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Tunnel under Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai opposed by environmentalists

To help streamline traffic on commute that caters to 65,000 vehicles and 250,000 people

Mumbai: A proposed 10-km tunnel under the thickly forested Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in the north of the city to connect the western suburb of Borivili with Thane on the east would certainly ease traffic congestion but environmentalists are up against it.

The Maharashtra State Wildlife Board (MSWB) on Wednesday approved a proposal to conduct a geo-technical survey for the construction of a tunnel below the SGNP, a vast forest cover in the midst of the city.

With more than 65,000 vehicles and 250,000 people travelling daily between Thane and Western Express Highway via Ghodbunder Road where traffic jams are a major problem, a six-lane underground road from Tikuji-ni-Wadi in the east end to Ekta Nagar in the West is expected to smoothen vehicular movement.

Says Nagpur-based Kishore Rithe, member of the State Wildlife Board and founder of Satpuda Foundation, “We can’t take objection to a geo-technical survey but principally, we feel they should not consider any proposal under the SGNP.” This proposal by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) should have also had two or three other alternative sites but at the meeting with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and other officials with the MSWB, no alternative site was mentioned, says Rithe.

Apart from government officials, representatives of NGOs like Bittu Sahgal of Sanctuary, Dr Anish Andheria of Wildlife Conservation Trust and Rithe were present. “We made it clear that the government should consider any site outside SGNP since we cannot afford to have surgeries in this small park as the tunnel would have a negative impact.” He added that the chief minister assured that a final nod would be given only after the survey showed the impact on ecology.

But environmentalists are seeing red as the battle for green spaces in this polluted city is a never-ending one. Stalin Dayanand of Vanashakti, an NGO crusading for the preservation of mangroves and the Aarey forested area in Goregaon where the Mumbai Metro car shed was proposed, says, “The government really doesn’t care when people protest against its plans for construction on the only green space that Mumbai has.”

Under the proposal, nine borewells will be drilled in SGNP — one in the recreation area and the rest in the sensitive ecological zones of the park. The SGNP is a home to a rich birdlife and a variety of wildlife including Chital or Spotted deer, grey langur, four-horned antelope and the famous leopard. “The vibrations would definitely disturb wildlife on top, affect underground water table and once the bore holes are drilled, that area is gone. Unfortunately, we come to know of such projects only through the media,” said Stalin angrily.

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