May 11, 2018 / 9:46 AM / 11 days ago

Fears of flooding as Mumbai plans to open salt pans for social housing

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A plan by Mumbai authorities to develop protected coastal land now used for making salt could cause severe flooding in the congested city, said environmentalists who are considering legal options to block the initiative.

The Mumbai Development Plan for the period through 2034 earmarks nearly 3,355 hectares (13 sq miles) for 1 million units of social housing, as well as tourism.

The salt pans, which are protected by coastal zone rules, will be re-classified to make way for much-needed housing, said Chief Minister Dev Fadnavis.

“This will pave the way for accelerated (economic) growth of Mumbai,” he said in a statement announcing the plan last month.

Opening the areas to development is part of a wider strategy to free up land for commercial and residential use in the city where about 60 percent of its 18 million people live in slums and informal settlements.

But experts say developing the salt flats, which act as a buffer against the sea and a drainage area for monsoon rains, will make Mumbai more vulnerable to flooding while also hurting the livelihoods of thousands of people.

“It is a terrible idea,” said Debi Goenka of the Mumbai-based environmental group Conservation Action Trust, noting that rising sea levels are expected to eventually inundate the areas.

“Upgrading slums and settlements in-situ with better facilities is a far better way to house the poor - and it is what they want too,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.

Conservation groups will consider legal options to block the plan, he added.

India’s coastline is more than 7,500 km (4,660 miles) long, and about 4 million people make a living from fishing and related activities, including making salt.

More than half of them live on less than $1.25 a day, according to official data.

The country’s salt flats have a historic significance for their role in India’s independence struggle.

Mahatma Gandhi famously led tens of thousands in a march in 1930 to the coastal village of Dandi, where he picked up a handful of salt to launch a protest against a tax on the commodity.

Across India, there is a shortage of nearly 20 million urban homes, according to consultancy KPMG.

While more affordable housing is needed, developing the areas could increase “vulnerability to seismic hazards, floods, and accelerated corrosion” from the salt deposits, said Prashant Thakur, a researcher at ANAROCK property consultants.

Some risks can be mitigated by upgrading infrastructure including solid waste management, as well as boosting open spaces to manage surface water runoff, he said.

Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Jared Ferrie. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.

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