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Is a conspiracy to favor builder lobby behind ponds vanishing from NMMC records? NMTV “Save Environment” Initiative

Three ponds in Navi Mumbai – in prime locations have gone missing from the NMMC records. The manner, in which these ponds have disappeared over the years, has created doubts in the minds of citizens whether it’s a conspiracy by corrupt minds to favor the builder’s lobby.

The dust on the issue of FSI theft by builders on Palm Beach Road under NMMC’s nose has not even settled, and a new controversy in is already knocking the NMMC doors again. This time again, the issue is no less grave; as we are speaking about builders gobbling up ponds in the city. And all this has come to light as ponds are disappearing from NMMC records as years are passing by. Until 2007, the builder’s lobby had not eyed the ponds of the city for commercial exploitation so ponds in the city were safe. However, the mischief started the very next year in April 2008 when the influential builder group K Raheja bought Herdilia at Nerul and Philips at Airoli that had shut shop in Navi Mumbai to convert them into commercial complexes. Both these plots had ponds in their vicinity – two at the Herdilia site and one at the Philips site. The two holding ponds at Herdilia admeasured 16000 sq. meters, while the holding pond at the Philips plot admeasured 1000 sq. mt. And its not like there is no proof of how the builder gobbled up the ponds. In its very own Environment Report of 2007-2008, NMMC records showed four lakes in Nerul node – Shiravne lake, Nerul lake, Kuskshet lake 1 admeasuring 12000 sq mt and Kuksheth lake 2 (4000 sq mt) and Philips lake admeasuring 1000 sq mt in Airoli. The next year’s environment report of 2008-2009 then shows the mischief – as both the Kuksheth lakes disappear from the list, though one can still see the Philips pond in the NMMC record.

NMTV had raised this issue way back in 2008 when the builder had started filling the ponds. We visited the site and were shocked to find out that while the Philips pond was completely filled, at the Herdillia sight, one could see a NMMC board specifying the details of the ponds while filling of the pond went on uninterrupted within in the aluminum sheets put up by the builder. At that time, villagers of Kuksheth village confirmed that there was a pond at the site that was illegally being encroached upon by the builder.

Since the builder faced no consequences for gobbling the holding pond, he continued the same at the Philip site at Airoli. This pond too was encroached, filled to make way for plot that is being commercially exploited today. It was clear that officials in NMMC were hand in gloves with the builder as the pond disappeared from the environment report of 2009-2010.

In 2009, when NMTV met former Commissioner Vijay Nahata he ducked our questions asking us to meet, the then Dy. Municipal Commissioner in charge of ponds N N Alhat. N N Alhat, who was later suspended for dereliction of duty in the multi-crore Bhise scam; had tried to mislead us by stating that the ponds in question belong to MIDC and not NMMC. However, the conspiracy of the disappearing ponds has once again surfaced in the environment report of the current year 2010-2011. All the three ponds have disappeared from the report.

What’s worst? Allegations of anti-environmental activities for commercial exploitation on NMMC have increased, as the current environment report does not even mention the names of ponds but only the total sizes of ponds in each node ! This is a clear cover up to hide the number of ponds that have gone missing from NMMC records and more ponds that might be under threat of disappearing soon. The only lame justification that NMMC has is that the ponds that have disappeared belong to MIDC and not NMMC that is why it does not concern them.

However, this too is a misleading statement as a CAG report states that for two consecutive years, NMMC collected a state grant for fishing on the disappeared holding ponds that figured on NMMC Environment Reports for 13 consecutive years ! NMMC Leader of the House Vithal More, said that from the environment point of view, NMMC is the guardian of the ponds. Agreeing that disappearing ponds spell threat to environment, Vithal More assured of taking up the matter in NMMC.

On the other hand, Shiv Sena corporator Vijayanand Mane said that from the looks of it, the administration seems to be fooling citizens. RTI Activist Sandeep Thakur did not seem one bit surprise when we brought up the issue of the disappearing holding ponds. Explicating the importance of the ponds, he criticized NMMC for failing to safeguard the ponds.

With global warming and climate changes affecting the world, lakes disappearing in these industrial belts which are highly polluted are a worrying sign. It’s ironical that while NMMC collects taxes from these areas, it has shrugged off any responsibility of the vanishing of these lakes and once again the officials-builders nexus seems to be at work to deplete the city of natural water bodies for pure selfish gains. With cameraperson Vinayak Dalvi, Sana Warsia for NMTV News.

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