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A positive ‘Environment’

Projects, Comment

By the time you read this, it is likely that the Bandra Worli sea link extension – the Worli-Haji Ali sea link could have got all the required environmental clearances from the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF). Not many – who understand and experience Mumbai’s infrastructural constraints – will argue against this project. By and large, this logic – and I purposely use the word logic – is applicable to several (most?) infrastructure projects taking place in the country.
There is also a strong argument in the favour of a new airport for Mumbai. However, the project has not been able taken off. While land acquisition too is a critical issue in this case (as it is with many other projects), it is primarily stuck due to lack of environmental clearances. IIT-Mumbai is preparing the environment impact assessment report for this project, which would be taken up for discussion by the expert appraisal committee of the MoEF. (The project involves destroying 400 acres of mangrove, diverting two small rivers and levelling a hillock standing about 80m high). Nobody can deny the need to enhance India’s infrastructure if the country is to sustain its economic growth and build over it. At the same time, one cannot overlook the environmental concerns raised by these projects. There is a serious need to consider and if possible create options that would balance environmental concerns and infrastructural development. Sadly, at present, it seems both issues are being dealt in isolation.

It is critical that environmental concerns are integrated right at the inception stage of infrastructure projects. This means instead of addressing immediate needs, long term vision be applied to all infrastructure projects by default. I would like to cite one example to explain this without naming the project. A long and high bridge was to be constructed for a railway project in Maharashtra. Environmental issues were raised as the bridge was to pass through hilly terrains destroying a fair bit of ecology. But the project went ahead. Now, the railway traffic on this particular project has been increasing steadily. And one does not need an astrologer to predict that another line will be required very soon. The problem? The bridge was built to accommodate only one line.

Obviously, more environmental damage will be done while constructing another bridge for the second line. Why cannot the planning authorities foresee the need for the second line and build a bridge big enough accordingly? India’s infrastructure development should be fundamentally opposed to such short-sighted projects if we are to sustain our ecosystems. A comprehensive life cycle analysis should be done for every project. This can happen only if all systems are integrated and work towards a common goal. From the Editor’s Note of July 2010 issue

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