Mumbai city news: Mumbai’s tree cover, which was more than 35% in the 1970s, is less than 13% today, says a study on world environment day

Mumbai city news
Trees cut for Metro projects in Mumbai were dumped at mangrove forests in Borivli and Dahisar.(HT Photo)

The city’s development has come at the cost of the environment, a recent study confirmed. The study, led by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, states 94% of the city has been paved and concretised in the past four decades, and in the process lost 60% of its vegetation and 65% of its water bodies.

“Mumbai, with one of the highest amount of sprawl, is heading towards a complete urban disaster. Basic amenities such as water and vegetation for pure air will be almost non-existent if planners do not take note and stop unplanned urbanisation and outgrowth in the urban periphery,” professor Bharath H Aithal, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, co-author of the study, told HT.

Studying patterns of urbanisation in four metros — Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai — with a 10-km buffer zone, the four-member team found that urban growth was the highest in Mumbai (majority in north east and south east regions) followed by Kolkata (89%), Chennai (88%) and Delhi (87%).

The city’s tree cover, which was more than 35% in the 1970s, is less than 13% today. Scientists from IISc said a region should have at least 33% green cover to ensure adequate oxygen to its citizens.

Researchers said unplanned urbanisation in cities such as Mumbai has an impact on the environment and eventually on health. In fact, a study by Environment Policy and Research India (EPRI) has listed solid waste management, noise pollution (traffic and construction noise), cutting trees for infrastructure projects, water pollution, air pollution and urban heat islands as the major environmental issues plaguing Mumbai.

“Mumbai is facing several environmental problems that are rising by the day,” said Avick Sil, regional director, EPRI. “The city needs a comprehensive environmental plan for the next five years, which is similar to a development plan for the city. The government and private stake holders need to put it in place an environment plan keeping in mind the health impacts, safety of citizens and the preservation of the environment simultaneously.”

Ramachandra, head, Energy and Wetland Research Group, IISc, who also co-authored the study. “Too many state government agencies and lack of co-ordination has led to fragmentation in governance. The nexus of consultants, contractors, engineers and politicians has spelled doom,” he said.

With Mumbai’s urban population growing at 5% annually as compared to national average of 3.68%, researchers said any unplanned growth in the future in terms of residential and commercial buildings, and infrastructure development would mean “citizens would be starved of pure air and lung spaces, and taps would go completely dry”.

The team’s projection for Mumbai shows that urbanisation by 2020 is set to increase by 201%, which is almost double the area of present day urban growth in the city and 10km buffer. A 2014 analysis on land use in Mumbai co-authored by Aithal found an increase in urban extent by 155% during the last three decades.

“Sprawl is disastrous for a city like Mumbai. It means small settlements are seen in urban periphery that do not have access to basic amenities, not even recorded in government records, which would derail the planning and vision of Mumbai,” said Aithal.