Let the Vikrant be a wake up call


As you watch this video, I am sure you will feel the same sense of disbelief and anguish that I did.

On Friday 21 November, we were escorting a group from the Press through Haji Bundar and Darukhana to share with them the problems and potential of our PortLands. We had just trudged past the coal mountains and had paused to spend the sunset with the magnificent Vikrant.

The sight before us brought us to an abrupt halt. Blow torches were cutting through the hull of the Vikrant and a few minutes later we saw her bite the dust, before our eyes.

http://youtu.be/RvtwM_jJeZU

A few weeks ago, Munna bhai, the scrap merchant who had purchased the ship for Rs 63 crores had called and asked for a meeting. He explained that as far as he was concerned scrapping the Vikrant was simply business. “Try and understand” he said, “by trying to save the ship you are costing me money”

Undeterred, a small group of us intensified our efforts to save this iconic ship: we sought and received the support of 3 of the senior most former Chiefs of Naval staff : Admiral Tahiliani, Admiral Nadkarni and Admiral Ramdas. They were confident that a letter signed jointly by them, suggesting a practical and commercially viable solution to saving the Vikrant, would not go unheard by the Powers that be. Sadly, even as that letter was on its way, the Vikrant, a precious symbol of India’s maritime heritage, was being cut to pieces.

In a city where money talks – voices that speak for the future are often silenced, or go unheard, until it is too late.

We have witnessed this in our MillLands. We have seen this with the Vikrant. Let us join hands to make sure that this does not happen with our PortLands.

Let the loss of the Vikrant be a wake up call.

As she goes to her grave, in a ship-breaking yard in the heart of South Mumbai, let us join hands to protest the toxic poisons, that the water, air and soil of Mumbai – and each of us, is being exposed to. We could not save the Vikrant – at least let us try and save ourselves.

We can stop the dumping of coal in Haji Bundar. We can stop the ship breaking in Darukhana. We can stop the disastrous Offshore Container Terminal that will choke the arteries of our city. And we can regenerate the PortLands to provide a precious Green lung for our children.

If you feel strongly about this please join the PortLands movement.

Please come to the PortLands exhibition on Thursday 27th Nov, at Kala Ghoda, and see how the vision of young Mumbaikars, has aligned with the best design principles in the world, to present an alternative future for our city.

IMC_exhibition_poster_A4_finalIK

Please share this message as widely as you can.

If every Mumbaikar embraces our PortLands, then no vested interest, no matter how powerful, can destroy this last remaining hope for the future of our city.

Clearing Mumbai’s Coal Mountains


In July 2013 I came across an article that said respiratory diseases were among the top five killers in Mumbai.

Deaths due to respiratory tract infections such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders (COPD) and bronchial asthma were rising steadily. Lung specialists said that one in 10 people in the city had asthma. There were many more deaths from TB and lung cancer.

Where, I wondered, was the source of the pollution that was causing this problem ? What I found was quite shocking.

Coal Mountains at Haji Bundar

Coal Mountains at Haji Bundar

We have mountains of coal in the heart of South Mumbai, just a few kilometres from Chatrapati Shivaji Station. RTI applications revealed that over 1.8 mln tonnes were stacked here in 2013. And the sea breeze carries this coal dust into the lungs of every Mumbaikar. This coal, is not even meant for the city of Mumbai. It is being stacked here for storage and transport to coal plants of MahGenCo in Bhusaval, which would be much better served by ports such as Surat.

This coal is being unloaded through open excavators, stored in the open and transported in uncovered trucks in violation of all pollution control norms, exposing our city and everyone who lives in Mumbai to growing health hazards.

20140416_094344_resizedGoogle earth photos show how an area that was completely green in 2000 had turned completely black by 2013. Mangroves in the area have been completely destroyed and the entire area of Haji Bunder is carpeted in a layer of black sludge.

Hay Bunder & Haji Bunder in 2000

Hay Bunder & Haji Bunder in 2013

In my 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, I therefore committed that I would work towards the removal of these Coal mountains, irrespective of whether I won or lost the election.

And so over the past few months, working with a team of committed citizens, I filed a petition in this matter. As the Pollution Control clearance to Mumbai Port Trust for the handling of coal was expiring on 30th September 2014, this was a matter of urgency.

I am very glad to share that the Hon High Court of Mumbai has heard our Petition. Their judgement, extracts of which are attached below, gives us confidence that the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board will not extend its permission to the Mumbai Port Trust for coal handling.

” PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION (L) NO.111 OF 2014

Smt. Meera Sanyal and anr. vs. Union of India through Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi and ors.

Mr. Kusumakar Kaushik for Petitioners.

CORAM: MOHIT S. SHAH, C.J. & M.S.SONAK, J.

DATE : 25 SEPTEMBER 2014

Two public spirited citizens in Mumbai have moved this Court for challenging the consent to operate order dated 14 October 2013 granted by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to Mumbai Port Trust (MPT), particularly, in the matter of coal handling at Haji Bunder or at any other place in Mumbai Port Lands. The said consent to operate order is going to expire on 30 September 2014 and the petitioners have therefore prayed for an injunction to restrain the MPCB from renewing/extending the consent to operate beyond 30 September 2014.

2] Having regard to the nature of grievances voiced in the public interest litigation, it would be just and proper to direct that MPCB shall treat the memo of this public interest litigation as a representation.

3] Accordingly, the public interest litigation is disposed of with a direction to MPCB­respondent No.3 to treat the memo of this public interest litigation as a representation and to take the same into consideration before taking any decision on the proposal of MPT ­ respondent No.4 for renewal/extension of the consent to operate order. It goes without saying that the MPT will also be allowed to submit their response to the representation and such response shall be given within two weeks from today and thereafter MPCB shall consider the proposal of MPT for renewal/ extension of the consent to operate.

4] It is clarified that we have not gone into the merits of the controversies sought to be raised in this public interest litigation and it will be open to the petitioners to move this Court again, if and when required.

CHIEF JUSTICE

(M.S.SONAK, J.) ”

This is however only the first step in our battle to reclaim the PortLands for the city of Mumbai.

Please join me in this fight for a more livable Mumbai and share this post with your friends. Please also share any ideas and suggestions you may have on Mumbai’s PortLands  at apliportlands@gmail.com

APLI Mumbai : a citizens plan to re-imagine Mumbai


In my 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, the issue of reclaiming Mumbai’s Port Lands was central to my agenda. 

Mumbai’s Port Lands, (comprising approx. 1000 acres of non operational land within the Mumbai Port Trust, on the eastern water front) represent a unique and perhaps the only chance to re-vitalise and re-imagine the city of Mumbai.

The Mumbai Port was once the fulcrum of our great industrial city from the 18th-20th century. However with rising costs, Industry migrated, with a corresponding decline in Port operations. Once thriving warehouses turned derelict and the area is now a dumping ground for coal (1.8 mln tonnes in 2013), a toxic ship breaking yard, (where the iconic air craft carrier Vikrant has been beached for scrap) and other polluting and undesirable activities. 

Coal Mountains at Haji Bundar

Coal Mountains at Haji Bundar

The area can and should become a green lung for the city offering much needed public utilities such as schools, colleges, vocational training centres, hospitals, libraries, playgrounds, sports facilities, arts & crafts zones and open spaces. It can also become an Educational cum sports hub, and an Innovation cluster with Incubation facilities and infrastructure for new age entrepreneurs.

Derelict warehouse

Derelict warehouse

Over the past few months, I was happy to see that many Mumbaikars shared this dream and even happier that the new Government picked up this idea, and invited citizen suggestions.

Working with a wonderful group of young architects, urban planners and Mumbaikars, we formed a citizens group called APLI Mumbai and proposed the attached vision plan to the Mumbai Port Trust. 

Our proposal takes into account the historical, archeological and ecological characteristics of the Port Lands and proposes 12 neighbourhoods that can swiftly and economically transform our Port Lands into a beautiful, friendly, open and vibrant part of our city.

Strategically located between the Suburban harbour line and the eastern waterfront, most parts of the Port Lands are no more than a 10 minute walk from an existing railway station.  The Eastern waterfront lends itself seamlessly to coastal water transport and with the 9 Passenger Water Terminals that we have proposed, the Port Lands can decongest Mumbai’s crowded arterial roads and provide much needed North-South and trans-harbour connectivity.

12 Neighbourhoods to re-vitalise Mumbai’s PortLands

We have suggested certain core principles to the Rani Jadhav Committee in our Citizens Vision plan, namely :

  • People Oriented planning: no privatisation of the the water front, human scale development, and the area should be designed to friendly and accessible to all (from a child of 8 to a senior citizen of 80, as well as to those who are differently abled)
  • Transit Oriented Design: with integrated mobility, pedestrian &  cyclist friendly, and with a walking time to a transit hub (rail or passenger water jetty) of no more than 10 mins
  • Holistic planning: integrate the needs of Mumbai and the MCGM 2014-34 plan with the development of the Port Lands space, as per UDPFI guidelines.

We have also suggested an enabling Legislative framework and a financing plan, that envisages Mumbai’s industrial houses, investing their CSR budgets, for creating Public utilities and public spaces, that are much needed for the future of all Mumbaikars.

To ensure that this is truly a Citizens plan and that the Port Lands are not subjected to the land grab that our Mill Lands were, please share this widely with your friends and family and all who are passionate about the future of our city.

We see this as a living document and would be very glad to receive your ideas and suggestions.

Please share your feedback at apliportlands@gmail.com so that we can incorporate your input and update the MbPT at regular intervals.