Mindful by the Coast

~ Mindful by the Coast ~

Its only when you have stepped far out of the city that you realise what a beautiful planet it is and what we are doing to it. To see a wide expanse of sea like you otherwise wouldn’t. A skyline which is not a thick layer of smog generated from millions of vehicles burning fuel. To actually get a sense of what that entity called the atmosphere really is, that which is so discussed now.

It gets dark and quieter soon. The cell network is bad. You can’t get on to social media. Just nothing to do but be with yourself. Better are the urban trappings, which do not give you a moment with Self. How long can you enjoy the clean air and stillness or your own company? Or the village lanes and the lush greenery. What do you do with these poor villagers? They make for poor company compared to your echo chamber. Back in the city the cell phone is handy; get onto Facebook and pass away time rather than look it in the face. Or meetings and errands and a sense of feeling important.

Thoughts dwell on the self. Just who is this self? Is he the forearm or the fingers or his chin? Or the toe thumb or the bloated stomach or that which is experiencing the breeze. Or is it the skull? The stillness makes the incessant chatter inside feel like a noisy factory. Many parts moving and clanging. You wonder why so, what is need, what is the output?

And even here you have not escaped the city. The coastline is dotted with massive cement plants, power plants, ports, all servicing the needs of the cities. I feel glad of not having earned much in my life and consequently not able to afford/consume that much cement, power and steel.

Life is simple when you live off the land. Just what do I need? Where am I going? How would I like to feel when my short time here is over? What will I take with myself? What will I leave behind?

But why keep it simple?

Plastics Ban

I have had a contrarian stance (and very public) on the Plastics Ban announced by the Government of Maharashtra since November 2017 – when the first announcements of an upcoming ban were made – that the ban is an impractical and stupid idea, which will fail and that it plays only to the gallery, with elections in mind and possibly a bundle of other motives, some of them being ulterior.

In an otherwise wide spread response of elation and hope I was the only one to publicly stand out with my contrarian views, many a time being viewed as cynical or negative and not giving an opportunity for positive developments to take place. Those who were positive should not hold a grudge now when I say that it takes more than positive thinking to make ideas work. And if the fundamentals are wrong no amount of positive thinking can ever help. 

Like I say going for a ban in the current state of SWM in Maharashtra is like attempting a Phd even before clearing kindergarden. A number of urban local bodies cannot even be considered born when it comes to their grasp of the most basic of laws of the land and how to apply them. And we could see it well in Mumbai itself with silly and stop gap measures abounding but no serious engagement. 

For those without a background, I have had a deep engagement with the subject over a long time in Mumbai having worked on the ground and with government through two decades. That engagement provides deeper insight into what works and what doesn’t. It would be good to apply energy on what works rather than on optics, which certainly does not work as much it gives excellent short term returns to a number of stakeholders, not just the politicians.

Below the introductory commentary to this post I am collating all the instances of speaking with the print and electronic media and speaking out my firm and direct criticism of the ban and a few times in panel with the Minister himself who was so enthusiastically championing the ban.

We saw elation in a number of quarters about the ban. A lot of it clearly from people who are part of the political coterie and obliged to halo everything that their party/government does irrespective of (and without any concern for outcome or the environmental consequences) the merits.

Yet others were naive, others plain lazy and wanting to see some good come (and relief for their souls tired of only hearing bad news on the environmental front) without much application of mind. And then those who would like to just go with the flow and be on good terms with the establishment; and that really is such a huge segment in India to almost be the whole.

And the media treading very cautiously. Giving space for somebody like me but also trying to show the government in a positive light as trying to do some good. And if at all then not making any critical remarks on its own, always having someone like me to do the hard hitting.

All in all within less than a year of the formal government notification of the ban, the ban has fallen flat on the more simplistic and visible of its aims – the complete stop on use of the lowly plastic carry bag. Firstly the nomenclature itself was much faulty, was it a plastic carry bag ban or a plastic ban?

Whatever be the case, this another instance of the plastic ban failing is a sad commentary on the state of affairs of environmental governance in Mumbai/Maharashtra. But not very surprising. At a time when we need to be urgent and sincere towards such a serious issue we still have time to be frivolous like this.

In the same year and time as the ban, I came up with the idea of Safai Bank of India, nurtured it within Mumbai Sustainability Centre and the program has firmly established itself in a short duration as a powerful and effective means to handle the waste emerging from millions of biscuit and snack packets sold in multi-layered packaging. This is also in keeping with the laws which enforce Extended Producer Responsibility.  There are no incubation facilities for individuals and ideas which deliver.

As a society we remain unable to provide adequate support to innovation and sincere leadership (there is abundance of insincerity) and will keep meandering the way we do till the same happens.

**********************

2nd July DNA –

Speak up Mumbai – Plastic predicament: Is govt rolling back its tough stand?

My views shared at the end of the link here

 

31st March, 2018

DNA

   

 

 

Indian Express

16th March 2018

Views highlighted below

Maharashtra plastic ban2 16-Mar-2018 IE (2).jpg

DNA

 

 

Mid-Day

Speaking on India Today with Rajdeep Sardesai

(After 14th minute) Here

 

Times Property – 23.06.2018

I speak on how taxation by the government can be a better tool, increasing the price and impacting downstream use.

Times Property 23.06 Plastics

2018-07-11_030045

The first remarks came in November 2017, a few months before the official communication for the ban in March 2018

Total ban on plastic bags in Maharashtra impractical, say environmentalists

I enter 2017 broke

I enter 2017 almost financially broke and I feel no embarrassment or awkwardness in discussing the issue. Financially broke and with a stubborn and debilitating health condition. While I figure my options I thought I should record the situation.Everybody who passes this path should leave their thoughts. And as I finish writing this note I can see Shahrukh Khan speak ONLY to me – here

I feel it should be as much a topic of interest among those who either take interest in my work and follow my work and comments on public issues or claim to care for the environment. And it is not a personal topic limited to me. What I narrate here gives an insight into something more important that society should be paying attention to but is as blind as a bat to, to use a popular metaphor. If anything bats should be a metaphor for being adept at navigation.

And it is not a surprise when we see quality of life only deteriorate in our cities and environmental challenges seeming unsurmountable. When the vision or ability to navigate of the society is so poor then constantly hitting obstacles is a given.

A family emergency left me eroding any saving I had and then I stepped out of formal employment sometime during the year. I have had patchy income from either lectures or being a resource person for projects. Helped me pay the regular utility bills.

In between I have had meetings with the usual sprinkling of youngsters who are pursuing environmental or developmental courses and hoping and eager to develop a satisfying lifelong career in impacting environmental issues. The very first question they have of me is that is there any income in the same. I do not have a rosy picture to paint for them, not just from my own state but knowing well the situation many others find themselves from serving community issues. The curse of the commons.

My situation of course is such not just because of my being in this domain but primarily because of the spectacular collusion by the universe in ensuring enormous legacy issues from my family situation, which has persisted as such since we folded up a business. Happens when you challenge status quo.

This post also follows from a recent article of mine in Mumbai Mirror, where I essentially question the state of the environmental movement in the city, which according to me really is in tatters. And it is in tatters because as a society we have no clue about supporting this ‘industry’. Yes engagement in civic and environmental issues of your city is an industry like any other which provides value to the city, like the finance industry, like the fast moving consumer goods industry, like the entertainment industry, like the education industry, like the media and communications industry, like sports, like politics! The nature of value is different from these industries.

Like in any industry we should be discussing the size of the market, the growth in the industry, its prospects and its employability, ability to attract and nurture talent. These are aspects completely missing in discussions about environmental issues. It is as if these are alien and taboo topics.

It is because some human needs have an industry status that the goods and services keep flowing, from entertainment to fashion goods, gadgets and cars. The flow of environmental goods and services is so poor because it is not seen as an industry, it is a mental affliction which affects some unfortunate souls.

If one were to draw up a list of people working full time on the urban and environmental issues of Mumbai in advocacy or as a green business and draw up their incomes and arrive at a turnover of the industry it would be a figure too small and embarrassing to even discuss. A lot of people would come in as subsidizing through a mainstream source of income or a working spouse. Whoever wastes their time in challenging the city administrators on solid waste management policy and transport investments, the way the budget is handled, having more open spaces and walkable streets.

Environment and sustainability could be an industry which see annual recruitment drives and youngsters eagerly looking forward to join a slew of organizations working on exciting public policy and governance challenges, working with technology, green businesses and law and much more. Sanitation, air quality, waste management, green buildings, transport policy, biodiversity conservation street design, land use planning, the list of topics is fascinating and endless. Incredibly soul satisfying careers can be created around any of these subjects, which should pay well and would rapidly draw the world out of a cliff fall it seems headed towards most times. But no such is not the case here. Why? Because there is no money to be made here. No resources here. At least in the Mumbai, which I have known since the mid-90s till now. That this should happen (and why) in the wealthiest city in the country is another long commentary.

Instead you have some foolhardy youngsters taking a risky plunge every year. Invariably it is a tough launch received with shock from family and friends. Invariably there is deep despair after a few months and a course correction.

In any other industry the followers lustfully lap up the financial prospects of the industry and the juicy bits about how much the star performers ‘take away’. From salaries of CEOs to how much Salman and Sachin gross, the financial prospects of the industry are as much of a gratifying part as the core business. Their houses, cars, where they take vacations, favorite restaurants, their health regimen. Health and well being of the participants is of key interest to everybody not least the handlers.

In the environment domain it seems a given that all that you have to discuss is depressing news and go from firefighting one crisis to another. How people participate in this industry is no concern to anybody. Whoever discusses that. The crises happen in the first place because there is not discussions on the state of this industry.

It is a silent acceptance in society (the mothers that is) that this is anyways not a domain to come to as a career. They have their valid concerns. Its all fine to (occasionally) lament in the usual cliches during coffee table discussions but who ever comes to these fields as a life long involvement. You have to be stupid and you need to suffer the consequences of your stupidity. Careers are made in the mainstream.

In 2007-09, Jairaj Phatak, the then Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai drew the ire of civic activists when he refused to give any importance to the subject of open spaces in the city citing that in a survey conducted by him citizens placed concern for open spaces 13th or so in their list of importance. Understandably so. When you push fifty percent people to stay in slums begging and desperate for basics then where is the room for them to demand anything more. Always a good strategy by the ruling elite to stay in power and continue unchallenged with their nonsense.

When you think dispassionately then what the Commissioner said does hold true. He is clearly far better in touch with the ‘market’ than fuzzy idealistic me and others. Forget those who stay in slums, in the urban middle class or elite would the same sentiments be generated when shown a full page advertisement of an iconic smart phone (or any other) as compared to when they read about the efforts of an NGO working on saving and enhancing open spaces in the city?

On seeing the advertisement the majority check their credit card statements and make calculations on whether it can take the direct brunt of a single swipe or EMI option will be needed or some portion of savings and some portion of card will do. For the more endowed there are no such plebeian concerns. At a max three year replacement these people will over a lifetime reward the iconic smart phone with a few lakh rupees. The NGO will go multiple existential shocks during its existence and maybe fold up while the smart phone makers piles of cash become the envy of the world. The NGO has a poor base of people who take interest in its work and it is a non-paying base.

The more interesting are those who will read about civic issues and express concern but will never show the same commitment as the person showing towards the smart phone.

Careers in the environmental or developmental arena have refused to evolve over the time I have spent my time with them since the late 90s till now. At the most in the past decade or so we have corporate NGOs and Think Thanks but those have poor ability to challenge the establishment and cannot be a proxy for advocacy groups built by grassroots community campaigners looking at seriously impacting issues. If raising a family is your prime concern then the Corporate Think Tanks are a great place to go to. Serve some industrialists never satisfied gloated ego all your life and work with compliant CEOs with little or no skin in the game.

When you look around invariably all organizations and individuals arising from grass root campaigning and fiercely independent are in complete doldrums, going from one financial crisis to another. They rely on a type of community support, which has not seen the light in so long and appears nowhere close.

I now have a feeling of abhorrence at working with the kind of organizations I have worked with till now, which was anyways more to have a source of income. I never relied on them to provide me with relevant and satisfying environmental issues to work on. I was frequently found saying then that of all of my work, that which added the most value to the city has happened outside my formal paying jobs in the past 15 years. Had there been independent and crowd funded financial support for doing mainstream what I was doing on the sidelines I would have contributed a 100 times more to environmental issues in Mumbai. And before the tumble of family affairs the plan was to proudly self-finance.

And as a result of this abhorrence I now find myself stuck without income prospects. I would much rather sell that iconic cell phone than peddle my talent cheaply.

When the youngsters ask me about income prospects it is a most valid question I feel. I cannot give them an enthusing answer. Somebody who is a corporate lawyer or a marketing or finance professional in mainstream businesses does not have to go through such a situation. There such conversations are more about the enormous scope for personal enrichment, there is no question of anxiety on income.

Why is the state what it is? That could be a very lengthy discussion. There is no prospect of capturing the value created, capturing it in a manner that it is available for sole consumption and then being able to provide a point of sale for its dispensation. More importantly there is no instant gratification. What a luxury sedan or a premium smart phone can provide those in the environmental domain can never. Unfortunately Mumbai seems to completely lack in having a market size of another kind.

More mature societies and economies know these challenges well and hence you have generous philanthropy from the state or individuals and institutions supporting advocacy as a public good. That supplemented with social security and an overall high per capita income.

One would have hoped such an evolution in India but no. On a number of fronts evolution happens at lightening speeds in India but not on these fronts. The Indians who enjoy their canal rides and cycling in Amsterdam and clean air and open spaces in London, New York and California are quick to evolve in their consumption of material comforts but show a granite resistance to any transformation in thoughts. And so India trudges along. I need to figure out where I go from here and listen to King Khan.

Our bad air quality and Indo-Pak relations and what it says about us?

I got out of office earlier. In the day ending light conditions I could manage to see the horrible haze in Andheri at around 6pm on the New Link Road housing Infinity mall. I guess it must be the same around the city. Had I been travelling an hour later a dark skyline would have hidden the haze.

It was a repulsive sight raising concerns about the impact on collective health and our priorities. I was in a taxi on a call I could not keep aside and hence did not stop to take the photos.

Shamelessly opportunistic thoughts came to my mind riding on a recent big talking point in our country. I began linking the recent Shiv Sena misbehaviour with Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni and the high security having to be provided to Mr. Kasuri and the event around his book release.

I wish Mr. Fadnavis and others would take a “principled stand” on air pollution and public health. I which this could become as big a talking point as Indo-Pakistan ties, disturbance in which hardly takes any lives as compared to bad air.

Its great to have good relations between India and Pakistan but far more important is to ponder why citizens in both countries are not concerned about the most basic of issues affecting them and demanding better services from their governments? What does it say? And in the indifferent situation when people do speak and take interest what issue(s) is it?

Earlier in the year I highlighted the horrible way in which the resurfacing of Marine Drive was taking place raising criminal amounts of dust and it covered very prominently in the Times of India. I used the occasion to highlight the need for an overall work area management policy in all road infrastructure projects and buildings demolitions and constructions. It is a subject I have been raising concern over forever having written on other occasions on my blog.

I have stopped expecting any body – individual or institution – to read those kind of news reports and get in touch to support in any way or at the bare minimum such reports or videos or images to become a great talking point in the city like the recent fracas. I took a number of shocking videos of the resurfacing and the number of views it got are there to see.

Not to forget half a dozen other interventions to improve air quality beginning with improved public transport.

Far more people are dying from bad air than with any violence with Pakistan. Cardiovascular diseases have a strong linkage with air quality and lung conditions. Which means that a lot of deaths being registered as cardio vascular failure have been exasperated due to air pollution leading to mortality. But that can never become a talking point. Sena speared oil paint on Mr. Kulkarni and air pollution smears far more tar and other toxics on the lungs of millions. I wonder whether Mr. Udhav Thackeray is ever concerned about the state of the lungs of Mumbai’s citizens and the condition of which can be linked to the kind of decisions his party takes in the municipal corporation.

Where should be the focus of intellectuals and activists and concerned citizens?

In the end it does say something about how to garner public attention towards attaining political power. It is because people give a damn to real issues or have become too numb that there is a need to have such fracas and stunts. Talking sense on important public issues in straight forward ways never got any any body any where.

Manufactured outrage

I have not been much part of the discussions about some recent events which have attracted public outrage. Late August to most of September it was the Indrani Mukherjee case and off late it is the Dadri beef murder. I would have thought there would be far more important and deeper issues for the public to outrage over. These could be with regards to the functioning of the government in power or in opposition on issues of national importance or even far more important existential local issues.
 
For me it has been of great anguish to see the kind of ridiculous statements in the past eight months coming out of Indian climate hawks and the overall despondency over India’s climate change response. But clearly there is no public outrage over that.
 
It has been almost my continuous state that I generally am not interested in most of the public outrage issues. The 2G scam, the coal scam and so many others in the UPA government which made news ad nauseum in the past few years on television and print to me were well calibrated diversionary tactics. I would speak about it privately and sometimes publicly but clearly the mass media had been co-opted very well in a ‘manufactured outrage’.
 
At any given time there is always a certain capacity in citizens in terms of time and energy to experience outrage over public events and to engage in discussions over them. It could be X amount of hours a day or Y amount of calories that you decide you will give to outrage.
 
From the point of view of any political party it would always make sense if they were able to control where people expend their outrage. X hours of time and Y amount of calories a day. If you can direct this energy on your own chosen issues – decoys – then you succeed in the public not having any capacity left to express outrage on issues which threaten your political power and question your performance on critical issues.
 
There can be the following options
 
1) People read and follow important public matters through multiple sources like papers, TV, diverse websites, committee reports, journals and decide which are the issues which need to be outraged upon and accordingly spend their energy out of their independent volition.
 
2) There could be a political control room run by very intelligent people who closely analyse the psyche of the people and monitor their habits, time availability, sensibilities etc. This control room then develops a ‘stack’, an inventory of issues which they will introduce every few days into the public realm in a well coordinated sensational manner. This issue will then become the sole talking point for the bulk of the population.
 
People will share their thoughts and opinions on the issue on face book. Fight with those whose views are different or those who have attacked their own views. At one point get fed up of the fighting and retire away for a few days or having become hardened and cynical. All in all having expended their x and y.
 
The control room could either dig out forgotten cases and make them big like the Indrani case or create new events, which in my belief is the Dadri case.
 
This control room also has an important task at fire fighting. At any point there can be aspects of government/political functioning which have the potential to ignite widespread outrage and it is up to the control room to ensure they are able to quickly respond with diversionary events.
 
The first option is a rarity. As a norm citizens are a slave to the television and it is their sole source of information, opinion building and time spent. Most citizens are incapable of understanding public policy and issues which really matter but still possess the energy for outrage and it is important for political parties – especially those in power – to ensure that their energy is not tapped into by those who would like to make them intelligent towards the more important issues.
 
In my opinion issues like Indrani Mukherjee and the Dadri beef murder fit in exactly into point number two. Was or is Indrani Mukherjee and her doings such an important issues that it should be the sole topic of public discussion for 20 days? The Dadri beef murder though shocking is clearly a case where the control room could have directed the murder so as to ensure that all discussion on social media, print and television is swamped with this single issue. I don’t know which is the issue/issues being covered up.
 
It is up to people to be cautious and ensure that they the outrage that they are experiencing is not coming out of a factory and they are not just another sitting duck consumer consuming a product that has been well marketed to them.

A gash in SGNP

One of the more interesting things to capture my attention in the Executive Summary DP 2034 has been the gash into SGNP from the Goregaon side. This patch has been of interest to me since 2002 when I first saw the blasting. Even as we discuss Save Aarey currently it is important to discuss how this white patch intrudes into SGNP and should not this area be the buffer?

The gash I speak about is the the neat square white patch in the images below which I have captured from the Executive Summary document. The white patch intrudes ugly and very symmetrically into in the green patch of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Compare with Google Earth images below.

The hills side under discussion is viewed in pics below

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A neat tree line is visible taking up most of the hill side

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Same hill side see from far.

 

2003 is when I first raised an alarm about the blasting happening on the hills sides besides Film City Road and adjacent to the Nagari Nivaraa colony. I raised the matter in conversations on Mumbai Naturalists yahoo group hoping to create some traction and pressure group on the same. Post 2003 my involvement with SGNP and its buffer reduced drastically because I got more involved with urban issues besides my involvement with mangroves.

The conversations from December 2003 are there in the images below.

Part 1 – 6 are the emails from Debi Goenka recording conversations with noted biologist and conservationist George Schaller and commentary on an article by Vijay Singh, then in Indian Express.

Part 7-8 is reply by Dr. Satheesan.

Part 9 – 10 is my comments on the issue highlighting the state of affairs of the Goregaon hills and Part 11 is a comment by Dr. Satheesan to my email.

As was not uncommon there was no reply from Debi. I had since April 2002 been deeply critical of his and BEAGs conduct and would remark then that it was easier to get information from the government (in pre-RTI era) but impossible to get information from BEAG.

 

 

The pics below show the latest Google Earth images and also pics from 2000 onwards. The amount of damage by blasting and subsequent new constructions is evident.

We still do not have any idea about what is the existing buffer of SGNP and whether we need to take any steps for improving the edges. No discussion either.

 

 

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

17th November 2013

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

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

Oil and effluents spell slow death for Mumbai’s creeks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proposed new solid waste management rules – comments

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has come up with draft Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2013. The rules will overrule the existing rules which were framed in 2000 here. The Ministry has given a period of 60 days (from 29.08.2013) for public to respond with their views and suggestions.

It is important that everybody concerned with the issue of a clean city to engage with this process. The issue is not just one of a clean city but the philosophy towards waste management and the processes that will be followed. A number of activists have been carrying out efforts over the years without broad based public involvement. Please do consider organising programs around this issue where some of the members involved with the issue for long would love to come and speak.

The rules seem to have been put together in a hurry with incorporating the learnings from a number of developments since the 2000 Rules.

The proposed rules have a number of flaws, which I am highlighting below.

  1. The Ministry must share what necessitated the need for a new set of rules. Whether a note on the same is prepared and should share the same.
  2. The rules lack commentary on the serious constraints involved with developing new landfill sites. Competing demands for land are now stronger than they were when the rules were last formed in 2000. Land is needed to housing, infrastructure, farming and recreation and hence needs to be low in the priority of solid waste management.
  3. The rules do not adequately stress on the need for municipal corporations to go beyond the call of duty in sensitizing the citizens about not mixing wet and dry waste at source and hence minimising the need for centralised collection and transport of waste and landfill requirements.
    1. If in MSW 2000 this need was felt and appreciated adequately the developments since then have only increased the importance of reducing as much waste at source as possible. MSW 2013 Rules need to in fact start getting stringent about not accepting any mixed waste at source and levying fines for the same.
    2. The Rules should adequately acknowledge the services provided by rag pickers, the significant self-employment generated as a result and the need for municipal corporations to formally recognize the contribution by them.
    3. The Ministry should be abundantly aware that a lot of the requirements expected in the MSW 2000 Rules have been violated with gross impunity.
  4. The Rules should comment that due to the following important considerations there will be a strong focus on the minimisation of transport of waste over long distance. The transport of waste over long distance leads to
    1.  Use of fossil fuels which leads to release of GHG emissions which leads to long term environmental damage. India has a National Acton Plan on Climate Change and is a participant in global talks on mitigating climate change. The municipal waste management rules need to clearly be compliant with these efforts in letter and spirit.
    2. Air pollution from emissions which lead to immediate health impacts to the residents of the city.
    3. Loss of foreign exchange and hence economically harms the country. This is important in years like 2013, when we are facing a crisis.
    4. Expenditure on expensive machinery and
    5. Overall puts a strain on the municipal budget of the respective city.
  5. MSW 2013 Rules need to give very explicit guidance/instructions to the municipal corporations for engaging substantially in activities towards creating awareness about segregation of garbage and all other measures to treat biodegradable waste at source through various means. This creating of awareness will be through (and not limited to) advertisements in papers, television, schools, colleges, cinema halls, funding civil society organisations for road shows and all other means.
  6. MSW Rules 2013 should stress on very high standards of financial reporting about the complete costs involved in waste management.
  7. MSW Rules 2013 should stress on detailed disclosure on all the kinds of waste being generated in the city.
  8. MSW Rules 2013 do not adequately address the issue of electronic waste. Electronic waste generation is now huge in India and significant amount like batteries etc. are being disposed in the normal stream of waste disposal. The municipal corporations have to cover the whole gamut of awareness creation, strict segregation at source and final disposal in detail and with seriousness.
  9. MSW Rules 2013 need to be explicit and stringent on the need to strictly control the distribution of plastic carry bags in various kinds of shopping, a very large proportion of which end up in the garbage stream and are posing very serious environmental challenges. In Mumbai, all waterways like nullahs, creeks and the sea are choked with such plastic bags. During monsoons the sea throws all the plastic and other refuse out and makes a complete mess of the beaches.

The Waste to Energy part has been added new and one wonders whether that is the sole purpose of the new set of rules.

Passing through Koparkhairane station

Today – 2nd August 2013 – was my first visit to Koparkhairane. This map link will be useful for reference http://goo.gl/maps/cM5Cn
 
In January it was my first visit to Rabale. It was a long standing desire to visit these new nodes developing in the Mumbai region and to see the quality of basic infrastructure, the look and feel and the facilities being put in place.
 
I was there on an invitation from Jagdeep Desai, (friend, fellow activist and Director of Lokmanya Tilak Institute of Architecture and Design Studies) to attend a meeting with the DCP (Traffic) Navi Mumbai at the college to discuss some quick solutions to the pervasive problem of potholes and solving traffic congestion in some chronic spots. So in that sense a note of caution was already announced. 
 
I was joined with my friend Abhijit Mehta who joined only because I promised no public transport. We arrived by cab but I went bad on my word in the return and have presumably lost a friend now. The temptation to see and experience Kopairkhairne station got the better of me.
 
We entered through Vashi Bridge and joined the road which passes through Vashi Sector 29 and my immediate observation was how unremarkable the area looked. The road and the immediate surroundings had a very small town feel with little of dynamism or energy you experience in Mumbai. There really doesn’t seem to be much of a soul. Ugly un-noticeable buildings, streets which do not call out with either a calm beauty to them or a throbbing buzz of human activity.
 
The edges of the road are a favourite observation for me and after a few meters of riding into the ‘town’ I was left disinterested. There seemed nothing ‘Navi’ about this part of Navi Mumbai. Footpaths was what I was eagerly looking for hoping that some of the new sectors would not have gone the old ways and used the opportunity of a greenfield to do a good job. Thorough disappointment. Presumably these are not the most glamorous parts of Navi Mumbai but somehow I felt that clearly these areas could do better and anyways there has to be no qualifying criteria for basic infrastructure.
 
Good quality affordable housing and neighbourhoods have been in a a shortage in Mumbai and these areas present the best opportunity to create viable alternatives, especially with transport linkages now having improved significantly. 
 
The meeting went well. The DCP is a very nice cordial person with no air to himself – out to get the work done and do what his post calls for him to do. And go beyond since it is not often that top officials meet outside their offices.
 
Post meeting like I said earlier I bit into temptation. A professor from another College in Navi Mumbai had brought his vehicle and offered to drop at the station since he was passing that way. Abhijit was hoping till then that I will listen to the voice of reason eventually.
 
 
Koparkhairane Station
 
We approached the station from the side of Shivaji Patil Udyan opposite which is the college.
 
The Shivaji Patil Udyan was a picture of complete disinterest – more like a development plan formality. The road is an arterial one and it was of the same disappointing width which to me is now symptomatic of the thinking of planners in Mumbai post independence and especially the ones of the past 3-4 decades. One saw wider roads being built before independence and in an era where there was  hardly any traffic and here we have ‘Navi’ Mumbai which was supposed to be learning and building over Mumbai going about bending backwards.
 
The road doesn’t inspire confidence to run a good bus system, parking becomes a problem with the kind of width it has and let us not even talk about pedestrians. Why cant it be just standard to have two meter footpaths on either side on all arterial roads?
 
The first glimpse of Koparkhairane station itself was disheartening and sad. The colours were a sickening combination of light brown, faded grey painted ages ago and the faded painting taken over by the dampness of the monsoon. For me it was almost a field study trip but I can imagine the effect on Abhijit who was part expecting to see such sights, had no intentions of  studying the station, was promised company back in a cab ride and was now left to see this ugly precinct. 
 
The station has three entrances on the west side from where we were approaching. Each entrance has an almost 5 meter path for vehicles to enter and footpaths on both the sides. The first entrance turned out to be a large depression which was brimming with water from the rains, to the extent that even the bottom of the pool was not visible, thus doing away with the need to guess whether we could walk from this entrance.
 
We moved ahead to the next entrance, here too the same inviting pool of water but manageable. Straight ahead we could see  a building with a subway and a few people passing that way suggesting that this was an entrance. There were ticket windows here but not functioning. The place looked like a run down derelict building. A few people were sitting on stairs in front of the window whom we asked about tickets and they showed a path going along the boundary of the building further ahead to what would have been the third entrance on our road route.
 
Thank fully there was an all weather covered path through which we walked in the rain. The condition of the landscape around made me draw comparison to disused godown areas in Reay Road. At the third entrance we saw a long line of commuters – only one ticket window was functioning. There were some new smart card machines and I used one to get a ticket – had the same not been there I would have definitely chosen a cab ride back over the long line for tickets. This is also where I parted ways with Abhijit who had enough of the station and had no intention of going into the dark wet subway which  takes commuters to the platforms.
 
The subway did not give a feeling of being unsafe at 4:30 but I could imagine how it would start feeling post 7pm. The whole station precinct itself would look substantially more uninviting and dangerous in the evening hours. The quality of construction overall is good but it all seems to be left as it is in a hurry after a certain stage and after that there has been no body to look after it. 
 
The complete lack of any activity other than people standing in the ticket line, a few having grouped for their chats and those who were either entering or exiting the station was another noticeable feature. One is used to seeing a newspaper stand, a canteen, PCO booth, maybe a general store. But the station had none, only a ghostly and abandoned feel. Even police presence was not to be seen. 
 
Interestingly in office I am involved with applying principles of place making to improve the conditions of August Kranti Maidan and Azad Maidan. When I see Koparkhairane I realise that this is where the principles of placemaking are needed the most. Even the basics are wanting here – is it too much to expect good lighting, not seeing cobwebs hanging from the station ceilings and walls, signage and a few snack spots?
 
The completely covered stations of Navi Mumbai are a big relief from the stations of Mumbai which can be very inconvenient to use in the rains. The platforms were dry and there was no need to congregate at dry spots or open the umbrella. The train came in a few minutes – 4:27 to Thane and I was off soon.
 
I dont know who governs the station precincts, whether CIDCO or Central Railway, which operates the train services. The station besides carrying its name carried no feature suggesting any authority which was responsible for its upkeep and operation. Something as important as the railways station and its precinct could even be the responsibility of the municipal corporation. The railways can run the trains and everything else about the stations be handled by the municipal corporation. It is anyways a common complaint of the Railways that they do not make enough revenue due to the very affordable fares that they provide. The citizens using the stations are tax payers to the municipal corporation and it should be expected that the corporation do this much for them.
 
There is so much more that can be done in integrating the city bus service, para transit, cycling and walking with the station precinct. At Rabale in January it was my observation that coming out of the Station on the Thane Belapur Road side, one has to cross the road to go on the other side. The subway within the station could easily have been extended under the road to avoid conflict between vehicles speeding at 60kmph and users of the station. I wonder what the situation must be on the other side of Kopairkhairne.
 
Urbanisation in MMR
 
Yes Kopairkhairne may have been a village till recent but nothing says that a village has to go through a learning curve where you do all the wrong things first, suffer for a few decades, then through some process (if it happens or be doomed to forever be stuck in that early disastrous phase of your learning curve) go through a renewal and at the end of the 21st century enjoy something which was being enjoyed even at the end of the 20th century by a lot of Mumbai. There has to be a sense of urgency about doing the right aspects of urban planning in the MMR region.
 
Railway Stations are such an important component of the lives of the citizens of Mumbai that they should be the focus of a lot of effort from all the wings of the government, elected or administrative. The maintenance and efforts to continuously make stations and station areas cheerful, lively, utilitarian and safe can be such a creative and satisfying exercise. And it should be made a professionally rewarding one as well to be able to attract the best of talent to lend their efforts and time to the process.
 
Millions of people are passing through these stations every day. It may not be possible to give them inspiring and convenient neighbourhoods, it may be difficult to improve every kilometer of road or provide a great walking environment all throughout. The MMR Region is almost 5000 sq kms. Navi Mumbai is 150 sq kms, Mumbai 437 sqkms (or so some say). The stations themselves including the influence areas must be under a sqkm each and it is the sum total of these areas where the urban planning efforts need to be seen proportionately more.
 
If we are to have a glorious vision for the Mumbai Metropolitan Region I think the condition of railway stations and their continuous improvement in terms of aesthetics and facilities really has to be at the top of the list. The conditions here will  be an indicator of how much is really being done for improving the city and the level to which politicians are in touch with those who elect them. 
 
Political and social will (and effort)
 
I really dont know why Ganesh Naik and the other politicians who have been ruling over this area for more than 2 decades have not felt the need for improvement. But nothing is lost and the situation can easily be turned around in one municipal corporation term. I had the pleasure of meeting Sanjeev Naik the 30 year old young Mayor of Navi Mumbai a few months ago while I was the moderator for a session and he was the Chief Guest and he inspired hope and trust. It is upto the civil society of Navi Mumbai and also Mumbai to engage with him and I feel hopeful that such an interaction can pave the way for some change.
 
Mumbai Metropolitan Region can be the best laboratory for urban planning and practice in India if we who pass through its portals now in this second decade choose to keep our inhibitions, fears and doubts aside and spring headlong into practice.
 
We hear of these big UN and World Bank studies and quotes, charts and graphics on how we are a rapidly urbanising world, we hear of the McKinsey Report on 50 percent of India being urbanised by 2030 (which is real close) and how it is these metropolitan regions which will be the big contributors to GDP and we see annual conferences and seminars. Much noise and little conversion on the ground. It is time we started holding charette’s and workshops at the railways stations and get hands on with a desirable form of urbanism in at least a few aspects. We could urgently do with an MMR Committee (or even an informal working group to start with) solely devoted to bringing all the railway stations in MMR up to date on facilities and basic comforts. Why cant parts of the Mall experience be recreated at the railways stations? 
 
And this is not a trivial aspect – a Marine Drive maybe receives more attention than the state of our railway stations. Mass transit is one of those pillars of urbanisation without which most other activity will collapse.
 
I will reach this note to elected representatives, officials, architects, planners and civil society members as an appeal to look into the conditions of the railway stations and hope to build momentum.
 
Things I would know
  1. Who were the planners in CIDCO or Urban Development Department who decided on the current width and configuration of the Regency Road? Names of the officials, the Secretary and the Minster then.
  2. Which year was the plan made for Koparkhairane and which year did the execution start?
  3. What existed before the city in the current format?
Would appreciate any and all information in this regard.
 
Interestingly the public transport route I took will soon be history. The Metro first line will resume within a year and next year the same journey will require me to go Koparkhairane-Thane on suburban rail, Thane-Ghatkopar on suburban rail, Ghatkopar-Indian Oil(Andheri) Metro and then a bus or rickshaw home. The unnecessary travel to Dadar and then backtracking to Andheri and suffering Andheri station will be done away with. A full time saving of 30 minutes.