Mumbai: City's Pride, Hanging Garden, Should Be Preserved Not Destroyed

Mumbai: City's Pride, Hanging Garden, Should Be Preserved Not Destroyed

In this article, green activist Zoru Bathena talks about the BMC's “ill-motivated plan” to demolish the iconic spot; appeals to scrap the idea of trampling Mumbai's heritage

Zoru BhathenaUpdated: Monday, October 09, 2023, 07:33 PM IST
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Zoru Bhathena

Hanging Garden is Mumbai’s most famous garden. Situated on the top of Malabar Hill with an unrestricted view of Mumbai. An iconic view protected by law, with no development permissible in an ‘inner funnel of vision’ and with height restrictions on development in an ‘outer funnel of vision’.

The Hanging Garden is built on the top surface of the Malabar Hill Reservoir. A reservoir built in the 1880s, with the garden added a few decades later. The Reservoir is built with thick stone masonry walls and thick arch pillars supporting the roof and the garden above. A peek into the reservoir quite reminded us of the London Underground.

Last month the BMC stuck tree removal notices on many hundred trees all around Hanging Garden, and caused a public outroar. BMC’s plans to demolish the iconic Hanging Garden, demolish the reservoir below, and reconstruct a new reservoir of approx. double the size were revealed, shocking Mumbaikars.

Unlike most BMC projects, not a single piece of information about this project was available on the MCGM Portal, which itself was the cause of much suspicion. As citizens dug out information it was revealed that a 2017 Structural Audit was conducted on the reservoir, which concluded that the 140 year old reservoir must be replaced. However, perusal of the audit report reveals that the reservoir is in good condition, despite its age. And that the decision to certify it weak was based on computer generated loads, whereby the reservoir was subject to 10 times the normal load for pedestrian use of gardens. That is, ten times more load was computer generated to show that the structure may collapse. Ten times more load that any structural code permits.

Using this structural audit, BMC set out to plan the reconstruction of the reservoir, without taking any second or third opinion. And without even considering options to repair and strengthen the existing reservoir. This further shows BMC’s ill-motives. BMC then approached other professionals to design a plan to reconstruct the reservoir. These professionals were not asked to vet the 2017 structural audit. They were simply asked to plan the reconstruction. And they prepared an elaborate plan to reconstruct the old reservoir, chamber by chamber (it has 5 chambers) and by adding an additional chamber of approx. 3500 Sq Metres area. A plan which results in the destruction of the protected green cover adjoining the old reservoir. This plan has been further amended by BMC and has now resulted in a plan for a 22,000 Sq Metre new tank. A plan that completely destroys the adjoining natural area of Malabar Hill. The latest plans also include a road. A new road sanctioned in the name of ‘Malabar Hill Reservoir Reconstruction’, which gives further insight into BMC’s ill-motivated plans.

The Hanging Garden is surrounded by thick tree cover. And it is this precinct that is protected by BMC’s own no-development rules, to protect the iconic view. This Precinct is also protected by a slew of green laws. Laws that BMC has planned to simply break, in the garb of reconstructing the reservoir.

BMC keeps coming up with stories justifying their plans, however, their own documents show differently. For example, a VJTI report of year 2023 clearly states that the existing reservoir is safe. BMC also claims that there is heavy water leakage from the reservoir, but there is no document to support this claim.

This reservoir is built with a rock floor. Right below it are two tunnels for the Coastal Road, which were built just 2-3 years ago. At that time too, the tank was certified safe, allowing the tunnels to be built below.

An entire plan to destroy the Hanging Garden Precinct has been devised based on one audit report based on computer generated hypothetical loads. No effort have been made to take a different opinion. To investigate repairs. To check with heritage experts who know better how to repair these age old structures. No efforts have even been made to look for alternate places for a new tank.

If computer generated hypothetical loads are the only criteria to decide the safety of structures, Mumbai will be left with no BMC HQ, no CST Station, no Bombay High Court. All these will have to be immediately demolished if they are subjected to the same hypothetical computer generated loads.

BMC’s plans are clear. They wanted to reconstruct this reservoir, so they worked backwards to make it possible. It is time that BMC scraps such ill-motivated plans and do some honest work. They must get the reservoir structurally checked by capable & knowledgeable heritage teams and to ensure it is repaired and maintained well. They must plan additional water storage capacity in other parts of the city, for Mumbai’s future needs. They ought not to rely on 140 year reservoir for the next hundred years. BMC needs to plan ahead.

Hanging Garden is Mumbai’s pride. It is time BMC put their resources into repairing, maintaining and preserving our city’s heritage. Rather than simply dig up and reconstruct it, like they do to the rest of our city. This is not some ordinary Mumbai road. This is Mumbai’s pride. This is Mumbai’s iconic Hanging Garden. An icon that deserves to be protected and preserved. Not destroyed.

(Zoru Bhathena is a well-known environmental activist)

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