What is your government's vision for environment protection in the state?
The vision is simple: Sustainable development. Development cannot stop, but that doesn’t mean that it cannot be sustainable. That is the mantra for all key decisions.
In December 2020, Mumbai became the sixth Indian city to be chosen as a member of the C40 cities — a global network of cities committed to tackling climate change. What does this mean for Mumbai in the battle against climate change?
C40 gives us an opportunity to constantly keep ourselves abreast with the happenings in the world of sustainability. New ideas, new technology, discussions and debates, engaging with such a forum can bring all of it to our city. It also takes our work to the world and helps us get feedback on it. Sustainability is a constant process. We have to keep doing our best to better adapt to climate change, and that’s what we seek from this forum.
You and your government took a strong stance when it came to the felling of trees in Aarey Colony for the metro project, which was eventually shifted out. What prompted you to do so?
Aarey is wrongly considered to be an issue of only trees. In many developmental projects, trees are often transplanted or compensatory plantation occurs in multiple numbers. Aarey is our city’s active forest. From leopards to spiders and the rusty spotted cat are found all over Aarey, which is a natural extension of the Sanjay Gandhi National park. We could not afford to lose this forest. Therefore, the people stood by to protect the forest.
Have any other areas been identified in Maharashtra to be declared as reserved forests?
Since November 2019, more than 10 conservation reserves, two sanctuaries and 10,300 hectares of mangroves have come under the official protection of the Indian Forest Act, 1927. The scale of corridors created in this connection is unimaginable. Tillari Conservation Reserve is now a part of the Commonwealth Canopy.
Concerns have been raised by various sections about the impact of the Coastal Road project on marine biodiversity, flood mitigation and livelihood of fishermen. How do you address these concerns?
The Coastal Road has been carefully planned and executed with stringent environmental norms in place. At some points, this led to delays but it is always worth the wait to ensure that we do not damage the environment. The 10 sq cm corals were successfully transplanted too, with utmost care. The coastal road reclamation is in areas that are largely and originally reclaimed and have concrete walls/ concrete tetrapods lining the coast. As about livelihoods and flood mitigation, all these concerns are an intrinsic part of the project.
There are various community beach clean-up drives initiated by citizens, which have shown great results. How is the state government going to augment and support these efforts?
Yes. I’ve been a part of a few of them and it is wonderful to see so many citizens come out and clear the waste on our beaches. What is crucial now is to realise what we have done to our beautiful planet and ensure we don’t repeat these mistakes. Clean-up is one thing and it will go on. We also must ensure we don’t end up disposing waste the way most of us do on the road/ beaches or in our water bodies.
You also took a stand on banning single-use plastic. Implementation of the ban, however, remains a concern. What have the gains been from the ban, and what steps are being taken to ensure adequate enforcement?
The ban on single-use disposable plastic stands firm. However, to be honest, the pandemic has put these measures on the backseat and given us newer issues to deal with, like bio medical waste — masks, gloves, sanitiser bottles, etc. We take it in our stride and must work on it as well.
Is deteriorating air quality in Mumbai and other cities in the state an issue that is being monitored closely by the government?
There is a growing awareness of deteriorating air quality across the country. However, more than monitoring, each of us needs to realise our contribution to air pollution and its mitigation. Monitoring is happening constantly but gives us the numbers. Actions will come from human response to it. The lockdown saw rapid change in air quality distinctly from our windows, not just monitoring machines.
Are there any plans for rejuvenation of rivers such as Mithi in Mumbai?
River rejuvenation is going on across Maharashtra. The Mithi, Nag, Mula Mutha, Kham, Panchganga...all these rivers are where the State government, local bodies and NGOs are putting in efforts to clean and rejuvenate them. With the Mithi, the BMC has been working on multiple aspects — widening, deepening, sewage water capture, aeration, side strips along the banks of the Mithi and floating debris. There has been good progress and in the next three years one will see a different and cleaner Mithi.
(If you have a story in and around Mumbai, you have our ears, be a citizen journalist and send us your story here. )