All of us, from time to time, have read, either in our school text books, newspapers, or seen a documentary, or a news piece, about the various catastrophes that man today is subjected to. While problems such as pollution, global warming, etc are grave issues that threaten our planet from an environmental perspective, as urban population, the biggest threat that we face today is the shortage of land to dwell on.
Major cities in India and even globally are increasingly subjected to overcrowding, which has posed a need to have better and larger residential and office complexes. Higher population growth rates in emerging economies adds millions of new humans to our planet every year. Moreover these economies offer abundant opportunities for studies, quality of life and employment in the urban centers only, thus leading to migration from rural centers. It is estimated that in India alone close to 200 million people will migrate to urban areas over the next decade and a half. The sheer size of this incremental addition to urban areas is about two thirds of current United States of America. What plans then do we have to accommodate such a large number of people into our already crowded cities and metro areas?
In the past decade, urban planners and developers have already exhausted most of the land resources in trying to meet the ever growing need of land for settling human beings. An evident reason for this is poor planning by authorities and our inability as a country to impart better opportunities outside the currently dominant urban centers of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Kolkata. The urban planners found an easy way out and created land from water and marshes i.e. reclamation which are abundant in a city such as Mumbai. In addition to reclaiming land we continue to extend boundaries of the already dense cities radially or laterally. With soaring property prices in a city such as Mumbai demand for investment property also fuels lust for more land.
In the interest of creating settlements closer to business centers and already established cities we end up clearing its fringes over time. In many of cases these fringe areas are dense forests, rivers or marshes. Take for example Mumbai, which is home to Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the largest national park in the city limits across the World. What happened over time is worth a concern – humans settled in forest boundaries in areas such as Mulund, Thane and Goregaon. The repercussions are for everyone to see, the number of wild animals is on a decline which is resulting in leopards (native to this national park) venturing into apartment complexes, playgrounds and schools close by. Several kids and adults have been killed by leopards over the years. Are we being a leopard to the wild beast? Or is it the other way around? And in no way has it hampered demand for property in these areas of Mumbai.
While speaking of land reclamation, from an environmental perspective, it is an act which can be termed as ‘unnatural’ because reclaiming land from either marshes or water bodies is not how it was originally intended to be. Mumbai originally was a cluster of 7 different island that were merged into one city through several square kilometers of land reclamation projects. Moreover we settled over marshes by cleaning up mangroves and called one such area as Lokhandwala, a prime destination that is home to media and Bollywood industry today. These areas when converted into residential and commercial complexes, which has had a severe impact on the original habitat which never belonged to us. By reclaiming marshes or mangroves we are gradually causing irreparable damage to the habitat not only of animals and fishes but our own.
Yet, speaking from an urban perspective, reclaiming land from the original city would be a better option as the individual wouldn’t have to travel long distances and all conveniences can be packed close by.
Having said this, although land reclamation seems like a better option from a human point of view, the implications of the same cannot be overlooked. We are a part of a growing culture and economy, and this issue of land shortage will pose greater threats in the future if not dealt with strategically and efficiently in the present. Have you ever thought that suddenly diseases such as Dengue and Chickungunya have become a threat to those living in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore?
Why couldn’t we get a fix on few structural matters instead – new towns, new employment opportunities and control on our population growth. Such planning will also keep property prices in India under control.
Till when will be myopic and in our quest for land harm everything that is not human!