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Revenge of a river cut short

Mumbai, Aug. 1: The curse of a river could be behind Mumbai’s fatal floods.

As the skies showed no mercy on the city, environmentalists feel that though the rainfall was unprecedented, a river that runs through the city and its thoughtless obstruction by “development” may have been as responsible for the disaster as nature’s wrath.

Mithi, that starts in Powai, from streams joining from Tulsi, Vihar and Powai lakes, flows through all the areas that have reported the worst devastation and number of deaths in the city ' Sakinaka, Kalina, Kurla ' and meets the Arabian Sea in Mahim Bay through Mahim Creek. But it is an apology of a river, when not flooded.

Mahim Creek, which has shrunk following reclamation of land from the sea in Bandra and the construction of the Bandra-Worli sea link, does not allow the Mithi to flow freely into it.

In the other parts of the city, locals call Mithi a “gutter” and it is left choked with plastic, domestic waste and industrial waste. This is true of Mahim Creek, too. “It has become the city’s kidney,” said environmentalist Girish Raut, who had protested with other activists, against the reclamation and the construction of the sea link.

“The land reclamation also claimed 730 acres from the Mithi river estuary and the mangroves,” he said. “This created tremendous pressure.”

When the rains started to lash the city from Tuesday, the Mithi could barely able to contain the water and flooded.

“In Kurla, the Airport Authority of India built big walls, putting an obstacle on Mithi. The river turned about 90 degrees. There the water rose about 12 to 15 feet on Tuesday, killing around 30 to 40 people,” said Raut.

He added that the airport extensions from Sahar to Santa Cruz also blocked the river. The river was also obstructed near the Air India colony and the Indian Airlines colony in Santa Cruz-Kalina. “The water reached 30 to 35 feet and about 30 to 40 people were killed in that area,” said Raut.

“For the Bandra-Kurla complex (a new-age corporate hub), Mithi was channelised by the MMRDA (the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority). Channelisation of a river is against the basic character of an estuary.”

There was another cause of flooding, Raut said. When the water level is going up, the reclamation also obstructs the Arabian Sea from entering the Mahim Creek that acts as a buffer between north and south Mumbai. “The sea then tries to get in through sewers and drains all over the city and the water column rises,” he said.

Deepika D’Souza, executive director of the India Centre for Human Rights and Law, said: “The rains have been unprecedented. But we have to think why the drainage is taking so much time,” she said. The overflowing Mithi was not the only cause of Mumbai’s flooding, but it could have been responsible for great damage, she added.

She said in 2001, several experts who deposed before the Indian People’s Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights, that was conducting an investigation into the feasibility of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, said reclamation and blockage of Mahim Creek could lead to increased flooding.

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