mumbai and also a metaphor for a concrete jungle. People escaped to this natural oasis juxtaposed next to the concrete jungle. Since the sewage lagoon was under construction there was no functional gate or restriction and people could walk right up to the lagoons and beyond touch the creek. Though a majority stuck till the gate.

The road leading to the Sewage lagoon now.
The road leading to the sewage lagoon. This picture is from January, 2017. The road is now being concretised. All the vegetation on the left is what came up on the reclaimed portion. The lake used to touch the road edge where the low mounds of mud can be seen. It is difficult to imagine now that used to be choc a block fill with walkers before 2002.

In September 2001 the municipal corporation opened a transit garbage collection facility adjacent to the Sewage Lagoon and since then the road has been overtaken by a continuous stream of garbage compactors coming and going. All through the 1990’s this road would be crowded with a stream of morning and evening walkers and day time picnickers and couples.

On 7th August, 1999 in the evening when I visited the Lake, there was no one walking on the road leading to the sewage lagoon – the popular option. Everybody had take to the sub-station road. The road leading to the sewage lagoon was unrecognizable. I was not a regular walker and so much have come after a month or so.

The road had become almost double the size, the vegetation which lined the lake was all gone and replaced by a filling of fresh earth and garbage. The junction had a stench of garbage which became stronger as one walked towards the road to the lagoon. Garbage trucks were dumping their fill on the edge of the lake and pushing it inside. That’s why people had completely stopped using that section.

I was left furious seeing the sight and walked straight towards the trucks which were emptying the garbage. I confronted a young man who must have been only a few years elder to me and questioned him. He was a friendly person and introduced himself as Deepak and was a mukadam with the municipal corporation.

I don’t remember the details of the conversation now but he was clear that the dumping could not stop since he had instructions from his seniors to cover up the lake. There was no way I was listening to all this and so began the efforts which would last over the next six months to ensure that the dumping was completely stopped and did not resume. We could not excavate what was already dumped and had to contend with a new edge for the lake.

Among the first things I did was to go back to my newly bought computer and design A3 size posters with messages to save the lake and invite the walkers to join in the efforts. I would carry it on a floppy disk to Krishna Communication on the main road, take a printout which would be stuck on a card board with which I then stood at the corner between the two roads.

Simultaneously I called up Mr. P K Patel who then stayed in the second lane in Guru Kripa building (now sold his flat and moved out of Mumbai). We were new friends. He must have been about double my age then and we had bonded well over a bird watching trip organised by BNHS in the first week of November 1998. The wader watch would be a popular program of BNHS then in the mudflat of Malad Creek. In that particular walk we had entered into a dense patch of mangroves opposite Millat Nagar which is adjacent to Lokhandwala Complex. That visit is a very long separate story of what would two years later become a highlight of my activism career.

Mr. Patel is a nature lover but not inclined towards activism. He was an RSS Pracharak in his primary public leaning and one of the more active ones in Lokhandwala Complex. Over the coming decade he would become a willing accomplice and partner in all my efforts to save the lake as well as the large swathes of mangroves. Among the first suggestions from him was to approach the actor Mr. Parikshit Sahni who was a regular walker on the back road. Mr. Patel had some acquaintance with him and was of the opinion that he would join the efforts. Much as he had mentioned Mr. Sahni (Parikshitji since then) would take a keen interest. He was a regular walker and he too had changed his direction. I remember we first met him in the morning just a few meters before the sub-station gate.

In those first few weeks, I had stood before the trucks, invited others to join, made life a bit difficult for the dumpers, which slowed down but did not cease. Simultaneously I made my first visit to a ward office in Mumbai; this was the K(W) ward office under which Andheri (West) was one of the areas. The administrative head for the ward would then be called the Ward Officer (now Assistant Municipal Commissioner) and it was Mr. Amar Dubey then.

Mr. Dubey was not much cooperative and I was left with the feeling that this was being coordinated from within the municipal office itself. I realised we will have only increase the agitation on the site.

I now don’t have a day by day and week breakup of the events but in the next few weeks sometime we visited Amar Dubey as a bigger delegation and asked Mr. Sahni to join us. And that of course had a big effect. Mr. Dubey was a changed person and willing to more easily accommodate Mr. Sahni and humour him and give assurances. The administration does love when somebody from the entertainment world drops by into their very worldly existence.

Not everything that Mr. Dubey would assure was followed through on the ground. Over the course it became my and Mr. Patel’s routine to maintain a hawks eye on the situation. I took the lead and making sure that there was a continuous visible presence (and deterrence to the dumpers) from our side on the ground.

I think it was during this period of action is also that Mr. Patel introduced me to the late Mr. S P Gupta, who was also a resident of second lane in Montana building. He was a fire brand senior citizen, a born activist with communist leanings(I think a card carrying member of CPI), who had retired from very senior positions in the Income Tax departments. He was originally a Delhi resident but maybe due to his last posting in Mumbai or the estranged relationship with his family or both he was settled in Mumbai.

A highly sensitive person with public welfare and good governance at heart he had been closely following, commenting and more importantly acting on all the irregularities around the Development Plan and DCRs in Lokhandwala Complex. At least in the second and much bigger innings from 2001-02 and there on I remember very close interaction with him and my first learning of all the intricacies of making changes to land use in the Development Plan, the actors in this collusion, how massive profits are reaped or inducements provided for the same and how the public interest at large gets harmed through the deficiencies in essential public services required to serve a certain density of population.

I could write separately at length on his work and its a general tragedy of Indian existence that there is no interest or audience or support for recording history. Its a timeless nation and society, which has its own wisdom maybe and understands something more than I do – everything goes into the dustbin of history, whose contents have no value for those in the ‘present’.

In a longer separate note for a book, which has not come through till now I have shared in detail my angst and disgust about the upper middle class and elite that come to dominate the Lokhandwala Complex (and it could be the same for pan city or country) and their sheer selfishness and refusal to be involved with public matters.

These are the people who had the luxury of regular walks in the evening or mornings because they were fully supported through their wealth to be able to do so. When their main walking route started seeing reclamation, they effortlessly shifted their walking to another route – no reaction, no stress. I was not even a regular walker and yet when I landed there for a walk after a good many weeks I was devastated enough to move into action immediately. I wont even get into writing here the terrible times we were going through as a family then.

By the time I reacted the lake had been pushed in by 15 feet with no reaction from the regular walkers. I can imagine that 100s of trucks of debris and garbage must have been dumped right in front of their eyes. I think if I had not intervened then the whole lake would have been covered setting a good foundation for illegal slums and commercial establishments like garages etc.

If anything the Maslow’s pyramid, which I would see so celebrated and dished out through the 90’s (as the answer for when environmental issues will finally get addressed) should have set in? This was then, in 1999, now is different but now is not necessarily any better, just more pretense and posturing and great digital marketing tools at hand.

This episode also laid the foundation for my idea to create a local NGO called Lokhandwala Complex Environmental Action Group, which would get functional in the next big involvement in 2001 and then registered by 2004. All of these involvements and more would define my work over the coming decade and create a prominent public image on Mumbai’s then environmental leadership and action landscape. I brought together a lot of like minded people during that decade, convened regular meetings at the back road or in the gardens and created a lot of engagement with local police and other authorities.

There was a time in the first decade when I would be an eager guide (beside one of the watchmen) to all and sundry, happily taking them for a tour of the lake and showing its various features, how and where the dumping started and how we prevented and saved the lake.Before I progressively withdrew post 2012 and then 2015-16 and feel unrecognizable from what I was 20 years ago.

I hardly visit the lake once in a year now and cannot get myself to be involved as effortlessly as I once would. There are others who have joined now but none so keenly and with the same spirit in my opinion.

I had thought of organising a talk or function on 2nd February, 2020 on occasion of World Wetlands Day but these just remain thoughts.

My life, your life


I presume the lock down in Mumbai/India is because we as a people care for life and would not like to see people dying or incapacitated. Logically speaking, shouldn’t that concern extend to many other areas of the city’s day to day functioning where thousands of lives are lost annually? But is that so?

The lock down perplexes me as someone who has spent a lifetime being involved with numerous environmental, civic and governance issues. At the heart of those efforts have been arguments, which invite concern and need for urgent action towards the life and well being of the citizens of Mumbai. Resolving any of those issues would not require anything as severe as the lock down and many more lives would be saved on an ongoing basis.

What explains this imbalance in approach? I will take one such issue to elaborate on. There could easily be a dozen such case studies, from housing conditions, to quality of air, safety in transport, flooding, tuberculosis and more.

In any given year in the past three decades a minimum of 2000 people have died every year in what is called as the lifeline of Mumbai – the Mumbai Suburban Railway System (MSRS) – that is 2000 people dead every year for 30 years. The total comes to 60,000 people dead. A jaw dropping number by any scale of comparison – a genocide as some would describe. Then there are those who have been grievously injured but not died, and from that subset there must be people who would be better off dead than living.

A significant number die because they just happen to fall off from trains which are packed beyond imagination during peak hour. One moment they are holding on to the grab pole or any other part of the train which they can lay their hand on, next moment they have fallen off from a speeding train resulting in immediate death or grievous injury. In some cases, someone’s head has smashed against the signal poles because they are part of the dangerous bulge out. Others died because in the Mumbai that has grown post-independence the Indian administrators for long did not bother to provide adequate infrastructure for the crossing of railway tracks.

I took up an investigation into those deaths in a detailed manner exactly a decade back as Research Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai. That concluded in co-authoring the report Killer Tracks with Dhaval Desai and Deepa Dinesh.

The lock down happened in a matter of a week or ten days of calculation and the concern arising during that duration. And it is seen as the absolutely right thing to do if we are to avoid thousands of deaths. We have done what has never ever happened before in the history of the city, not during World War II, not during the Spanish flu and not even post the Babri Masjid riots though we are close. We have locked down the city for 21 days and may extend it for a few more weeks, all in the interest of saving lives. A city which is the hub of economic activity, the business hub of the country, overnight seeing its functioning being pulverised.

The Prime Minister and many Chief Ministers and bureaucrats are being lauded as guardians of the health and life of citizens. What explains the differences in concern shown by these guardians? Why such a swift response in case of one danger to life and why no resolution even 30 years into the ‘genocide’ on the railway system and many other such issues of concern?

The same offices of Prime Minister and Chief Ministers and bureaucrats and institutions oversee both the issues and have so for decades. In many cases it is the same individuals who have also held influence and only grown in power – the current Maharashtra Chief Minister being only one such example.

I believe it is the democratic nature of the virus – that the virus goes after the most entitled and the most marginalised equally – which has got India worried and locked up and not a value system which has concern for life at its foundation. The ruling elite in India rarely face the consequences that India suffers as a result of their villainy, ineptitude and selfishness. Invocations and stories about karma and justice populate Indian daily discourse and imagination but none of which sees proof in real life just like the case with most Indian laws.

In a rare occasion the ruling elite are faced with no small threat and have acted swiftly. And again, to their considerable advantage while transferring the disadvantage and hardship to the marginalised or those who may be elite but not ruling. Without the lock down the virus could well be taking a toll of the ruling elite. That elite does not face threat by falling off trains or dying in the corridors of public hospitals for want of ICU beds or from tuberculosis as a result of living in inhuman dwellings or as pedestrians crossing roads or railway tracks. Now they have built a new moat for themselves.

Had the virus been something which would have spared them and left only the vulnerable sections affected and dealing with the overwhelmed public health system chances are we would not have been locked down. There would have been hue and cry and a lot of posturing and politics but no lock down. Life would have continued in the corridors of power and elsewhere while televisions showed heart rendering footage and the usual howling and shouting. It is because we the people can suddenly become transmitters of this virus, which can then hurt them that Covid 19 has become a problem worth attending to.

In case of the MSRS deaths there has been 30 years to plan the cities land use and transportation systems in a way that the train system does not see such dangerous crowding levels; people may be inconvenienced and face crowds but will not die while undertaking a daily commute critical to earn their livelihood. All of the knowledge is available and ready for use. That same elite has given grandiose illusions of making the city into a Singapore first and then a Shanghai.

30 years is a long period of time. It is also a period of time from teenage onwards when I have had my deep engagement with numerous civic and environmental issues of the city of Mumbai, which has been the only city I have stayed in, all my adult life. I have seen the evolution of new institutions and policy instruments, partnerships and budgets and five Chief Ministers of Maharashtra pass by during the duration. I have through various permutations and combinations, been part of numerous advocacy efforts to save those lives.

To be correct the system has seen an order of magnitude of improvements during this decade. It is almost unrecognizable from what it was in the last century. And yet the deaths continue. I will not even touch upon the stress levels and the usual user experience benchmarks.

Rapid economic growth through the 90s and 00s and consequent dynamic and rapid changes in housing along a number of new and existing nodes has meant that as capacity increases it has mostly helped ease legacy pressure but has then faced additional pressure from new commuters being added. The same government framework, which has successfully locked down the city is also the one, which decides on this dynamic nature of the city; where additional housing should develop, how it can be affordable, where offices should develop, transport policy, how much people should commute and whether to show concern and compassion for life in taking these decisions or not.

The ruling elite have in this case chosen to enrich themselves in the past three decades at the cost of the welfare of the citizens whose votes and taxes provide them with the power and heft. Instead of judiciously using the land stock in the city the same has become a playground for the most brazen of desperadoes who have carved out and leveraged that land for unimaginable bounties. The 10th century attacks on Indian temples from Central Asian horse mounted raiders has a very evocative touch and feel relatability to any Indian and I can invoke that as an example. This same political and business class has behaved in no less brutal and violent a manner in looting the citizens of Mumbai from what was rightfully theirs and left death, bloodshed, misery in trail with an added insult of intimidation for any protest or efforts to counter their butchery.

And this is the same ruling elite, which over the same past three decades has supported and liberally funded the Ram Mandir campaign. A ruling elite, which cannot provide the right kind of governance will plunder one city and go build a temple in another city, which is nowhere even close on the aspiration list of the same elite for their leisure and business and partying trips and translocation if need be.

This framework – the ruling elite – has in its power to shape the public health system (in Mumbai or elsewhere) which currently is a metaphor for the word third class. It is the lack of such a public health system, which has been a big deciding factor in the lock down checklist. The ruling elite does not have to suffer the consequences of this broken-down public health system.

Now for the irony. Those killed in the Mumbai Suburban Railway System are all in the prime of their age, the demographic dividend of which we (again “we”? Or is it the Indian elite propaganda machinery?) are proud as a brahmastra in the race for global dominion and economic opportunities. They are earning members of their families, are consumers, paying EMIs or repatriating funds to dependents in their villages. In comparison those most vulnerable to the COVID 2019 virus are the elderly and those with weak immune systems or severe comorbidity – existing patients suffering from diabetes, heart disease or cancer. Not exactly the most productive elements of the society. And while we should show compassion for the elderly and the ailing but then why is our balance of favour so skewed?

I could speak at length about many other issues which I have been involved with where sanctity of life is central to the arguments and where we have only been losing to this kleptocracy and brutal ruling elite. I could flag two issues – the brutal relocation of the poor and marginalized through government rehabilitation schemes in Mankhurd and Mahul. Living hells which have introduced the residents to life threatening exposure to tuberculosis and chemical pollution.

In Mumbai, at the least the lock down should help save the number of lives that are lost to the MSRS annually, at best it would be equal to the decadal number of 20,000. 20,000 lives saved after pulverising other aspects of life. People will argue that if there was no lock down then the casualty would be too large to explain for. Maybe one lakh people dead, maybe two lakhs. We do not have that many hospital beds or ventilators to handle the backlash. I would say please wake up. Please direct that energy towards making your MPs and institutions accountable.

[Co-author of the report Killer Tracks by ORF Mumbai 2015, Member of Committee formed the same year by then Minister of Railways Mr. Suresh Prabhu.
Long association with transport and governance improvements in Mumbai as an activist and campaigner.
Founder and Director of Mumbai Sustainability Center]

I love (not like) Aramco

I hardly read papers now. Whatever little news I follow is through what Google throws on its phone feeds. And then once in a while when I do read papers it is with shock and awe. And then sometimes it can lead to a lot of my time being taken away from urgent tasks to write notes like these. A waste. Nothing changes in this characterless country. The only take away? Never read the papers in the morning. At least not when you have a long to do list.

Two news pieces combined wonderfully in the past 2-3 days. I could see some headlines on the new Aramco investment of $44 billion investment in an Indian (or is it a Republic of Konkan) refinery. I think this was the first article I read.

$44 Billion?! Now where did they get that kind of money from? Somehow the money must have gone in to now come out? Here my vices and addictions have made me a pauper who can only sustain his dream projects on small donations from friends and there they have $44 billions! Now I should also learn to make that kind of money.

The interesting part was about how oil at $ 50 a barrel and oil at $ 80 a barrel makes a difference for Saudi Arabia and helps them support financing for some internal agendas. Every business and cause needs funds to sustain itself. And Indians sustain the Saudi business and cause(s) very well. They wholeheartedly subscribe. They love Aramco.

And then I saw this news item while going for this novelty called a newspaper at breakfast today. I had come from travels after a while and sitting for breakfast at home thought of also glancing through the papers. Saw this particular headline on page two, almost choked, went through a spin of thoughts and folded the paper to keep it aside to have my breakfast peacefully. Enough anguish, enough material to write this note. No need to even read the article.

trim 2

The headline was just regurgitating a similar headline from May 2015. Maybe there had been some new development (no) but the ground situation has been exactly the same, maybe even worse. I had even been invited to write a damn article on the development then in the Mumbai Mirror. Thinking that it will make a difference. It even started on the cover page not a sidey page 2 bottom.

I could speak at length about the joke that the Bombay HC is and bring in a dozen other pronouncements by it as case studies but why waste more time?

Walking for me is just not an activity, it is poetry, it is medicine, it is sustainability as a cause, it can be a topic for fiscal implications and most certainly a topic for how the transport planning of our cities should be carried out.

In 2012 I made an attempt to give shape to Walking Project as an advocacy movement, which will accelerate the development of pedestrian friendly roads in Indian cities. I had just come out of a showdown at my job at World Resources Institute where I got into a bad fight with the people who had taken control of a walkability improvement project I had developed with a lot of passion and fondness and were ruining it. The organisation itself is an elegant waste of money. Elegant is the word to note, not waste. As long as elegance is there waste is fine.

Since May 2015 (when I wrote the article on walkability as a fundamental right) and now when I read the article today, Indians have put billions of dollars into the pockets of Saudis and for Walking Project I have raised just about Rs. 100,000 from 5-6 odd individuals. And so the Saudi’s now are in a position to apportion a part of the money they have collected from Indians themselves and make an investment in a refinery of theirs. And here I sit fretting and fuming and wasting more time after reading a news article.

Much patriotic Indians (Mumbaikaars) have shown no support for a home grown initiative, which could at least endeavour to stop the flow of some of those dollars. I still sit on plans of a model road in each of the 24 wards, Andheri Kurla Road, E Moses Road, Senapati bapat Road and so on. Not to mention that in my mind I have plans all mapped out for important roads and junctions in 10 other cities I have visited since 2012.

There is a facebook group with 700 odd people. No activity takes place on the group now because I have decided not to engage people who cannot show character to contribute even 100 rupees a year. And they on their own do not have what it takes to show initiative and dare.

Two years back a think-highly-of-itself (which doesn’t) Rotary Club invited me to speak, two members got impressed with Walking Project and promised Rs. 25,000 each and that’s about it. No news after that. Another member suggested he could help with big sponsorship support but only for a co-founder tag. Ok sure. Self before Service.

The more character and intellectually challenged folks ofcourse do keep asking how any support for an advocacy movement will bring any immediate difference to their own experience of walking. It is like a quid pro quo. I pay the Saudi’s an xyz amount for every litre of fuel and that allows me to with much pomp and show drive around my luxury sedan. If I give you 10,000 rupees what is it that you have to show for the road outside my office? Nothing? Well you get nothing then. Please do not waste my time. I LIKE the activity you are doing. You can have my LIKE, the money is for the Saudi’s.  

While Indians have been luxuriously funding the Saudi business and cause(s), they – or the few I manage to reach through social media and personal interactions – are truly lousy at supporting any of my businesses and causes. Only a handful show the character and temerity to rise above.

My business does not prey on human weaknesses, it requires a certain character on part of the consumer. And that is where lies its shortfall. Weakness is aplenty in the people of India today, character too little. #sanskari

Yes a lot of this use of fossil fuels and outflow of money is needed to sustain the living paradigm we have adopted but a great deal of it is also waste. While we might question the paradigm and there may be differences of opinion on philosophical grounds there is no disagreement that the paradigm can be made a whole lot more energy efficient.  And it can be made energy efficient by only supporting those who will work on that agenda. Not by chanting Hanuman Chalisa.

Walking and cycling friendly cities, ecological waste management, would be so much more energy efficient and prevent millions of litres of diesel being used in the first place but some of us are left to doing pilots and giving quotes to newspapers while the big boys sign billion dollar contracts.

It is easier for a fossil fuel powered model of the world to be sustained because it can be funded. Dry up the funding and the Arabs would be like me and others in the ilk. Issuing requests for donations to sustain their enterprise and ideas.

Some side thoughts towards the end. The Arabs have learnt a lot from the Americans over the decades. After being fooled and used wholesale by the Americans they now have learnt to use the same tricks successfully to become (more) powerful. Everybody learns from the wonderful Americans. I am a product of American thought and action, though of the kind which does not find popular flavour. And so the Arabs have now started deploying the learning on gullible doormat nations like India who can be fooled and used any amount.

From money taken from the Indians they will not be able to create jobs for the same Indians and create a new loyal bureaucracy of people who have always loved to come out of the woodwork and serve up any new colonial master as long as they can get status and some money for lifestyle.

Buddhiheen tanu jaani ke pawan kumar….

Treat your sewage!

I spent December visiting various wastewater treatment facilities and researching on the processes and technology running each facility. Many of these technologies I had already been aware with or interacted but this time it was spending time in detail.

Each facility was marked with the simplicity of process and its eco-friendliness. Each process was treating dirty foul smelling sewage, which you could not stand from a few metres away and generating clear water which you hold in a bottle and bring close to your nose for smelling. With one more treatment level the water could be made potable.

A number of processes in application currently are energy guzzling and use polluting inorganic processes. None of this was the case with these processes.

At a time when all our rivers and wetlands are fouled with sewage and there is a looming water crisis it should be imperative upon every body to adopt such technologies in their circle of influence. And clearly the processes are available to ensure that not a single litre of sewage has to be discharged untreated. Sewage should be preferably treated at the source of generation and not be transported to centralised sewage treatment plants.

Swacch Bharat will be achieved when we have the intelligence to scale up the processes below and support knowledgeable people like showcased in this post.

  1. Constructed Wetland at Aligarh Muslim University

The first facility I visited was a constructed wetland in Aligarh Muslim University, created as part of a Department of Science – EU collaborative project Safeguarding Water Resources in India with Green and Sustainable Technologies (SWINGS). I was visiting Aligarh to meet my childhood friend Hamid who stays there and his wife is a professor at the University. He knew my interest and was kind enough to organise the visit.

The facility was treating one million litres of sewage per day. The sewage was drawn from the sewage treatment plant of the Aligarh Muslim University, which has a strength of about 20,000 students and various departments and generates six million litres of sewage per day. Pictures below show the facility and the processes.

1. What goes in is the black sewage on the right and what comes out is clear water like on the left. The black water is what goes down your toilet, comes from the washing machine, washing utensils, bathroom etc. When it goes untreated or partially treated into the rivers then that is the colour it imparts to the river as well.


2. Raw sewage of one million litres is drawn daily from a common collection point where six million litres is collected. Sewage drawn from the collection point and stored into the circular tank in the foreground.


3. Through a process called UASB (read here) the first round of cleaning the sewage happens and the water is treated upto fifty percent.


4. In the second stage the treated water flows into the Syphon tank where using a mechanical process the water is pushed with force into the constructed wetland bed at a lower height than the Syphon tank.


5. The constructed wetland has considerable amount of thought gone into its planning and design to ensure that the semi-treated water is optimally distributed through the wetland bed where plants specifically selected for their ability to remedy the water are planted. This is the primary bed and is raised about a metre above the ground.


6. From the primary bed the water flows down into a secondary bed, where a different set of plants leads to secondary treatment.


7. This is the quality of the water at this point.


8. The treated effluent is discharged into the drains and part of it is used for irrigation purposes in the surrounding fields.


9.This is the treated effluent, which is released into the drains.


10. With one more level of treatment using either UV or AO process the water can be made drinkable. The scientists from the EU who were part of the project used to drink this water during the time they spent here. That’s clear drinkable water in the beaker!


11. With my friend Hamid Qadeer on the left and Prof. Nadeem Khalil on the right.


2. Soil Biotech Technology for a housing society in Virar

The second facility I visited was as part of a workshop and training program organised by Centre for Sustainable Environment and Development Initiatives (CSEDI). The three day workshop dealt with the rural context and a field visit was part of the training.

80,000 litres in a residential complex was being treated by Vision Earthcare a startup incubated in the IIT-SINE and having a technology partnership to use the patented soil bio technology developed by Prof. H S Shankar.

We were shown the treatment beds where the soil bio technology media was added for  the process of remedying the sewage. The treated water is then reused for the purpose of flushing. The beds themselves were beautifully landscaped and the first impression clearly is that this is the society garden and not a sewage treatment plant. In this case the plants themselves play no role in the process and are purely for ornamental purposes.

Since there is water shortage in Virar, tanker water supply is a regular expenditure and the society was able to save on the same. The excess water was discharged into the storm water drain.

  1. Dr. S. Chandrashekar in the grey suit explaining to the group the process of sewage treatment. Mr. Pramod Dabrase, Founder Director of CSEDI in the light blue jacket. We are standing over the tank which is the collection tank for the sewage.


2. On left is the sewage collection tank and right is the network of pipes which carries out the sewage and spreads it in the bed, which has the soil biotech medium which remedies the water.

3. After the remedial action of the soil biotech bed what emerges is clear transparent water


4. On the right hand side is the soil biotech bed below the landscaping which remedies the waste water.


3. Biosanitizer in a commercial building in Nariman Point

The third visit as part of the same training mentioned in point 2 was to a commercial building in Nariman Point which was treating 90,000 litres of its sewage within the compound using Biosanitizer technology.

Biosanitizer is a product emerging from the same research at IIT Bombay into soil biotechnology. It is developed by Prof. Bhawalkar and available in the form of crystals which are added to the sewage and create the remedying process which cleans up the water.

The building had adopted the Biosanitizer based method three years back by replacing its existing process, which was based on conventional processes requiring frequent addition of inorganic chemicals and use of electricity for aeration purposes. And was yet giving treated effluent which was showing odour and colour while used for flushing in the offices.

After adopting the Biosanitizer based method the building was happy with the results. Their recurring expenditure on consumables had become zero and the electricity consumption reduced significantly.

This process seems space saving and in the Mumbai context that is a key criteria.

Workshop participants in conversation with the Managing Committee member of building. The wastewater is collected in a tank behind and dosed with the Biosanitizer.


4. Seventh Standard Students at Kendriya Vidyalaya, INS Hamla!

This visit was not in December but a month before and it was most impressive to see seventh and eight standard students go about using phytoremediation to treat sewage from the neighbouring drains as part of their science project! Their enthusiastic science teacher Krishna Ma’am and Principal were as much a delight to meet.

It was the sharpest most energetic and enthusiastic bunch I had met in a long time and it was a pleasure to meet them. Just goes to show just how much talent is available to solve all our problems.


Finally this is the information I received from Raashid one of the workshop participants. Only numbers which fail to impress anymore. Need to know what is the outcome after so much expenditure.



[ This work has happened under the aegis of Mumbai Sustainability Network (MSC) a registered non-profit, committed to the mainstreaming of sustainability pathways. Along with the support and collaboration with Centre for Sustainable Environment and Development Initiatives (CSEDI). If you feel this information is useful for society please consider supporting the work of MSC]


Why the Bombay HC order banning construction is stupid

The Bombay High Court has again passed some kind of an order prohibiting the municipal corporation from giving permissions for construction of any new building because of its inability to handle the waste crisis being faced by Mumbai. The media will be reluctant to capture my thoughts in quotes but I do have the freedom (hopefully and the tolerance of the Judges) to say it on my own blog post that the court order is totally stupid. It might have been passed with some other purpose in mind but not for solving the waste issue.

There is no relationship between additional construction and the current waste management crisis. Managed well, even if the garbage generated doubles there would still be no need for the current type of dumping grounds and only a fraction of land required for a single scientific land fill. To re iterate, if today Mumbai is generating 10,000 tonnes of waste and we have a crisis, then handled my way ( yes I will say my way) Mumbai can generate 20,000 tonnes of waste per day and I will assure closure of Deonar by 2020 and lush green parks and playgrounds on the same site by 2030. Let the buildings keep coming up and generating more waste. Open challenge to the Bombay HC and MCGM.

If I can show you ten buildings which are not sending any waste to Deonar today then I can very easily (with resources which are all being charred by MCGM currently) make 100,000 buildings also not send any waste to Deonar or any other dump. That is the key aspect, which makes the current order look so stupid.

If there is a ONE BIG co-relation it is between the failure of the Bombay HC in carrying out contempt proceedings for non-compliance of grand orders passed on waste management issues in the past 15 years by its own self. Something tells me that it would be expecting too much for the Judges or the Court to be doing that. If only the Judges who have passed this order, studied orders passed by their predecessors over the past 10-15 years – and more notably those by Justice Chandrachud and decided to initiate contempt proceedings against all the IAS officers who have handled or currently handle the relevant departments then it would have made more impact.

Just when did we last see the Court prosecute any senior official or politicians for any of its PIL orders in the past? PILs have become a joke. Only blind worshiping bhakts of the judicial system have faith in PILs because their blind belief enables them to not stray their looks and look at the reality.

Fine non-complying buildings Rs. 3000 for every instance of non-segregation back to back and the most stubborn and wealthy of buildings will end up complying. If MCGM is incapable, incompetent or insincere in implementing MSW 2000 then let them say so, let the Court take cognizance of it and lets talk ahead. But lets not waste time with these kind of stupid orders. Have a look at this public advertisement by MCGM in 2001 here

Materials below for those who might have missed them before or those whose eyes only keep glazing over all the evidence.

What a zero waste building looks like at this link

Suggestions to the MCGM for SWM in DP 2014 at this video

The Grand Cosmic Plan – to annihilate all life on earth

In brief, the Grand Cosmic Plan is to annihilate all life on planet earth and convert it into a barren wasteland thus bringing it in consonance with the state of all celestial bodies in the solar system, the Milky Way and most of the universe as we know it. And human beings have been put on earth by the Cosmos to execute this plan.

The April 2015 issue of National Geographic dawned upon me the Grand Cosmic Plan, in a roundabout manner. It is quite pertinent that a magazine, which introduced me to most of my life’s strongest vocations should also chose to reveal this plan to me. There was a story about the pine beetle infection affecting millions of acres of forests in North America and how it is a fall out of a warming planet. It was sad to see the images of those lifeless stands of once lush forests. I could relate to the issue locally with the enormous sadness experienced at the rapid loss of a large number of rain trees in Mumbai to the mealy bug infection and the helpless bystanders that so many of us were left to become. Of course in the case of rain trees in Mumbai my strong hunch is that the mealy bug has been introduced on them selectively by a group to kill them, unlike a natural spread like in case of the pine beetle.

The same issue had a story celebrating 25 years of the Hubble Telescopes voyage and the fascinating set of imagery from the space that it has provided us with. Having myself chased the earliest of images in the 90s I could experience some distant excitement, which was soon to be overrun with a commentary about how there is always so much of funding for space research and exploration of life in space while we are hell bent on annihilating it all on the one celestial body which we know has enough of it. What could explain this irony?

I saw some of the images carried, the familiar red black golden hue to all the images, sparking stars, an experience of desolation and the realisation that we are talking of distances in light years here. In so many years of space exploration through millions of light years we have not discovered similar celestial bodies as earth brimming with so much life and diversity.

Those on the nature side agonize over what we have wrought on the planet and all the crimes we are doing as a species by defiling the only planet which has life and so much beauty in an otherwise barren and lifeless universe. These people find fault with many human needs, which are extractive and cause rampant death and destruction of nature. Many attach moral or religious overtones to this misconduct of humans, suggesting that what is happening is grossly wrong and nature or the gods will one day punish the species for such gross lack of respect for god’s creation.

But what if all of the death, destruction, lack of respect being brought upon nature and life on earth is part of the plan of these very gods or some other god more powerful than our own creations?

How is it that in the millions of celestial bodies we know in the universe it is only this small body called earth, which shows such an incredible diversity of life forms?

How can it be that there is absolutely nothing which exists on any of the other planets? It is not necessary that everything should be exactly as found on earth. Species and organisms conducive to environments found on other celestial bodies could have evolved, but we see just nothing anywhere.

How and why is it that efforts at saving the earth and a better environment are always such a struggle, difficult to motivate the masses, difficult to get funding, difficult on almost all fronts conceivable? While those on the other side have it all going well. Have a great idea to make it more convenient for people to consume more? You have investors climbing over each other to write you a check. And big amounts at that, while an environmental or social do-good idea will find you begging your self-respect out for even a small amount. The best of human resource on the other side compared to bleeding hearts on the environment side. Things should not be so difficult if you are doing something good; if you are really aligned with the Grand Cosmic Plan? So possibly all the do-good efforts are really not aligned with the Grand Cosmic Plan much as it will be disagreeable to the environmental minority.

The comic eye – as I will call this god – or the creator or a strong energy field which immerses the universe must at some point have taken a serious note of the rapid rate at which species were evolving on this particular speck of the universe. From being a large mass of molten gas the speck was cooling, solidifying and creating the right bio chemical environment for different life forms to develop. Slowly this entity called nature started showing up on this celestial body. As nature took root it developed enormous ability to propagate itself and develop newer forms of life, different climatic regions developed and a corresponding diversity of species developed as well which were adapted to these climatic conditions. As much life was there terrestrially, far much more developed in the oceans. The earth became one incredible ingredient rich soup bowl, standing out sharply and distinctly from these other specks of geology in the universe.

The cosmos was a mute spectator to this evolving drama, not able to register what was happening. Forests, grasses, fungi, bacteria and complex organisms, organisms which crawl, which fly, which run, some which are the size of nails and some the size of dinosaurs. It was all getting crazy and out of hand.

This presumably was not acceptable to the cosmos. Nature must have become the invasive species, which was rapidly infesting what was designed to be a desolate, lifeless landscape.

It can be argued that in the grand scheme of things earth does not even count as infinitesimal in the universe. Why take serious note of what was happening over here? Let an exception exist. Possibly there must have been a real threat that at some point the same process could transmit from earth and start on some of these other celestial bodies as well.

And this is when the cosmos took a decision to halt this invasion by nature. It was decided then to develop an anti dote to this poison that was spreading across earth. As with snake poison, the anti-dote would have to come from nature itself. And this is where the grand plan began to develop. It was decided to turn one of the species developed by nature against itself.

Keeping the incredible resilience of nature and ability to rebound in mind it was felt that it was necessary that the efforts made to contain nature were just not aimed at containing it but at completely annihilating it, leaving it with absolutely no ability to rebound back in anyway and make it similar to any of the lifeless, barren celestial bodies in the universe.

And what a wonderful job this anti-dote is doing. Humans are not just containing nature but working towards overwhelming it to not be able to rebound in anyways and paving the way for complete annihilation. And from the look of things the Grand Cosmic Plan will succeed. Though it must be a good two centuries to be anywhere close to completion, there is way too much life still on earth.

It was important to provide the anti-dote with a potent mechanism to counter the poison. Intelligence, emotions, desire, insecurity are those mechanisms which have made the anti-dote so potent. One can be quite certain that with all the doomsday scenarios played out about the effect of environmental degradation and climate change on the planet (and eventually on the human species) humans will be the one species that will last till the very end exiting only after it has accomplished  the Grand Cosmic Plan.

Will humans move to another planet after having annihilated all life on earth? I don’t think so as much as enthusiastic efforts are underway. If the cosmic plan is to bring earth to the same state as other celestial bodies then you don’t want the human species to end up altering another celestial body’s architecture. The species will find itself being the last life form to be extinguished from the planet. But yes possibly the last of the human species’ future could be consigned to be on a star ship Enterprise forever travelling into deep space.

Look at all the signs around; all of them suggest how the cosmos is supporting everybody who will support its plans. Environmental groups struggle for funding while prime ministers and presidents get heavy funding from the oil lobby and are completely subservient to their diktats on policy and administrative response to the environment and climate change.  Those who on the side of the grand cosmic plan have ensured that all political and social systems have been subverted and nothing can stall or slow the process.

America and China and Apple and Foxconn are all part of the cosmic plan. Those flattening the rain forests and those eating beef and growing palm oil plantations, the Indian establishments obdurate view on climate change, the Japanese hunger for whales and Chinese for ivory and tiger penises are all in absolute sync with the Grand Cosmic Plan.

One of the biggest evidence of the GCP is the fact that this is a species which is intelligent enough and can see the writing on the wall and yet incapable of doing anything about it.

So, now there is no need to feel bad about consumption and pollution. No need to listen to those advices of not changing phones and gadgets frequently. Let those rare earth minerals be mined more frequently. When the phone dies don’t throw dispose it responsibly. Make sure to go and fling it into the nearest dirty river. A million people doing it will help us achieve the cosmic plan sooner.

No need to be worried about nuclear energy and the problem of nuclear waste. From the cosmic point of view the nuclear waste is all coming from within the planet itself. If nuclear waste helps achieve the aim of a desolate poisoned, lifeless landscape faster, the better still. No point in lobbying for renewable energy. The cosmic eye never saw any need for energy in the first place, renewable or non-renewable. In a desolate landscape where is the need for energy consumption? The purpose of addicting the human species to all those energy guzzling needs is precisely to help achieve the plan.

It is time those who are trying to save nature and the environment hang up their boots, stop leading troubled agonizing lives. Their pain comes from the resistance to the cosmic plan. All resistance is futile in front of the almighty cosmos. It is foolishness and arrogance to not read the writing on the wall and to think that they are in fact on the side of the cosmos. Billions of people who go about enjoying or making two ends meet without any thought about saving the planet have been put there for a purpose.

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.

Dust in BKC, MMRDA’s paranoia, stupid rules and feudal high handedness in ‘smart’ BKC

Crazy dust levels are a bane in Mumbai, posing severe health hazards besides making the city look no different from the situation in villages and Tier 2 and 3 cities and robbing it of sophistication. This post is about the ridiculous way construction sites are running in Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), the pride of Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and completely governed by them. There is absolute violation of all environmental rules about dust management and how construction sites should operate. Rules and techniques are clearly there to have zero dust around construction sites as I have recorded in photos from Hong Kong in the second part of this post. It is interesting to see how the who’s who and so educated of BKC go about seeing this on a daily basis and do nothing.

Earlier in the year Mumbai Mirror had carried a story Somebody call Bob the builder! on the same subject and I was quoted as under

Mass transport expert and environment activist Rishi Aggarwal says it’s just callousness on the part of various agencies that leads to the kind of mess that Mumbai finds itself today. “There is never going to be a point where a city is done with all development work. But does that mean we will have to put up with this chaos forever? The way out is strict enforcement of norms,” he said.

Today I was invited to give a byte for a video film on Mithi and asked to come to Bandra Kurla Complex. Similarly invited was my friend and free lance journalist Nidhi Jamwal and since we stay close by I joined her in her car. Since we reached a bit early we decided to move around and get the Sunday feel of BKC.

Along the way Nidhi had her first look at the pathetic cycling tracks launched with much fanfare by MMRDA three years back and photographed them. But that is a separate topic of discussion.

Moving towards the Mithi we passed the point on the map shown as BKC 1 where we passed the first dust site and I took photos with a bit of caution because I had already seen the security stir up even seeing the car stop. Moving ahead we came to the road behind the Dhirubhai Ambani School. It is an isolated stretch with very less traffic and here I again saw a large amount of dust and truck trails on the road. This time I was annoyed and decided to get down and record this properly.

Even as I had just started taking the photos a jeep came in from the opposite side filled with 5-6 men. The jeep stopped by our car and the  men started jumping out and rushing in typical intimidating style. They asked me to immediately stop taking photos since photography was strictly prohibited in the area. At this point I got aggressive and asked them who were they and who has made the rules to which they answered that they were security kept by MMRDA  and it is them who has made the rule. Any point about the dust etc. was lost on them as was my shouting that I will be showing these pictures to the Metropolitan Commissioner tomorrow. I decided to call up Mr. Dilip Kawathkar MMRDAs Joint Project Director who confirmed that yes there was a prohibition on taking photos and permissions have to be taken from a certain Mr. Wankhede who I presume is the person mentioned here and here

This is bizarre and nothing short of feudal. This is a public property and the streets can certainly not be part of a photography prohibition. As a citizen activist I am continuously taking photos of the governments negligence in providing even the most basic of infrastructure and amenities to the citizens. This helps in redresal. Now even photos cant be taken?! Dereliction of duty in the first place and intimidation if documenting it.

And then you see these kind of cheesy stories on Smart BKC? Hong Kong also has rapacious capitalists but they have some interest in a clean and well managed HK.

Or these pies in the sky – talking cake when people dont have bread.

Firstly the way the men were traveling and the intimidating manner in which they approached me is completely unbecoming of how an agency like MMRDA should be keeping security people for any purpose. They looked more like the goons and henchmen kept by illegal mining barons or like some militia of the kind of ISIS images we are seeing on TV. Knowing the land politics of BKC and the politicians-developer nexus which controls it, it is quite clear that institutions are just a nice front to show behind which feudal diktats and controls operate.

Secondly,what is this nonsense about not photographing even on the roads? In July I was hauled up by the ultra-paranoid security at the US Consulate even as I was standing on the footpath outside their building and photographing the diamond bourse with the upcoming convention center in the foreground. Nothing to do with the consulate, nor were they in the frame anywhere but still I was brought in by the security, made to sit for an hour while procedure and deletion of photos took place.

In 2012 I visited Hong Kong for the first time and took photos of the West Kowloon Terminus from a nearby skywalk, which I have carried subsequently in this post. Not once was I stopped, there just was no intimidation in the air. I could see police and guards at some frequency but their job was not to intimidate common citizens. The Peoples Republic of China was not paranoid in spite of being an autocracy and here we have MMRDA – quite symptomatic of the bogus two paisa democracy that India is. This is of course the private estate of some of the best known politicians and builders in the city.

I will stand vindicated when the next big terrorist attack takes place successfully at BKC in spite of all this ridiculous paranoia, intimidation and assault on liberty. As I keep mentioning to all these people that those who will do the damage will have the best of images taken without these jokers even getting a whiff. Of course the innocent will suffer with no effect on these jokers but then did somebody say something about how evil benefits from the silence of the good?

Thirdly, anybody interested in labour rights and the conditions of construction workers need not be holding up for whats happening in Qatar

Woes of India’s Labour in Gulf

Sushma Swaraj vows to work for migrant Indian workers in Gulf nations

Sushma Swaraj could well come and champion for the rights of those who are working at the sites in BKC and especially the large one near the concrete plant marked as BKC 3 in the map below.

Labour could be seen living and working in the most unhygienic and completely unpleasant surroundings. Forget getting into private areas, BKC is completely under MMRDA and consequently Government of Maharashtra jurisdiction. I this the commitment to the various conventions and policies that GoM is party to? We were moving around in an AC car so we are unaffected but the moment you step out is hell.

This is how they do it in Hong Kong. This is the site of West Kowloon Terminus which I visited in March 2012. This a government of China project contracted to private engineering firms. The highest work area management standards could be seen as borne in pictures below.

Take the issue up and make noise about work area management rules at all construction sites. Making Mumbai dust free is possible if only citizens are interested in such an outcome.

And if you can take some more

Why Peltophorum is not a good tree for Mumbai?

I feel a bit stupid for not having recorded this long long ago considering how strongly I feel about it but nevertheless.

So let me state the position very clearly. The Peltophorum tree is the most common tree in Mumbai today. It has been the favourite in plantation drives by the municipal corporation over the years. But peltophorum is not a good tree to plant and Mumbai should take steps to discontinue planting the peltophorum. Here is why:

The first two are the principal guiding points and the others derive from these and especially from point two.

1) Trees are long terms investments. Trees last for 30-50 years and even more. Just as there are lock-in features in a number of other investments like financial product, an educational degree you may choose or a career decision similarly in the case of trees it is difficult/almost impossible to reverse a decision after planting and nurturing a tree for a while.

2) While planting a tree you have to be really (and I mean really) greedy. Following from point one when you are investing in a financial product or an education or career you are looking at maximising your investment on a number of accounts income, self-fulfillment, happiness of others. But to be greedy you need to be intelligent and know your trees well.

Things to be greedy for in trees.

What is the primary reason why trees are planted for? Shade? Yes, shade is the primary reason why trees are planted. But then there are a number of trees which give shade. You have to look at a few things besides just shade when planting trees.

1) Is it a native or a non-native tree? This is the most important consideration and if you get this right then in most cases you would have secured a long term worthwhile investment. If a tree has been part of the Indian geographical region and more specifically of the region in which your city is located then over millions of years the tree has acquired properties which makes it a very natural part of the local climate and other factors. Trees like peltophorum, Gulmohur, Rain tree are trees which have been around in India only fairly recently, extending to about three hundred years. Three hundred years is absolutely nothing when considering geological time – the time for which the earth and various plant and animal forms have been around. In three hundred years these trees have not intermingled with local birds, diseases, pests, pollinating factors etc.

The recent epidemic scale infestation of rain trees by the mealy bug is a good example of how decades of efforts can be laid to waste if the right tree species is not chosen. Till even a year ago nobody could have imagined that the tall, strong and such huge shade giving rain trees could be reduced to absolute dust by a teeny-weeny bug. We have no idea if going in the future there will be an infection or a bug which will solely target the peltophorum tree.While it is still to be conclusively proven some of us are speculating whether the mealy bug epidemic suffered by the rain trees could be a result of climate change? And if that is the case we need to be very careful for the coming years.

When it is a long term investment it pays to look into what can happen a few years hence.

2) When considering other factors, the most important one is whether the tree supports other associated species like birds and butterflies? When you are going to have a tree around for more than 30 years it is good to have a tree which attracts different kinds of birds and butterflies to feast on nectar or fruits that the tree provides.

Where I stay – I am on the third floor – I am lucky to receive a line of coconut palm trees which have reached to roughly the same height over a few years. And boy what a feast for the senses that is! The coconut palm flowers attract a great variety of birds and in the case of my palms all are available for viewing at an eye level. Purple sunbirds, bulbuls, Magpie Robin, Tickels Flowerpecker, a common kingfisher is the latest addition. All these birds add a lot of colour, melody and engagement with the tree. Right below is a slow growing and short guava tree which supports parakeets and an occasional coppersmith (call here)besides some of the ones on the palms. There is a banyan tree in one corner of the garden and that provides abundant berries.

In cases of the peltophorum, the trees flowers and fruit are not attractive to a single bird or butterfly species. If you were to stand for long in the presence of a peltophorum tree you realise what a silent, friendless, lifeless tree it is. You feel a bit sad about the tree as well about the whole idea of planting such a tree in the first place.

A few pics from what I get to see from the third floor.

3) Another factor which makes peltophorum a bad choice for Mumbai is leaf fall. Lets be very clear that there is a difference between a tree in an urban area and one in a forest. A forest floor has the luxury of accepting any amount of leaf litter. The same cannot be the case for an urban road or compound. Look at my favourite trees again – the lagestromium sheds leaves only once in a year sometime around December.Another favourite, the karanj is an absolute darling! This is almost evergreen or semi-deciduous and so very little leaf fall.

What about the peltophorum? Whole year! Yes the whole year the tree will keep shedding its tiny leaves. If a road, which has peltophorum trees is left unswept for a few days there will be a heap of fallen leaves below it. It is a troubling sight for me to see the municipal sweepers having to labour so much to collect all the leaf fall. And then many times disposing it can be so much of a pain that it is burnt in small heaps adding to pollution.

4) Local context is extremely important while planting trees. As an absolute simple example you cannot plant a tree with a very wide canopy in a narrow road and it would be waste to plant a short crown tree on a wide tree. There can be other factors like nature of habitation around, garden or road side, presence of absence of utilities under the surface and more. In the absence of context sensitive planting you can be left with a tree which can be a nuisance at times.

5) Beauty can be subjective but you need to know trees to realise how there are some trees out there which are so much more beautiful than the peltophorum and deserve to be planted on this point alone. Below are photos from the flowering Amaltas. The sight of these flowers can never be compared by a peltophorum, which can at times be so celebrated. The flowers of Amaltas are an absolute delight and a celebration. The other great advantage with the Amaltas is that it is tree of extremely modest proportions, which completely suits an urban agenda.

Karanj has one of the most beautiful green shade in its foliage compared to the darkish green, dead complexion foliage of the peltophorum

My top favourites are as below. In separate entries I will speak about what I like so much about these trees. I would strongly recommend planting of these trees where a rain tree has been left unrecoverable from the mealy bug infestation.

Jarul/Taman (common local name), Lagestromia speciosa or Queens Flower. This is also the State Flower of Maharashtra

Karanj, Pongamia pinnata

Amaltas, Cassia fistula

People can only go ooh and aah on seeing the yellow flowers of peltophorum till they have not seen the Amaltas tree.

Kadam, Neolamarckia cadamba



If you agree with the points in this post and feel that peltophorum plantation should be discontinued and the trees mentioned above – and some more – should be given a prominence then please do comment on this post and also write to the MCGM, Chairman, Tree Authority. every comment and letter to the MCGM strengthens the efforts. You can help achieve a better quality of tree cover for Mumbai.

Letter on Coast Road

While I have been opposing the coast road for more than two years, this is the first formal letter – a long critique – that I have put in. The acknowledged letters are below and I will keep adding more acknowledgements here as I submit the letters to the relevant authorities.

To reiterate it is the gross neglect of so much else that needs to be done for Mumbai’s transport that really disappoints, saddens and angers me against the project.

Coast Road Letter March 2014

If you see merit in the arguments please do sign the petition at link below

and like it at

The MCGM report on coast road can be viewed at this link